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Mission money drops, but commitment stays strong, exec says

10/24/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

By Linda Bloom*

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
General Board of Global Ministries. Photo number W03061, Accompanies UMNS#507
STAMFORD, Conn. (UMNS) - Two years of budget constraints have changed how the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries does its work, but the financial pressures have not altered its commitment to mission, according to the agency's top executive.

The Rev. R. Randy Day told board directors he believes the agency's organizational transition "can revitalize and empower," allowing it to "assess our assets, weigh our mission choices, and to prepare ourselves as God's servants and witnesses for vital Christian mission in this new century."

Building strong and lasting relationships - with directors, staff and mission personnel as well as annual conferences, partner churches and other United Methodist organizations - is a key priority, said Day, during the board's Oct. 20-23 annual meeting.

Through such relationships, the Board of Global Ministries hopes to attract additional funds for its programs and partners. A decrease in traditional income sources, most notably World Service dollars from the denomination, continues to have an impact. The World Service Fund is the United Methodist Church's largest pool of money for supporting churchwide programs.

The 2004 budget already is $4 million less than originally projected in the spring, Day noted. The revised 2004 budget is $59.2 million, excluding the separate budgets of the Women's Division and United Methodist Committee on Relief. Because of the decrease, all grants have been cut and no new missionaries will be added, although he stressed that the board remains committed to deploying new missionaries in the future.

In 2002, the entire Board of Global Ministries had operating revenues of $128.2 million and total expenses of $157.3 million, resulting in a $29 million deficit.

Some improvement occurred during the first eight months of 2003, despite a 5 percent drop in World Service income, according to Roland Fernandes, interim board treasurer. The board itself had a 7 percent increase in revenue, due to a boost in income from the Women's Division and the agency's Collins Forest Fund. Total operating revenues through August were $36.5 million and total operating expenses were $45.7 million.

"The operating deficit of $9.2 million for the first eight months of this year is $3 million less than at the same time in 2002," he said. He noted that "significant portions" of the board's income usually don't arrive until the end of the year.

Improvement in the stock market has brought a net appreciation of $6.5 million for board investments in 2003, compared to a net depreciation of $12.2 million for the same period last year, Fernandes reported.

For the Women's Division, undesignated giving by United Methodist Women had increased by 7.6 percent so far in 2003. But undesignated income for the Committee on Relief - money from gifts and the One Great Hour of Sharing offering used to pay for staff and other administrative expenses - dropped by 12 percent during the first eight months of 2003.

"It is not at all encouraging to note that, so far, 2003 undesignated incomes are significantly lower than 2002, which in turn was significantly lower than 2001," Fernandes noted in the treasurer's report for Health and Relief, of which the relief agency is a part. "Unless incomes increase in the last quarter of this year, this will have a significant impact on future expenditures."

Although a 2004 budget of $7.9 million has been approved for the relief agency, a further decline in income could mean staff reductions, said the Rev. Paul Dirdak, the agency's chief executive.

The Board of Global Ministries continues to support some innovative mission programs and projects through its Program Development Fund. During the October meeting, directors designated $420,000 from the 2003 fund account and $410,000 from the 2004 fund account. Grants from the fund include $180,000 for projects in Peru, the Caribbean, Uruguay, Argentina and the Philippines; $100,000 as part of a commitment to the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico; $100,000 for consultations in the denomination's central conferences (regional units outside the United States); and $75,000 for the Russia Initiative.

In keeping with spending constraints, the directors approved three substantial partnership fund grants, but those funds will not be released until "capital gains assigned to this account are realized or other sources of funding are identified (and cash flow permits)." Those grants include $105,000 to the Argentine Evangelical Methodist Church, $250,000 to the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and $500,000 to the United Methodist Philippines Central Conference to help implement strategic plans for mission in those countries.

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*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

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