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Council approves mission budgets for 2009 and 2010; PDA not incorporated

The General Assembly Council has approved a mission budget for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for 2009 and 2010 that does not call for layoffs, but would use $7 million in reserves to balance the budget and would require the denomination to raise $2.1 million in new funding for world mission in each of the next two years.

The budget proposal, which the General Assembly still must approve in June, calls for an increase in the number of mission co-workers who would serve the PC(USA) internationally.

And it would restore the denomination’s Environmental Ministries office, which was eliminated in a major round of budget cutting in May 2006. At least two overtures coming to this year’s assembly have asked for that — with one from Mid-Kentucky presbytery, for example, saying that the environmental office was eliminated “at a time critical to sustaining the planet and life on earth as we know it.”

The cost for restoring the office is estimated at $100,000 a year.

At the council’s meeting in February, some members had voiced alarm over the prospect of a financially-distressed PC(USA) continuing to cut back on the number of mission co-workers it sends overseas, at a time when many nondenominational Christian groups are becoming ever more active.

Hunter Farrell, the denomination’s director of world mission, said then that the number of international mission workers the PC(USA) has deployed internationally was dropping at a “precipitous pace” — down from 250 in 2006 to a projected 196 in June 2008. As mission co-workers leave through retirements and attrition, there hasn’t been money available to send more people out, although qualified candidates are lined up and ready to go.

But this new proposed budget calls for the PC(USA) to employ 215 international mission co-workers in 2009 (at an average cost of $49,586 apiece) and 220 in 2010 (at an average cost of $51,074 each).

The number of mission co-workers the PC(USA) has sent overseas has dropped for nearly 50 years — down from a high of 1,849 in 1959.

This new proposed budget calls for some shifting of resources, and some use of reserves, to achieve the increase in mission co-workers without needing layoffs.

Some cutbacks would be achieved bit-by-bit — for example, by eliminating vacant positions. Not filling a post in the office of the deputy executive director for mission would save $91,641 in 2009 and $95,391 in 2010. Eliminating a position in human resources would save more than $83,135 in 2009 and $85,792 in 2010.

And Linda Valentine, the council’s executive director, said some programs face budget shortfalls in the near future if more money isn’t found to support them. Some of their past funding has come from endowments that are nearly depleted.

For example, “the 2010 funding of $124,201 for the Interfaith Relations office and funding of $161,334 for the UN (United Nations) Peacemaking office are conditioned upon successful fundraising efforts,” the budget report states. “This funding or funding for other mission work will have to be revised if these fundraising efforts are not successful.”

The council’s Stewardship Committee, meeting April 24, had some discussion about the wisdom of using $7 million from the denomination’s reserves — $3.5 million in 2009 and 2010 — to support that budget.

“It’s dangerous, dangerous, dangerous” to use reserves for ongoing operating expenses, said council member Ken Newbold of North Carolina. “Once you use up the reserves, you go bankrupt.”

Valentine responded that the PC(USA) now has $21 million in reserves, and even with the proposed $7 million in spending, would end up with nearly $5 million more than the $9 million in reserves it’s required to keep.

Valentine also said the top staff realizes that it can’t rely on reserves long-term and that restricted funds, which support some ministry programs, are close to running out. As a result, “we’ve either got to adjust that programming, or stop it, or find more funding,” she said. “We’re very aware of it.”

During a plenary session, former General Assembly moderator Rick Ufford-Chase asked how the $2.1 million in new funding for world mission will be raised for the next two years, saying he strongly supports international mission but wants to know if there’s more than a “general hope” the money will come in.

The strategy is to build off the work done by the $40-million Mission Initiative: Joining Hearts & Hands fundraising campaign, which is “planting seeds” for the future by sending representatives to visit the top 200 Presbyterian churches in the country, said Karen Schmidt, deputy executive director for communication and funds development. The “top 200” are measured by a formula that takes into account membership, total giving, and giving per member.

Those 200 congregations will be asked to consider participating, as will 160,000 Presbyterians who have given the denomination money over the last five years, Schmidt said.

It’s that combination she expects to succeed in raising $2.1 million each year, after expenses.

Asked how much the Mission Challenge ’07 campaign raised, minus expenses, Schmidt said she didn’t have an official report with her at the meeting. But she said the campaign — in which mission co-workers visited congregations across the country last fall to tell of their work — raised about $1 million, with the costs associated with the campaign totaling less than half of that.

