The National Health Ministries Office has been closed down, and ministries for college students and youth have been consolidated.
Other changes connected to this $4 million cutback and reorganization are taking place as well, as the result of decisions the General Assembly Council made at its March 25-27 meeting in Louisville.
The Multicultural Ministry Office has been renamed Multicultural Congregational Support and moved into the Racial Ethnic and Women’s Ministries division. A new environmental ministries office is being created, following a directive of the 2008 General Assembly. The PC(USA) likely will not reach a previously-stated goal of having 215 international mission co-workers in the field by the end of 2009 – currently, the denomination has 189 mission-coworkers, with another 18 scheduled to be commissioned this summer, bringing the number up to 207.
After all the shifting around is done, the General Assembly Council – the mission staff of the denomination – will end up with just over 400 employees, not counting international mission co-workers or those working at Presbyterian conference centers and some other entities related to the council. Here’s how the math works out. Starting in the spring of last year, 56 positions (some of them vacant) have been eliminated and 12 new ones added back in — for a net decline of 44 positions.
The changes are partly the result of poor economic conditions — basic mission support from congregations and presbyteries is down $1.7 million from what had been expected for 2009; designated giving from congregations and presbyteries dropped by $700,000 from projections and church-wide special offerings by $1.41 million.
But strategic decisions are mixed in there too.
“The church, like corporations, not-for-profits, government agencies, are all affected by this economic crisis which is causing us to have to make cost reductions,” Linda Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Council, said in an interview March 27, after details of the cost-cutting plan were announced. “At the same time, we’ve been engaged in a lot of strategic work. And many of the changes that we’re making now … are strategic reshapings of ministries that we might have done whether or not there’s an economic downturn. … We didn’t do just an across-the-board, take out of everything (cutback) but really did implement some of the strategic reshapings that we’ve been about for some time now.”
Valentine also said that the elected General Assembly Council, which discussed the proposed changes in closed sessions March 26 and 27, did not make any changes in the plan she and her staff presented.
The national staff has known for weeks now that layoffs were coming at the close of the General Assembly Council meeting on March 27 – and employees had been instructed to be available for conversations with their supervisors between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., in the hours after the council’s meeting ended.
“There was a sense of discouragement to me when we had to do budget-cutting,” Valentine said. “Last year it was wonderful to be able to say for the first time in a long time we didn’t have to lay off staff to meet the budget,” and could concentrate on the reshaping of ministry to “do things better?”
She added: “It’s painful when you have to let people go from their jobs.” But to figure out a better way to do things, “that’s exciting work.”
The General Assembly Council discussed the proposed job cuts in closed sessions — only voting publicly March 27 to reduce the overall mission budget for 2009 from $110 million to $106.9 million, a cut of about $4 million. The council members agreed to honor the confidentiality of all their closed door discussions, meaning that the policy debate about the wisdom of what was cut from the budget and what was salvaged may take place across the broader church … as the reality of the changes sinks in.
Valentine said health ministries were cut in part because she wants the national staff to concentrate on things they do uniquely or do best — and many congregations, presbyteries, and nonprofits are involved in health ministries themselves, so “a lot of the work in that ministry area is being done in other places.”
And collegiate and youth ministry are being combined because “we think there’s a lot of synergy” in what they’re doing.
As far as further cutbacks go, the last shoe hasn’t dropped yet. Valentine has said that cuts for the 2010 budget likely will be made when the council meets in Louisville Sept. 22-25. She said in the interview that she doesn’t know yet how deep the 2010 shortfall will be, or whether there will be reserves to tap into to cushion the depth of potential layoffs.
Overall, the shortfall for the 2009 budget was nearly $10 million, but about $5.93 million was taken from reserves or unspent revenue to avoid additional cutbacks. Of that reserve money, $5.42 million came from restricted funds not spent in 2008 and about $510,000 from unrestricted reserves. Asked to explain why the unrestricted funds had not been spent, Joey Bailey, the denomination’s chief financial officer, said the funds came from dozens of line items – there was not one large source of the funding or single reason why it had not been spent. He did say, however, that any funds donated for restricted purposes would have to be spent in ways that complied with those restrictions.
Whether more reserve funds will be available in September for the 2010 budget — whether those funds will have been tapped out, or whether the investment markets will improve by then — is not yet known, Valentine said.
For the 2009 budget, facing a $10 million shortfall and after pulling together $5.93 million in reserves or unspent revenue, that left $4 million in cuts needed from other sources.
Nearly all of the General Assembly Council staff will take a required week of furlough May 17-23 (a saving of $450,000) and will give up any raises for 2010 (a saving of $900,000). Valentine also has announced that she will take no salary increase in 2009.
Staff travel has been cut 15 percent and postage expenses by 10 percent; the hours the headquarters building in Louisville is open were reduced.
“Ministries do continue,” Valentine said at the close of the council’s meeting. “In fact many, many, many ministries, most of our ministries,” remain in the budget. “So yes, this glass is more than half full. This cup is overflowing with the generosity of God. So let’s go forward with joy and anticipation. Come to the Big Tent event” — a gathering of 10 Presbyterian groups in Atlanta June 11-13.
Ironically, the word at this meeting was that registration for the Big Tent had been up to that point far less than was hoped for — perhaps because of the hard economic times.
The GAC issued a detailed report specifying the budget cuts, available here: http://www.pcusa.org/gac/staffchanges.htm.