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Agency adopts plan to raise $700,000 for NCC

10/9/2000 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (UMNS) - Directors of the United Methodist Church's ecumenical agency have adopted a plan for fulfilling a $700,000 commitment to the financially struggling National Council of Churches.

The NCC's problems were a major item of business for the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns during its Oct. 4-8 board meeting. The meeting was the New York-based commission's first for the 2001-2004 quadrennium.

In a resolution adopted unanimously Oct. 6, the commission decided to request an advance from the church's financial agency of $400,000 for the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund, which the commission administers. Another $200,000 will be sought from other United Methodist agencies. Those amounts, combined with money already paid by the denomination, would meet the $700,000 goal.

Bishop Melvin Talbert, ecumenical officer of the Council of Bishops, urged the other directors to support the effort and expressed appreciation after the resolution was approved. The integrity of the United Methodist Church is on the line, he said. "We need to do this for the good of the whole."

During the discussion, the Rev. Bruce Robbins, top staff executive of the commission, noted that the United Methodist Church is the only NCC member that has not contributed its fair share amount. "So we're in a fairly difficult position, having been the ones who led the way on that."

The money will be used to replenish the NCC's Ecumenical Commitment Fund. The NCC, which includes more than 30 denominations and organizations, has been trying to get back on track after going through a period in which its reserve funds were gradually depleted.

The $700,000 is the largest amount being contributed by any NCC member. Last fall, Bishop William Boyd Grove, then ecumenical officer for the Council of Bishops, stated an intention for the United Methodist Church to find ways to contribute that amount. The figure was based on consultations among United Methodist leaders on the NCC, and it represents 35 percent of the $2 million that the NCC had requested of member communions. The Council of Bishops adopted a resolution in May calling on the Commission on Christian Unity and the denomination's General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) to develop a plan for providing the money.

In its own resolution, the commission said it will ask the GCFA to approve an immediate advance of $400,000 to the NCC. Talbert and Bishop Fritz Mutti, newly elected commission president, will meet with GCFA directors at their annual meeting Nov. 16-18 in Albuquerque, N.M. The money would be drawn from the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund against the amount budgeted for the fund for 2001 through 2004. The commission is requesting that GCFA forgive any interest on the advanced money, as part of its contribution to the recovery fund.

In addition, the resolution calls for a delegation of commission members and bishops to ask each United Methodist general agency that has a relationship with the NCC to contribute to the recovery fund, with a goal of raising at least $200,000.

The funds will be provided on condition that the NCC has a balanced and attainable budget in place for 2001, and that any staff cuts be done with sensitivity to racial inclusiveness issues.

The resolution also notes that the commission's ICF Funding Task Force will work to limit the United Methodist Church's contribution to 25 percent of the NCC's Ecumenical Commitment Fund's total. The United Methodist Church has been the largest contributor, providing annual amounts ranging from 36 percent to nearly 45 percent during the 1997-2000 period.

Robbins and Lonnie Brooks, a commission member from Anchorage, Alaska, drafted the resolution.

The United Methodist Church has already paid $91,701 toward the $700,000. Of that, $58,701 came from the ICF in 1999, $18,000 came from the commission, and $15,000 came from United Methodist Communications.

Other members of the NCC have contributed $1.3 million as of Oct. 2. The biggest donors have been the Presbyterian Church USA, $500,000; the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, $300,000 each; and the American Baptist Church, $100,000. Support also has come from the Antiochian Orthodox, Christian Methodist Episcopal, Disciples of Christ and Greek Orthodox churches, as well as the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, the International Council of Community Churches, and an individual donor.

Talbert, who has been involved in the NCC since 1974, was outspoken about the organization's problems and the need for ensuring its survival.

The NCC's financial problems started becoming evident six years ago, he said. "Some of us saw this coming, but I think others were in a state of denial."

The NCC's cash flow was down, yet the problems weren't obvious. One factor was that the council was receiving a high volume of money, or "flow-through dollars," for its Church World Service and Witness relief unit, according to commission and GCFA staff. Those funds looked good on the NCC's balance sheet, but the council was actually spending down its own reserves during those years.

Last fall, the NCC's finances came unraveled. The Commission on Christian Unity temporarily suspended its support until the council was able to answer questions related to its finances; the suspension was lifted in December. In the meantime, the NCC's top staff executive left office early and was replaced by the Rev. Robert Edgar, then president of a United Methodist seminary. New financial policies were adopted.

"The National Council of Churches is going to be struggling from week to week, month to month, at least for the next six months if not for the new few years," said John Goolsbey, a GCFA staff executive who leads the NCC's audit review committee.

Talbert urged the commission members not to look at the NCC solely from a financial perspective.

"I have witnessed some powerful ministries in and through the National Council of Churches," he said. Those have included working for civil rights, leading efforts to provide hunger and famine relief for North Korea, calling attention to the problem of church burnings, and assisting in the reunion of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez of Cuba with his father.

If the NCC went bankrupt, Talbert said, its members would immediately have to form another organization like it to carry out the work that the churches cannot do alone.

After the resolution was approved, Mutti underscored the commission's support for the NCC. "We have a longstanding commitment to the National Council, and we want its mission and ministry to be fulfilled in whatever configuration" the organization may adopt in the future, he said. "And the United Methodist Church will be a part of that."

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