Funding for bishops improves but still shaky

With increased giving and reduced expenses, the Episcopal Fund that supports bishops’ work is in better shape. The General Council on Finance and Administration board voted to give bishops their first raise in three years, but the board still sees challenges ahead for the fund. General Council on Finance and Administration episcopal services department graphic, courtesy of GCFA.
With increased giving and reduced expenses, the Episcopal Fund that supports bishops’ work is in better shape. The General Council on Finance and Administration board voted to give bishops their first raise in three years, but the board still sees challenges ahead for the fund. General Council on Finance and Administration episcopal services department graphic, courtesy of GCFA.
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However, United Methodist financial leaders still warn of possible perils ahead for the Episcopal Fund — especially with a potential denominational split on the horizon.

The Episcopal Fund is one of seven general-church funds supported through apportionments.

During an online meeting in August, the General Council on Finance and Administration board heard an update on the state of the fund.

For now, the situation has improved enough that the board approved a 4% pay increase for all active bishops in 2022 — their first raise in three years. The two bishops who serve on the board abstained from the vote.

Bottom line: Giving is up and expenses are down. The finance agency no longer projects Episcopal Fund reservesto be completely depleted by 2024.

“The savings we’ve seen in 2020 and 2021 have given us another two years’ worth of runway before the Episcopal Fund begins to run out of money under the current structure,” said Rick King, the agency’s chief financial officer. “I think that’s the takeaway.”

As of the end of July, the Episcopal Fund had received about $4 million more in apportionments — shares of giving — than budgeted. The fund’s expenditures were also about $900,000 less than budgeted.

The savings come in part because of the bishops’ reduced travel expenses, with most meetings online because of COVID-19.

The more significant drop results from the two bishops that retired in January. These changes mean substantial reductions in Episcopal Fund expenditures at least through 2022. But that doesn’t mean the fund is now safely in the black.

King projects the Episcopal Fund could still see its reserves dwindle to a dangerously low level again by 2025 without some changes.

The pay hike will increase costs to the Episcopal Fund by about $400,000 per year. GCFA plans to cover those costs over the next three years with a $1.35 million grant from the Paycheck Protection Program— the U.S. initiative designed to help businesses and nonprofits keep people on the payroll amid the pandemic.

To shore up the Episcopal Fund, the Council of Bishops initially recommended no new U.S. bishop elections until 2024. The bishops have since rescinded that recommendation while still urging caution in the final decision of how many to elect.

excerpt from a story by Heather Hahn, assistant news editor, UMNS

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Fund pays for bishops’ salaries, office and travel expenses, and pension and health-benefit coverage. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Episcopal Fund apportionment at 100 percent.