Groups approve plan to divvy up slashed budget

Bishops Mike McKee and Christian Alsted discuss the process for voting on budget proposals during a joint meeting of the General Council on Finance and Administration board and Connectional Table in Nashville, Tenn. McKee is president of the finance agency board and Alsted is chair of the Connectional Table.
Bishops Mike McKee and Christian Alsted discuss the process for voting on budget proposals during a joint meeting of the General Council on Finance and Administration board and Connectional Table in Nashville, Tenn. McKee is president of the finance agency board and Alsted is chair of the Connectional Table.

The two groups responsible for putting together the general church budget approved a plan for how to divide significantly reduced funds.

The groups’ votes this Spring culminated nearly a week of discussions — which were tense at times — about how to slice a much smaller financial pie, while leaving ministries with more than just crusts.

The Connectional Table and the General Council on Finance and Administration board each agreed to the Connectional Table’s recommended allocations for most of the 2021-2024 general church budget.

At the center of the tension was a proposed 35% budget cut for United Methodist Communications, which includes United Methodist News Service, and the budget process itself.

“All need to share in the reductions as a connectional network including the smaller funds,” Rev. Steve Wood told the board. His committee drafted three potential budget models that would instead curtail United Methodist Communication’s budget by 28.2 percent to 31 percent while reducing the budgets of other agencies.

“The current allocation to UMCom is disproportionate to the big picture,” he said.

The General Council on Finance and Administration is proposing a $493.8 million budget — the smallest in more than 20 years. According to the Commission on Archives and History, the last time General Conference approved a budget below $500 million was in 1992.

The budget still could face further adjustments before heading to General Conference, depending on financial forecasts for the denomination next February.

Adding to the challenges of this budget process is that both groups had significantly less money to distribute.

The Connectional Table has $358.6 million to distribute among its funds and agencies — a 23.3% reduction from the current budget.

Throughout its budgeting process, the Connectional Table has been clear that not all ministries would bear the brunt equally of planned budget cuts. A big concern for the group was making sure cuts were not so deep to stop the work of the denomination’s smallest agencies and six national plans for ethnic ministries.

More controversial was the Connectional Table’s next biggest cut — the 35% reduction for United Methodist Communications, taking it from $71.6 million to $46.6 million.

Dan Krause, the agency’s top executive, told both the Connectional Table and General Council on Finance and Administration in separate meetings that he has never received a clear rationale for his agency’s deeper loss compared to its peers.

The Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, top executive of the Connectional Table, and others on the Connectional Table allocations team, said they think UMCom has the reserves and assets to make it through tight times.

“We felt that given the greater financial capacity of UMCom and the nature of their financial capacity that their core mission could be sustained with the reduction,” she said.

“General Conference can go beyond the projected amount and add whatever it wants,” he said.

excerpt of a story by Heather Hahn, multimedia reporter, UMNS and Jim Patterson, contributor

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