Written by W. Evan Golder
Projected decreases in income to the national setting over the next few years have led the UCC's five-member Collegium of Officers to implement a series of cost-cutting procedures at the national setting, effective immediately.
Budgets for 2003 will require reductions in both programming and staffing. Wider Church Ministries' overall budget, for example, will be cut 8.5 percent, that of Local Church Ministries 2.4 percent.
At least 11 national staff positions have been eliminated through attrition since restructure in 2000. Six other positions were eliminated through reduction-in-force. These cuts were spread across all four Covenanted Ministries and included supervisory, program and administrative staff. All those who lost jobs got severance benefits.
"These are painful decisions because they are not just numbers. They are real persons who have served with us, some of them for many years," says the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC General Minister and President. "It also hurts because our members and churches depend upon the national setting for programs and materials."
The Financial Health Task Force, convened by the Executive Council and including representatives of each of the boards of the Covenanted Ministries, made the initial analysis.
The task force's report showed flat or reduced Basic Support income to the national setting because of reductions in the share of these funds that Conferences pass on to the national setting. (Basic Support is offerings from local churches that go toward Conference and national denominational programming.) It also showed an anticipated decline in investment income.
Because of these factors, the task force determined that the national Covenanted Ministries would need to spend more than the 5 percent annual draw from investments, approved by the boards, in order to maintain staffing and programming at current levels. This it regarded as untenable.
Among its recommendations:
Covenanted Ministries move toward budgeting by 2006 that will eliminate the need to draw beyond 5 percent from investments;
The Collegium lead a process of priority setting and strategic planning to meet the 2006 goals;
Employee benefits not be cut;
There be a review of the frequency and funding of national gatherings. The Collegium also is moving to improve the income side by:
Working with 13 Conferences each year;
Developing the "100 Churches" program;
Expanding OCWM promotion;
Identifying "large gift" donors;
Controlling non-staff and -program costs.
The UCC is not alone in facing budget shortfalls. The Presbyterian Church (USA), Episcopal Church and United Methodist Church each have cut national staff and programming.