18. Ecumenical Flagship Still Drifting, Taking on Water by Gerald Walz
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Sat Feb 16 01:37:53 EST 2002
Ecumenical Flagship Still Drifting, Taking on Water
By Jerald Walz
The National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. met in
Oakland, California November 13th to 16th, 2001 for its annual general
assembly. From before the beginning of the assembly, several serious
questions challenged the delegates: Has the financial crisis
stabilized and fiscal health been restored?
How would the General Assembly react to the terrorist attacks of 9-
11? Will the NCC move towards closer work with Evangelicals and
Catholics? If so, how and in what fashion? Now that Church World
Service is "separate" from the NCC, what is it up to? What has
happened to the Faith & Order Commission after the departure of its
director to establish an independent faith and order body? What of the
NCC has changed with the recent leadership changes, and what does the
future look like with the installation of the new NCC president?
Financial Drain Continues: A Hole in their Pocket
The NCC's finances remain in disarray. For the fiscal year ending June
30th, 2001, the NCC spent slightly more than $9.89 million. Revenues
were $7.7 million. That means the NCC ran a deficit of $2.152 million,
which represents almost 30% of actual revenues. In other words, the
NCC spent 30% more than it took in.
Despite efforts to stop the bleeding, Phil Young, the NCC Treasurer,
told the Executive Board that for the period from July 1 to October 30,
2001, the NCC ran a deficit of $167,000. Still, Young and General
Secretary Robert Edgar maintain that the NCC's books will be balanced
by December 31st.
A closer look at the NCC's 2000-2001 audit reveals some disturbing
facts. The NCC still owes Church World Service an estimated $830,000
for "postretirement healthcare liabilities." Further, the NCC is
"dependent upon two member communions to provide approximately 64% of
the support from member communions."
Undoubtedly these two member communions are the United Methodist Church
and the Presbyterian Church USA. Total liabilities, not including the
estimated payment to CWS, were listed at slightly more than $3.9
million. Unrestricted net assets were listed at slightly more than
$1.2 million. Temporarily and permanently restricted assets total
slightly more than $1 million. It is unlikely the NCC could sustain
another deficit as severe as it did in 2000-2001.
On the floor of the General Assembly there was little discussion of
these matters. In fact, the delegates were asked to receive and
approve the 2000-2001 audit without having copies available. They were
told that copies were "on their way." Edgar assured the delegates that
the audit would be sent to the heads of member communions and to the
appropriate church officers.
Later, after the motion to receive the audit was approved without
discussion, one delegate from the United Church of Christ said from the
floor of the Assembly that he was uncomfortable with what had just
occurred. Edgar quickly rushed to the platform to quell any
questions. This is "not an attempt not to have transparency," he
assured the delegates. The next morning two original copies of the
audit were placed on each table in the assembly hall.
On the final day of the assembly, the same UCC delegate challenged
Edgar and Young, this time armed with a motion. The delegate noted
that almost 45% of the expenses in FY 2000-2001 were for fundraising,
management, and general expenses.
Young and Edgar acknowledged that this was high, but Young noted that
even with next year's austere budget this category would be almost 30%.
The delegate moved that for this quadrenniam all members of the General
Assembly receive financial reports including a year-to-date income and
expense statement, a comparison of expenses to the budget, a projection
of the fiscal year's expenses, a balance sheet, and an outline of the
steps to balance expenses with revenues. At this point Edgar shifted
into high gear assuring the delegates that it was his intention to
provide this information. While noting that it would add additional
cost to an already tight budget, Edgar promised that financial
information would be available by fax, email, or through the web
site. "We will be as transparent as possible," Edgar said.
Next, Edgar reviewed some of the measures that had already been taken
to balance the NCC budget. For example, the NCC staff will be reduced
to only 38 by January 1. Two years ago the NCC staff numbered over
100. Each month, financial records will be reconciled within two weeks
after the end of the month. An Administrative and Financial Task force
will monitor the NCC's finances and, on behalf of the Executive
Committee, make "personnel and program adjustments to assure
accountability to the 2001-2002 budget."
In a report on the NCC's work of Bible translation, Edgar mentioned
that the NCC is exploring various possibilities regarding the sale or
license of the copyright to the Revised and Newly Revised Standard
Versions of the Bible. The NCC owns the copyrights to both
versions. Edgar noted that the NCC had already refused one offer to
purchase the copyrights. He said that the NCC would not exist today if
it did not receive $500,000 a year in royalties from the sale of the
RSV and NRSV Bibles.
The delegate's motion was never acted upon. Edgar quickly moved to
another report before closing the assembly. The NCC still has a large
whole in its pocket...and not much change left to fall out.
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