General Conference 2012: Budget cuts and organizational restructuring among major proposals
By ED TOMLINSON
A reduced budget, a history-making first, has been submitted for consideration of the 2012 General Conference. The General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) has proposed a budget for the 2013-16 quadrennium which is 6.04 percent less than 2009-12. The Connectional Table reviewed and adopted the work of GCFA which lowers the current $641 million budget to $603 million.
United Methodism is losing membership (though that not the case in the North Georgia Conference) and the average age is increasing. Likewise, “The Adaptive Challenge” from the Call to Action Team report is “to redirect the flow of attention, energy, and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
Given this clear challenge (which includes resources), life expectancy of our membership, and an eroding financial base, a reduction in budget seems appropriate. In response, cuts were made in all seven areas of General Church funding.
Another proposed shift in the financial landscape of our denomination is the disbanding of GCFA as now known. What have been termed “essential functions” of GCFA will be assigned to the Office of Shared Services which will be directed and managed by the Center for Connectional Mission & Ministry in consultation with the Council of Bishops (COB). The Center proposed is led by a 15-member super-board which will essentially replace nine agencies and their Boards of Directors excluding The United Methodist Publishing House and Pension and Health Benefits. (Both receive no apportioned funds.) The Center directors will be elected in consultation with the COB by a 45-member General Council for Strategy and Oversight (meeting once a year). The Chairperson of the GCSO is to be elected by the COB and is suggested to be a bishop “without residential assignment”.
Financial decision-making between General Conferences will take a potentially less transparent path. For instance, recommendations could come from the Office of Shared Services to The Center for Connectional Mission & Ministry and be accepted, rejected, or altered. In some cases, the surviving recommendation might be sent to the General Council for Strategy and Oversight to exercise the same options.
Yet, the process is not finished. An undefined, but required, “in consultation with the COB” suggests that they by 51 percent vote can veto, accept, or amend the recommendation. Further, the Interim Operations Team (IOT) plan calls for redirection within the seven general funds of $60 million during the upcoming quadrennium after studying “programs and spending at all levels of the church”. Then the 15 member Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry Board of Directors “shall recommend for joint approval by the General Council for Strategy and Oversight and The Council of Bishops a plan for reallocation . . .” When one counts the joint votes, the Council of Bishops has about 60 percent.
As one reviews the IOT plan, there is a radical shift in the checks and balances long held in United Methodism. No longer is there a financial arm of the church that reports directly to General Conference. Alterations in budgets, financial policies, best practices, and the like would no longer be subject to decisions by a representative group of laity and clergy from around the denomination. Recommendations of the Office of Shared Services are filtered through three bodies before being implemented or reaching General Conference. The Council of Bishops is given a role of accepting, rejecting, or amending financial decisions now reserved for GCFA and the General Conference.
While the adaptive challenge calls for more vital congregations, the voice and probably ownership in the financial and programmatic decisions of the General Church will suffer. Capable lay leadership and pastors who represent the local church and annual conferences will not be given direct input or participation in much of the decision-making. A cornerstone of the argument for The Center for Connectional Mission & Ministry is the reduction of $9 million in meeting costs of the present Agencies. Left unnoticed are the petitions that came from the agencies (including GCFA) which reduced their size and their meeting costs. With a projected budget exceeding $600 million and a planned reduction of $38 million, would limited funding for inclusion of the voices of local churches and annual conferences not continue to be a good investment? Vitality is rarely engendered and sustained in a top-down atmosphere. In conversations and relationships with each other on all levels of the denomination, better decisions and ownership can be accomplished. Valued participation of capable local church and annual conference leadership is a path to “vitality”.
Over the next several weeks, the North Georgia Advocate will address some of the key issues facing delegates at the upcoming General Conference describe how decisions are made. You are welcome to submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. If space and research time are available to make an adequate response, your submission will be addressed in this effort.
Ed Tomlinson has been elected as a clergy delegate to four General Conferences. In 2004, he served as Chairperson of the General Administration Legislative Committee which formed the Connectional Table. He is a current director of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits and a member of the Church Systems Task Force formed by action of the 2008 General Conference.
Clergy elected to the 2012 General Conference Session
Sharma Lewis, Jonathan Holston, James Cantrell, Phil Schroeder, Jane Brooks, Alice Rogers, Ed Tomlinson, John Simmons, Nora Martinez, Jamie Jenkins, Chuck Savage, Steve Wood, David Bevel Jones
Laity elected to the 2012 General Conference Session
Jane Finley, Lyn Powell, Mathew Pinson, Joe Whittemore, Jeff Jernigan, Bill Stikes, Tonya Murphy , Leon Jourolman, Dianne Spencer, Joe Kilpatrick, Richard Williamson, Bill Martin, Marjorie Kimbrough