As of Feb. 29, the PC(USA) had a balance in the reserves of just over $21.2 million — with a required reserve balance of just over $9.5 million. Under the new budget, the PC(USA) would have left a “projected cushion” of $8.3 million at the end of 2009 and $4.8 million at the end of 2010, the report states.

The overall budget being proposed would total about $110.3 million in 2009 and $107.6 million in 2010. Within that budget there would be increased spending in some areas, including about $8 million for ongoing hurricane and tsunami recovery work through Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (the result of restricted donations for those purposes), and more funding for new immigrant churches.

At its meeting in Louisville April 23-25, the council also zipped through a lot of other business, including:

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. The council voted — with no discussion — not to move ahead with incorporating Presbyterian Disaster Assistance as a separate entity. A task force study reported that it was not clear whether incorporating PDA would produce enough benefits to warrant doing it, although PDA’s previous director, Susan Ryan, had argued strongly that incorporation was the way to go.

Immediately after the council voted, council member Carolyn McLarnan of Mississippi, a task force member who said she was speaking on behalf of absent task force co-chair Joseph Johnson of Alabama, made a motion that the task force be allowed to continue on, with a new name. The motion was changed to say the task force would continue through September 2009 — the time period established when it originally was created — to avoid incurring expenses for the task force indefinitely.

McLarnan’s motion stated that the task force would continue to address “communication and interpretation issues” and human resources concerns, including the quick and efficient hiring of staff and on-ground personnel in response to a disaster.

The motion also stated that the task force would “work with all those who feel passionately that incorporation is the best way to carry out the ministry of PDA . … ”

In presenting their recommendations to the council earlier, leaders of the task force said it was not clear that incorporation really would produce desired benefits such as companies providing matching funds, and that incorporation would involve additional expenses.

Explaining why the task force wanted to keep going, McLarnan told the council: “There were a lot of issues hanging in the air.”

Donating tax rebates. Following a suggestion of council member Linda Knieriemen of Michigan, the council voted to ask all council members to donate all or part of their federal tax rebate to support mission funding for the PC(USA).

Ufford-Chase said he’d also like to “challenge the church to take that action with us.”

Racial-ethnic schools. The council heard an update on the financial health of several racial-ethnic schools, including Sheldon Jackson College in Alaska and the Cook School for Christian Leadership in Tempe, Arizona. Rhashell Hunter, the PC(USA)’s director of Racial Ethnic and Women’s Ministries, said the decision has been made to allow those schools to continue receiving funding from the Christmas Joy Offering for 2008-2009, and, at least for now, to “stick with them through the process” of trying to reach a more solid footing financially and to figure out their next steps.

“There are many questions and many discussions to be had down the road,” but the best course seems to be not to pull away funding in the short term, said council member John Bolt of West Virginia.

Ufford-Chase said he wanted to challenge the church to think hard about the contributions of Presbyterian-related racial ethnic schools, many of which “are in some level of crisis.” As a General Assembly moderator, he had the chance to visit many of these schools, Ufford-Chase said, and found that all have brought “a critical value to the church, the broad church, and to our society historically” — and they still have much to offer.

He said he’s “gravely concerned” about the future of these schools, and sees them as having assets “far beyond the value of property” they may own.

Hunter said some of those schools – including the Menaul School in Albuquerque and the Presbyterian Pan American School in Texas are having some success, and “we intend to continue to monitor this.”

Clifton Kirkpatrick. Valentine led the council in expressing appreciation to Clifton Kirkpatrick, who in June will end a 12-year tenure as PC(USA) stated clerk. Valentine said she’s been “amazed and delighted” by her interactions with Kirkpatrick. And Kirkpatrick said he leaves with “a huge sense of ambiguity,” but also convinced “it has been an incredible blessing to work in this church.”

Advocacy and advisory committees. The council is seeking a review process for the work of permanent, advocacy and advisory committees in the denomination. The council is recommending that the General Assembly direct the council to create a review committee to examine the interaction and cooperation between such groups; to consider their scope and authority; and to look at the role each plays in the PC(USA)’s mission work.

That review committee, if the assembly approves it, would report back in 2010.