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Church finance agency seeks new level of efficiency


NORCROSS, Ga. (UMNS) - Efficiency and streamlining have become bywords as the United Methodist Church's financial agency works on the denomination's budget proposal for 2005-08.

The weak U.S. economy and decreasing contributions have added to the challenge of that task.

Meeting May 19-22, the General Council on Finance and Administration stressed the importance of finding new ways to help the church fulfill its mission while spending less on administration. Besides working on the budget for the denomination's next four-year period of work, the GCFA also discussed a step it's considering to cut costs: consolidating operations to Nashville, Tenn.

The GCFA voting directors held their once-every-four-years spring meeting at Simpsonwood, the North Georgia Annual (regional) Conference retreat center. Their primary goal was to set bottom-line budget figures for the next quadrennium in preparation for their joint meeting this fall with the denomination's program coordinating agency, the General Council on Ministries.

At that Sept. 5-8 meeting in Los Angeles, the GCFA and Council on Ministries directors will flesh out the 2005-08 budget proposal. The proposal will go to the denomination's top legislative assembly, the 2004 General Conference, which meets in Pittsburgh April 27-May 7. General Conference meets every four years.

GCFA approved $222 million for World Service Fund, which supports the church's program agencies for mission and ministry. This piece of the budget recommendation is contingent on a proposal from the General Council on Ministries and the program agencies, providing details on how the money will be used more efficiently.

Their report, due in July, should retain "all missional objectives as outlined in the Book of Discipline" while streamlining operations and providing a 12-year plan "to address the priorities previously identified by the agencies and GCOM." Those priorities include such items as recruitment and training of new clergy, global mission and spiritual growth of laity, according to GCFA.

If such a report is not provided to the joint meeting, or if it shows a business-as-usual mentality, GCFA directors said the World Service Fund recommendation in the next quadrennium's preliminary budget will fall to $186 million.

The $222 million figure is included in the $595 million total for all the seven churchwide apportioned funds in the budget proposal that will go to General Conference.

Besides World Service, those churchwide funds include three for designated outreach - Africa University, Black College and Ministerial Education - and three for administration. The administration funds include the Episcopal Fund for the support of the bishops; General Administration Fund for holding General Conference, supporting administrative agencies, such as GCFA, and other churchwide functions, such as communications or archives; and the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund for ecumenical work.

In looking at the efficiency of its own operations, GCFA moved forward with a proposal to consolidate its Evanston, Ill., offices into its Nashville offices by the end of 2005. The directors authorized spending up to $50,000 on the professional services of an architect or other relocation specialists.

The GCFA Location Task Force had calculated expected long-term savings of more than $652,000 annually. GCFA estimated reaching the break-even point in eight to 13 years, depending on the amount realized in the sale of the agency's interest in the Evanston building, the cost of the combined facility and the rate of financing on the balance needed. The Evanston building is co-owned with the denomination's Board of Pension and Health Benefits.

In other business, the directors:
· Heard a presentation from the General Council on Ministries on its "Living into the Future" proposal for the structure of the denomination.
· Reduced the previously approved salary increase for bishops in the United States from 7.9 percent to 4 percent of current levels.
· Froze office expenses for the denomination's bishops at 2003 levels because reserves have been depleted.
· Agreed to require annual audits of GCFA funds provided to episcopal offices.
· Authorized funding for its directors to attend the second week of General Conference and authorized its executive committee to act for the whole agency during the first week of that event as needed.
Approved mostly editorial legislative changes to be proposed to General Conference.

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