Wrestling with budget after GC2020 postponed

Other Manual Translations: português español

The pandemic-forced postponement of General Conference has left United Methodist financial leaders with big questions about the denomination’s budget.

The General Council on Finance and Administration board spent much of a March 27 teleconference grappling with how to act within the bounds of church rules while recognizing the new economic realities caused by COVID-19.
 
The board was dealing with the unprecedented situation of needing to set 2021 apportionments — that is, requested giving from conferences — before the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly can adopt an apportionment formula for the 2021-2024 general church budget.

Ultimately, a majority of GCFA board members decided they had no choice but to extend into 2021 the apportionment calculations approved by the 2016 General Conference.
 
A majority also voted to request that the Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court, rule on whether the board’s action was in keeping with church law. Neither voice vote was unanimous.

Rick King, GCFA’s chief financial officer, told the board that whatever apportionments the next General Conference sets would apply retroactively to the start of 2021. General Conference organizers are looking at rescheduling the event for next year.

“What we are trying to do now is to make sure there is some budget in place so the general church can continue,” King said. 

In other actions

The General Council on Finance and Administration board on March 27 heard an update on the U.S. Families First Coronavirus Response Act, signed into law on March 19. The new law affects paid leave offered by churches and other employers through the end of the year. The finance agency has put together frequently asked questions about the law. 

Read press release

Read FAQs

Ken Ow, a GCFA board member with long experience in the U.S federal budget process, likened the board’s action to a continuing resolution. The U.S. Congress passes a continuing resolution to fund government functions until regular appropriations are enacted.

“A continuing resolution usually operates at the same rate as the previous year,” Ow said.
 
Still, a number of board members expressed concern that using the higher apportionment base rate approved in 2016 would make the board look out of touch in a health crisis causing rising death, unemployment and canceled worship services around the globe.
 
“I’m thinking of how this increase in the base rate will significantly impact our annual conference ministries,” said the Rev. Dustin Petz, GCFA board member and chief executive of the Kansas Area United Methodist Foundation.

“As this goes up, their ability to do ministry in their conferences will go down, which is where I think there is a tremendous need, given our current state of pandemic.”

Vasanth Victor, a board member from the Greater New Jersey Conference, echoed that concern. “This is just an unreasonable burden to put on annual conferences,” he said. “And it’s just going to make them unable to pay so they won’t pay.”

The GCFA board already was planning to submit to the next General Conference the smallest denominational budget in more than 30 years.

Petz moved that GCFA request apportionments based on the reduced base rate it was proposing rather than the significantly higher rate the 2016 General Conference previously approved. That motion did not pass.

The sticking point for a number of board members was whether GCFA had the authority to request apportionments using a formula General Conference had not yet approved.
 

Subscribe to our
e-newsletter

Like what you're reading and want to see more? Sign up for our free daily and weekly digests of important news and events in the life of The United Methodist Church.

Keep me informed!

Bryan Mills, GCFA’s interim general council, told the board he and his team searched through the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s policy book, and Judicial Council decisions for guidance.

“We have found nothing that addresses what happens if General Conference fails to meet in the year it was originally scheduled,” Mills said. “There is complete silence.”

However, he added, the Judicial Council has consistently ruled that neither General Conference nor annual conferences can delegate their budget authority to some subordinate group to make decisions on an interim basis.
 
“We don’t see how we as GCFA could have any authority to do something different than what the General Conference has already decided,” Mills said.
 
“Unfortunately, it’s not maybe what we want to do or what we believe is reflective of reality. But it's our conclusion that this is the most viable option and hopefully most consistent with the (denomination's) constitution.”

Mary A. Daffin, a lawyer and a Texas Conference chancellor, agreed with Mills. As chair of the board’s Legal Responsibilities and Corporate Governance Committee, she made the motion for the Judicial Council to rule on GCFA’s actions.

She also acknowledged some trepidation in going to the Judicial Council. “When I am in the courtroom, I do not like to ask a question I do not know the answer to,” she said.
 
The Rev. Moses Kumar, GCFA’s top executive and a licensed local pastor, told the board that general church agencies and other denomination-wide ministries were already preparing for the coming reductions. This year, most church agencies are budgeting for a 70% to 75% apportionment collection rate.

Bishop Mike McKee, GCFA board president and leader of the North Texas Conference, also assured the board that GCFA’s communications to conferences will recognize the ongoing pandemic and the greater needs conferences face.
 
“We’re going to say what needs to be said,” he promised, “so it doesn’t look like we’re in another universe.” 

Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

Like what you're reading?  United Methodist Communications is celebrating 80 years of ministry! Your support ensures the latest denominational news, dynamic stories and informative articles will continue to connect our global community.  Make a tax-deductible donation at ResourceUMC.org/GiveUMCom.

Sign up for our newsletter!

umnews-subscriptions
Mission and Ministry
A man receives help from the Miss Stone Center. Despite the many challenges of 2020, the leaders and workers of the Miss Stone Center in Strumica, a diaconal facility of The United Methodist Church in North Macedonia, were able to care for more than 200 people without interruption. Photo by Christina Cekov, Strumica.

North Macedonia ministry provides hope during pandemic

Though COVID-19 changed the lives of many, leaders of a United Methodist diaconal facility in North Macedonia, have been able to provide care without interruption.
General Church
Custodian James Jimmerson disinfects pews to prevent any possible spread of the coronavirus at Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tenn., on Sunday, May 10, 2020, following online worship, which is recorded in the sanctuary. Photo by Mike DuBose, UM News.

2020: The year in UM News photos

The year 2020 was an eventful and difficult one for the church. Photographers from UM News documented a year in the life of United Methodism worldwide.
General Church
The Rev. Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, a General Conference delegate from the California-Nevada Conference, speaks during the last day of the 2019 special General Conference in St. Louis. The Commission on the General Conference met online in December to discuss planning for the General Conference postponed by COVID-19. File photo by Paul Jeffrey, UM News.

Grappling with postponed General Conference

Organizers of The United Methodist Church’s top legislative body have decided not to reopen the petition process but have set a timeline for dealing with postponement.