Executive Council gives green light to possible structural change
At its April 23-25 meeting, the UCC's 90- member Executive Council authorized the church's five-member Collegium of Officers to draft recommendations for what likely could be a significant overhaul of the national setting's management and governance structures.
The hope is to develop ways to streamline the church's Cleveland-based national offices in the face of a hardening financial situation at the UCC's national setting.
"The mood was somber, but I think both somber and grateful," the Rev. Sharon MacArthur, chairwoman of the Executive Council and pastor of Sycamore Congregational UCC in El Cerrito, Calif., said of the Executive Council's meeting in Hartford, Conn. "I think that there was a sense of relief at people finally naming the elephant in the room."
The Executive Council's meeting came on the heels of a gathering of the joint boards of the UCC's four national Covenanted Ministries, during which the Collegium discussed publicly for the first time a report it drafted last month detailing the national setting's bleak financial picture and calling for measures to solidify its economic standing.
"I think that after reading the report there was a sense among the Executive Council that we have a fairly cumbersome governing structure and that we need some clear lines of governance," MacArthur said. "That is something that we need to do something about."
According to the Collegium report, funding in 2005 for National Basic Support, the main source of funding for the work of the Covenanted Ministries, was just $10 million, $500,000 less than projections and down from $12.5 million in 1995, 1999 and 2000, and down from $13.1 million in 1985.
The Collegium also projects a 2006 shortfall of as much as $1 million.
Having now received authorization from the Executive Council, the Collegium will move forward with recommendations it outlined in its report, including examining the size, number and role of the Covenanted Ministry boards and the Executive Council, the size and design of the Collegium of Officers, the assignment of national work and staffing patterns and the role of the general minister and president.
The Collegium also is authorized to enact a hiring freeze on most vacant positions, develop a new shared-staffing model across the four Covenanted Ministries, and undergo a complete review of the church's approach to fund raising.
"The Collegium took this to the Executive Council because we wanted the formal encouragement to go ahead with some of this work that we felt needs to be done," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president. "We didn't want to embark on the amount of work that will be required unless there was support for some of the broad strokes that we have outlined."
At the crux of the financial woes plaguing the national church is the fact that as giving at the local levels of the church have increased steadily over the past 20 years, the percentage of those dollars retained locally has increased as well.
In 1985, about $471 million was given to local churches and, of that amount, more than $28 million, or 5.9 percent, was forwarded to Our Church's Wider Mission as basic support for Conference, national and international work.
In 2004, giving to local churches was almost double the 1985 amount - with nearly $899 million being placed in Sunday morning offering plates. But only $30 million of that was forwarded to OCWM in 2004, a mere 3.5 percent.
Additionally, the percentage of total basic support dollars retained by Conferences has increased as well, from less than 49 percent in 1975 to almost 68 percent in 2005, according to denominational leaders.
In an effort to better respond to those shifting financial realities and to increase the ability of denominational leaders to raise dollars for ministry, the Executive Council also authorized the Collegium to hire outside consultants to review fundraising efforts, including Our Church's Wider Mission, major gifts, planned giving and sources outside of the UCC such as foundation funding. Thomas said that work will begin immediately to identify consultants.
"Any restructure of any setting of the church is important and is significant in order to allow us to be as effective and faithful as possible," Thomas said. "But the ministry of the UCC is far larger than any one setting and any one structure. So I hope that this all will have a positive impact on an important part of the church as well as encourage the kinds of discussions that need to take place around the whole life of the church. Ultimately, though, the mission of the church depends on God and is not our structure."