Church agency waits for NCC financial decisions
10/15/2001 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York
NOTE: For additional coverage of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns meeting, see UMNS stories #470 and #471.
By Linda Bloom*LOS ANGELES (UMNS) - In order to let a special financial task force do its work, the United Methodist Church's ecumenical agency is delaying action on future allocations to the National Council of Churches (NCC).
That decision was made during the Sept. 11-14 annual meeting of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, held in the Los Angeles area.
Clare Chapman, a commission staff executive, is part of the six-member Administration and Finance Task Force created during a closed session of the NCC executive committee's Oct. 1-2 meeting. She reported to the commission that the task force was established "to adjust the (2001-2002) budget to match income levels and bring the National Council to financial health."
The task force must make recommendations when the executive committee and NCC's General Assembly meet Nov. 12-16 in Oakland, Calif.
Chapman said the next few months would be crucial ones for the more than 50-year-old ecumenical agency. "Like any other organization, if balancing the budget to the revenues can't be done, then the council could fold," she told the commission.
Two years ago, the commission temporarily suspended NCC funding from the United Methodist Church's Interdenominational Cooperation Fund, budgeted at $670,000, because of concerns over fiscal policies and management. Eventually, the suspension was lifted, and United Methodists contributed $700,000 - including the advancement of expected funding through the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund - to help with the NCC bailout.
Spencer Bates, a United Methodist from the California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference and the NCC's interim executive for administration and finance, attended the commission meeting. He reviewed the NCC's Sept. 30 balance sheet and income statement adjustments, including one-time expenses. The statement shows a deficit of nearly $1.75 million for fiscal year 2000-2001, which ended June 30. That loss was covered by reserves.
Commission members received a copy of an Oct. 3 letter from the Rev. Robert Edgar, a United Methodist pastor and the NCC's chief executive, responding to a request for information from the commission.
He gave examples of progress made since the NCC's financial crisis of 1999. Those examples include reducing council staff from 102 to about 50 employees as of Oct. 1; establishing a development office to seek individual donor gifts and foundation grants; streamlining business functions and accounting procedures; and increasing the number of member communions that contribute financially from 22 to 26.
Once budget decisions are made by the NCC's General Assembly, the commission's executive committee will take action regarding allocations from the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund in consultation with the denomination's General Council on Finance and Administration and Council of Bishops.
In other business, commission members nominated the Rev. Bruce Robbins, their chief executive, for re-election by the General Council on Ministries (GCOM) for 2002.
Noting that Robbins will complete 12 years in his position as general secretary that year, the commission proposed a transition plan for leadership to GCOM that would allow him to continue through the 2004 General Conference while electing his successor in October 2003. That person would not begin his or her duties until July 1, 2004, under the proposed timeline.
The extension for Robbins is proposed because of the work assigned the commission by the 2000 General Conference - the Acts of Repentance and Reconciliation and the study of homosexuality and unity. "Both, we believe, demand our best efforts, including continuity in leadership from our general secretary, in order to fulfill the expectations of General Conference," wrote Bishop Fritz Mutti, the commission's president, in a letter to GCOM.
Two Native Americans, the Rev. Marv Abrams, a United Methodist pastor and church leader from the Los Angeles area, and Georgiana Sanchez, a Roman Catholic professor and storyteller, offered perspectives about the Sept. 11 tragedy and led a healing service for commission members.
"We are in pain with a lot of other people, but we remember the pain that Native Americans have suffered throughout history," Abrams said.
Sanchez talked about the "encompassing love for all humanity" that occurred at the California Indian Storytelling Festival she had attended a couple of weeks earlier, and showed how storytelling can be used for healing. "In that suffering (from Sept. 11), something came alive to remind us we are all one."
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*Bloom is news director of United Methodist News Service's New York office.
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