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Councils support agencies' budget increases for 2005-08


By Joretta Purdue

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
General Council on Finance and Administration. Photo number W03005, Accompanies UMNS #434
LOS ANGELES (UMNS) - Each of the United Methodist Church's program agencies stands to get at least a modest funding increase for the next four years, despite the tough economic times, under a proposal that will go to the denomination's legislature.

The church's General Council on Finance and Administration had earlier decided to recommend to General Conference that $222 million be approved for these agencies during the 2005-08 period. Voting members of the finance council and the General Council on Ministries approved a plan for dividing the money at a joint meeting Sept. 8.

The $222 million is channeled through the World Service Fund, the church's largest account for funding worldwide mission and ministry. The fund is a primary source of support for the four program boards and four smaller commissions, but the agencies also receive income from other sources.

The joint meeting also voted to recommend moving Heritage Sunday from its current April date to Aldersgate Day, May 24, or the Sunday preceding it. The groups decided to ask General Conference to continue the six churchwide Sundays with offerings and Laity Sunday without an offering, to discontinue Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday, and to retain four special Sundays for observance by annual conference designation.

All these decisions are recommendations to General Conference, which will meet in Pittsburgh April 27-May 7.

Effects of the economic crunch are evident in the denomination's decline in revenues last year and in 2003, but members of the councils reminded one another that their budget for the next four-year period won't begin for another 15 months.

Members of the finance council's World Service Task Group were "trying to understand what would resource the program agencies" to keep up current ministries and add new ones, said Bishop Robert E. Fannin, who heads the group.

The agencies received almost $186 million in World Service funds for the 2001-04 period, but that amount was augmented by reserve funds and other sources of income that are no longer available.

Part of the financial squeeze results from the fact that General Conference instructed the program boards to spend down their reserves during the 2001-04 period. That financial hit was worsened by the stock market downturn, which socked the agencies' portfolios. The market's fall also hurt the denomination's trust fund income, budgeted to help fund retiree health insurance, so agencies had to make up the lost revenue from other parts of their budget. Projected income from that source is being budgeted for the 2005-08 period at half the amount specified for the current period.

The proposed spending allocations that the two councils approved reflected a restoration of spending power to the agencies, along with an increase of less than 2 percent.

"When money's tight, people are uptight," Fannin said, as he introduced the budget. He noted that the eight program agencies had originally requested $265 million, but they cut their proposals to $230 million at the finance council's request. The finance agency reduced that further to $222 million.

If General Conference approves the operating budget breakdown as prepared by the two councils, the four-year totals in World Service Fund money for each agency will be:
· Board of Global Ministries, $126 million.
· Board of Discipleship, $31.75 million.
· Board of Higher Education and Ministry, $25.7 million.
· Board of Church and Society, $11.7 million.
· Commission on Religion and Race, $7 million.
· Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, $5.5 million.
· Commission on the Status and Role of Women, $3.04 million.
· Commission on United Methodist Men, $1.5 million.

The $222 million budget also includes allocations for several funds administered by the agencies. The Board of Discipleship oversees two efforts - the Shared Mission Focus on Young People, $3.1 million, and the United Methodist Youth Organization, $900,000. The Hispanic, Asian and Native American (HANA) Scholarships, $2.2 million, are awarded by the Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

The Commission on Religion and Race administers the Minority Group Self-Determination Fund, $3.45 million, and the denomination's contribution to Project Equality, $160,000.

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