Jobs loss affects real people, families—even in the church

Jobs loss affects real people, families—even in the church

J. Bennett Guess

UCC's national staff bracing for 'strong winds of employment uncertainty'

"The challenge for the 2005 budget is daunting," reads a Sept. 17 memo from the UCC's five-person Collegium of Officers to the denomination's national staff in Cleveland, Washington, D.C., and the Franklinton Center in Whitakers, N.C.

"We face the need to reduce spending by $4,900,335 across all four [Covenanted] Ministries in order to meet the fiscally responsible mandates of our boards to draw only 5 percent from our invested income by 2006. As many of you know, this will mean significant staffing and program cuts for 2005 in each of the Covenanted Ministries."

While news of a looming $5 million massive cut is beyond distressing, it's nothing new. Members of the UCC's national staff have been facing strong winds of employment uncertainty for years. Positions have been eliminated—often painstakingly—at regular intervals. About 45 fewer persons work for the national setting now than at the debut of the church's national restructure in 2000. Some job cuts have been the result of attrition, but most have come through a steady stream of layoffs.

To be sure, some in the UCC will relish the news, charging that the UCC's allegedly out-of-touch, national views are catching up with us. But, while some congregations do withhold support for Our Church's Wider Mission (as congregations do in every denomination for a plethora of reasons), what's happening in the UCC is not unlike what's happening in many denominations—mainline and conservative alike.

Ironically, the UCC's current income figures look better than projected. At the end of August, national basic support was actually up by more than $150,000 when compared to last year. And special offering support was up by more than $850,000. All could change by year's end, but so far the monthly totals have been printed in black ink, not red.

The real culprit has been a downward drift in national support for 40-plus years. Since local giving to OCWM is fi rst fi ltered through the UCC's Associations and Conferences (which now retain a cumulative 66 percent), the national setting receives the remaining portion (34 percent)—and, annually, it's been a smaller piece of the pie.

A sagging economy hasn't helped matters either. The UCC's investment income is derived from a three-year average of the stock market, not solely on the current year's performance. Since September 11, 2001, occurred three years ago, we're now living through our most difficult financial period.

To give you some idea of the magnitude of the projected cuts: The combined budgets of the UCC's four Covenanted Ministries now stand at approximately $37 million. About $13 million has been cut since 2001, meaning an additional $4.9 million in cuts will require unprecedented changes to church-wide programs and staffing.

Rumors are rampant. Some at the proverbial water cooler say 40 to 80 will lose their jobs by mid-November. That's purely conjecture, but it's based on a long-hand division that takes into account two variables: the announced $4.9 million in cuts and the high anxiety levels of nervous employees. Everyone now comprehends it's impossible to address such bleak budget realities by naively suggesting a reduction in office supplies.

The real struggle that often goes unreported—especially in the church—is that job loss affects real people, real families. In Ohio, that fact is only compounded by a law forbidding church-related organizations from participating in the state's unemployment insurance program. That's right—you read correctly—when the UCC eliminates positions, the now-former employees receive no unemployment checks.

The UCC's severance policy is fair but far from extravagant (one week's pay per year of service), so unless you can find new work quickly, it means you had better have some savings or get ready to stand in the bread line.

Decisions, ultimately, will be in the hands of the Covenanted Ministries' four independent boards of directors, which will meet at different times over a four-week period, starting in the middle of this month.

It's going to be a painful time for many people who have loved and served this church—faithfully—for many years and in many ways. You deserve to know their plight. Your prayers and support are coveted.

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Contact Info

J. Bennett Guess
Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44115
216-736-3801
guessb@ucc.org