Written by J. Bennett Guess
The UCC's four Covenanted Ministries' boards of directors, meeting April 22-25 in Atlanta, continued to wrestle with unfavorable budget realities for 2005, while the Office of General Ministries (OGM) took action to shore up its 2004 budget by eliminating fi ve staff positions.
The Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president, said in March that the UCC's five-person Collegium of Officers would act to cut a combined $2 million from the Covenanted Ministries' four independent budgets by 2005.
Most of those decisions are expected at the October board meetings when next year's budgets will be considered. However, OGM, facing an anticipated $400,000 shortfall this year, approved a revised spending plan for 2004 that necessitated immediate staff and program cuts.
Three employees from OGM's common services unit were released on April 29, following the Atlanta meeting. The eliminated positions affected common financial services, information systems and central mailing services.
In addition, a vacant position in meeting services and one in the Proclamation, Identity and Communication Ministry will not be filled, and additional staffing cuts may be necessary before year's end, according to Edith Guffey, the UCC's associate general minister and OGM's administrative executive.
The national setting's reduction in force now stands at 42 since 2001—the result of both layoffs and employee attrition. At the launch of the UCC's national restructure in July 2000, 261 persons were employed by the UCC's four Covenanted Ministries. That number now stands at 219.
"The significant loss of [Our Church's Wider Mission] income in the last two years, and the mandate from our board to reduce the amount of money taken from our investments each year meant that we were obligated to present budget reductions to the board," Thomas and Guffey wrote to OGM's staff after the meeting. "In order to accomplish those reductions we presented several scenarios that included cuts in staffing and program. Some, though not all, of those cuts were reluctantly approved by the board."
OGM—which houses the UCC's Proclamation, Identity and Communication Ministry—considered budget-cutting scenarios that would have reduced the annual number of issues of United Church News from 10 to eight, while another proposal would have cut the newspaper's publication frequency in half—from 10 to five issues per year. In either case, a Web-based alternative would have been instituted. Moreover, the UCC's video production services would have been eliminated altogether.
But last-minute designated gifts from Wider Church Ministries (WCM) and Local Church Ministries (LCM) Ñ specifically earmarked for video-production services, United Church News and the denomination's four racial/ethnic relations desks—spelled survival for these OGM entities, at least through the end of the current year.
WCM, which frequently uses the UCC's video services to share stories of the work of its Global Ministries' personnel and the UCC's partner churches around the world, contributed $130,000 to preserve the video production team through the remainder of the year.
An additional $40,000 was made to support OGM's four offices for racial/ ethnic relations, which report directly to the general minister and president. LCM contributed $130,000 to preserve two issues of United Church News for 2004.
After the gifts to OGM were announced during the opening plenary session at the Executive Council meeting on April 26, the Rev. Winston Baldwin, pastor of First Central Congregational UCC in Omaha, Neb., and chair of the Executive Council, called the revenue sharing among Covenanted Ministries "a historical marker."
"This is historic and unprecedented—two Covenanted Ministries granting money to a third one," Baldwin said. "It's the first time we've seen this in the new [national] structure and reflects continuing dialogue to work across the lines of Covenanted Ministries."
The Rev. Angel Toro, pastor of Chapel on the Hill UCC in Seminole, Fla., and LCM's board chair, told United Church News, "At this time when communication is so important, we felt the need to dig in a little deeper and look at what was best for the whole church. We felt that [United Church News] was critical to us in these times. ...Once the appeal was made, I think there was only one dissenting vote. It was nearly unanimous."