Written by Anthony Moujaes
National leaders of the United Church of Christ have diligently worked to reduce a deficit of more than $2.3 million in 2014, and now they'll have some guidance along the way. The United Church of Christ Board, which recently concluded three days of meetings in Cleveland, is stepping in to work alongside the UCC officers to prioritize the mission of the national setting of the denomination into the future.
The four national officers of the church asked the UCC Board to "determine mission mandates for the national setting by its fall 2014 meeting," and the board agreed to undertake that responsibility. Those to-be-determined mandates will drive budget and financial decisions.
"Our shared mission priorities [must] be established first, and realistic budgets be designed to flow from those mission priorities," the Honorable Brian Holeman, a member of the UCC Board's Executive Committee, said in a report to the full board on March 14. "While the Collegium can provide information and guidance, it is the responsibility of this body, this board, serving as the General Synod ad interim, to establish those priorities that balance our financial assets alongside our ministry goals."
UCC General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey R. Black said the board's decision "helps our work because a board is responsible for forming the priorities of any organization. With this new board, one that sees the whole scope of the church's work, it's a new opportunity to define church-wide priorities, which we haven't had before."
"This is opportunity to collectively discern the mission and ministry of where the Stillspeaking God is calling us to, in this moment in the UCC," said the Rev. Jim Moos, executive minister of UCC Wider Church Ministries.
At its fall meeting in October 2013, the UCC Board approved a 2014 budget for the UCC national setting of $25.3 million that included a $2.3 million deficit, which the board asked the Collegium to address. So far, the national officers have cut about $1.3 million.
"We recognize that an achievement of this magnitude has included many hard decisions: reductions in force of our National Staff, leaving retirement or resignation vacancies unfilled, redesigning positions and asking remaining employees to work harder and do more ," said Holeman, reading from the Executive Committee's report to the board.
The UCC Board agreed that further cuts would have adversely impacted the church's mission and programs. The board also acknowledged that erasing a $2.3-million deficit in a single year "was unrealistic from the start" and the inability to cut another $930,000 doesn't threaten the fiscal stability of the church.
However, the national officers are still committed to additional cost savings once the mission priorities are established.
"It's helpful to have that simultaneous work," said the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister for the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries. "We still have a fiscal responsibility to meet."
The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister for the UCC Local Church Ministries, said, "We are still committed to implementing all possible cost savings over the next several months, as well as enhancing revenues."
"We are a strong and viable church with a rich history and bold future," Guess continued, "and the work before us is an important financial and missional next step to clearly name our church's priorities and adequately staff and fund them."
The national officers shared the progress of their fiscal stability plan with the board, in an assessment update on Thursday, March 13.
Aside from cutting $1.3 million from the national budget, other key changes made by the officers so far include retaining an organization consulting firm, Dudley Hamilton Associates, to interview key stakeholders in conference and national settings of the church, and meeting with conference ministers to seek out new opportunities for collaboration. The UCC officers are also gathering thoughts to enhance the church's revenue stream and examine any necessary changes to the denomination's constitution and bylaws.
The consultants expect to have a plan in place by June 2014 that refines the vision of the national setting. That plan, which could include organizational restructuring, will be implemented throughout the remainder of the year.
"We can say we are on track with that plan," Black told the board. "Now is a time for us to look at who we are, and our charter and vocation. We must search deeply and look broadly in determining our next steps. Our leadership is able to see a clear picture of our financial resources. We have not had that before."
Other highlights from the UCC Board spring meeting include:
- Announcing the General Synod 2015 theme and General Synod 2017 location.
- Supporting an open dialogue between the church and the Boys Scouts of America to develop a Memorandum of Understanding that will allow UCC-sponsored troops to be fully inclusive.