Written by Anthony Moujaes
The national officers of the United Church of Christ began the process by which they will address a $2.3 million budget deficit in 2014 facing the denomination's headquarters in Cleveland. The church executives shared their fiscal stability plan, recently approved by the United Church of Christ board, with Church House staff on Oct. 15, discussing how they will make the national setting of the UCC financially responsible in the immediate and long-term future.
The four national officers of the UCC – the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, general minister and president, the Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo, executive minister of Justice and Witness ministries, the Rev. James A. Moos, executive minister of Wider Church Ministries, and the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister of Local Church Ministries – emphasized that they wanted staff members to be a part of the ongoing process that leads the church to financial stability with a clear vision and sense of missional purpose.
The executives outlined financial challenges they are working with the UCC Board to overcome — declines in OCWM national basic support contributions, special offerings and increasing draws on reserve funds. The officers explained that the current distribution of revenues and draw rates are not sustainable.
"This isn't something that happened overnight, or happened because of a lack of sales or a sudden decline in basic support," Moos said. "The reality is that, despite significant budgetary reductions over the last decade, the national setting has been living beyond its collective means."
"This is not the result of a board going bad," Black added. "This is the first governing body of the United Church of Christ to see the whole picture, and they have a sense of the fiduciary responsibility for the future of the church."
Guess shared his thoughts on a silver lining of the situation — namely that the he and his colleagues can work together to embrace a single-staff model that looks beyond the lines of individual ministry dollars.
"If we can see a silver lining in this process — it's important to remember that decisions like this in the past would have taken place in very siloed ways," he said. "The debt would have been allocated to each ministry and they would have had to address it individually. We can be glad that we have one decision-making process, and that allows us to make savings in places that make sense across the board."
The officers detailed five points in their plan to reduce the debt: First, retaining an organizational consultant to help redesign management structure and administrative costs; second, consulting with conference ministers and other stakeholders in determining essential functions and identifying opportunities for collaboration; third, trimming $2 million in costs by the end of the 2014 budget year; fourth, proposing revenue enhancements and funding strategies with numeric goals; finally, recommending changes to the UCC Constitution and Bylaws related to ministry mandates, including the potential reduction to the number of UCC national officers.
"We are at a point in history that calls upon us to cast a vision as the United Church of Christ moving forward," said Jaramillo. "We must ask what is the unique function and purpose of the national setting and how does this role interact with other settings of the church."