The pandemic-forced postponement of General Conference has left United Methodist financial leaders with big questions about the denomination’s budget.
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The General Council on Finance and Administration board spent much of a March 27 teleconference grappling with how to act within the bounds of church rules while recognizing the new economic realities caused by COVID-19.
The board was dealing with the unprecedented situation of needing to set 2021 apportionments — that is, requested giving from conferences — before the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly can adopt an apportionment formula for the 2021-2024 general church budget.
Ultimately, a majority of GCFA board members decided they had no choice but to extend into 2021 the apportionment calculations approved by the 2016 General Conference.
A majority also voted to request that the Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court, rule on whether the board’s action was in keeping with church law. Neither voice vote was unanimous.
Rick King, GCFA’s chief financial officer, told the board that whatever apportionments the next General Conference sets would apply retroactively to the start of 2021. General Conference organizers are looking at rescheduling the event for next year.
Still, a number of board members expressed concern that using the higher apportionment base rate approved in 2016 would make the board look out of touch in a health crisis causing rising death, unemployment and canceled worship services around the globe.
The GCFA board already was planning to submit to the next General Conference the smallest denominational budget in more than 30 years.
Petz moved that GCFA request apportionments based on the reduced base rate it was proposing rather than the significantly higher rate the 2016 General Conference previously approved. That motion did not pass.
The sticking point for a number of board members was whether GCFA had the authority to request apportionments using a formula General Conference had not yet approved.
Bryan Mills, GCFA’s interim general council, told the board he and his team searched through the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s policy book, and Judicial Council decisions for guidance.
“We don’t see how we as GCFA could have any authority to do something different than what the General Conference has already decided,” Mills said.
“Unfortunately, it’s not maybe what we want to do or what we believe is reflective of reality. But it's our conclusion that this is the most viable option and hopefully most consistent with the (denomination's) constitution.”
The Rev. Moses Kumar, GCFA’s top executive and a licensed local pastor, told the board that general church agencies and other denomination-wide ministries were already preparing for the coming reductions. This year, most church agencies are budgeting for a 70% to 75% apportionment collection rate.
Bishop Mike McKee, GCFA board president and leader of the North Texas Conference, also assured the board that GCFA’s communications to conferences will recognize the ongoing pandemic and the greater needs conferences face.
excerpt from a story by Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, United Methodist News Service
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