Written by Daniel Hazard
OCWM woes continue; national basic support down $500,000 for 2005
End-of-the-year remittances to the UCC's national setting came up nearly $500,000 short in 2005, once again prompting concerns that the church's national ministries may undergo significant, painful alterations.
William Morgan, the UCC's chief financial officer, reports that the UCC's 39 Conferences remitted $10,040,149 to Our Church's Wider Mission (OCWM) for national basic support in 2005, down from the $10.5-million figure budgeted.
Since the $10.5-million benchmark was also used to build current-year budgets for the UCC's four Covenanted Ministries, Morgan alerted church leaders that a weakened financial goal of $9.46 million should be anticipated for 2006.
The revised projection is down by more than $1.2 million from the $10,704,803 actualized in 2004, and it represents a whopping 25 percent drop - or $3 million - from the $12.5 million realized just five years ago.
The report is disheartening for church leaders, who expressed hopes to United Church News in January that the year's $10.5-million goal might be realized. However, since many congregations and Conferences have a longstanding history of holding onto earmarked funds until the last possible minute, it's difficult to predict year-end totals until the remittance deadline actually passes.
The shortfall means that church leaders are now contending with an estimated $1.6 million budgetary imbalance - $500,000 from 2005 and $1.1 million in 2006. The bad news comes just 18 months after church leaders took drastic measures to reduce staff and programs by more than $700,000 in anticipation of fewer dollars for shared mission spending.
"We're beyond the point of whittling away to reduce spending," the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president, told United Church News. "We're going to have to take a significant look at how we're structured and what our ministry will look like. But I'm not prepared at this point to say what that will look like or should look like."
In an e-mail to the UCC's national staff in Cleveland, Washington, D.C., and Whitakers, N.C., Associate General Minister Edith Guffey wrote, "We all know that this isn't good news. What no one knows at this point is what we might recommend to the [Covenanted Ministry] boards when they meet in April and how that will impact our work."
Guffey said the UCC's five-person Collegium of Officers would meet this month to outline a plan of action. The four Covenanted Ministries' joint board meetings will be held April 20-22 in Hartford, Conn.
While there are a variety of factors that likely contribute to the decline - elevated church insurance and heating costs, investment plateaus, economic uncertainty - Thomas quickly conceded that the national setting's financial picture has taken a major hit from fallout linked to the same-gender marriage equality resolution endorsed by General Synod last summer.
"I'm saddened by that," Thomas said. "But we have to face that as a reality. There are a lot of factors, but I don't want to pretend that marriage equality has nothing to do with it."
Ironically, the year-end financial totals were interspersed with a few positive indicators, including a significant increase in designated special gifts. For example, overall support for the UCC's four special mission offerings - One Great Hour of Sharing, Neighbors in Need, Strengthen the Church and Christmas Fund - increased by more than three percent. Second-mile giving to the UCC's Stillspeaking Initiative topped $1.5 million and receipts for disaster response quadrupled over previous years, nearly reaching the $9-million mark and shattering previous disaster-giving records.
"We were way up in designated giving," Thomas said, "which tells us that people are willing to give to designated things that they support. But we also must recognize that some of that giving probably came at the expense of OCWM national basic support."
Thomas said the UCC, however, is not alone in its wrestling with rather-bleak financial circumstances. Nearly every major historically mainline denomination is facing a similar situation, he said.
"In addition to dealing with our specific issues, we're also caught up in a negative trend," he said.
National basic support accounts for approximately one-third of congregations' contributions to OCWM basic support, since Conferences retain what is needed to support their regional ministries before forwarding the remaining dollars to the church's national setting. While the retention rate varies among Conferences, the retention average now stands at about 67 percent, a ratio that continues to climb to the detriment of the UCC's national setting.
Only 10 of the UCC's 39 Conferences posted increases for national basic support over the previous year: Southern California-Nevada, Calvin Synod, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Montana- Northern Wyoming, Pacific Northwest, Southern, Southwest and Wisconsin. The remaining 29 Conferences remitted less, with some decreasing their total contributions by more than $100,000.