Mission Agency To Cut $3.9 Million From Budget

February 24, 2009

By Elliott Wright*

Feb. 23, 2009 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

The United Methodist Board of Global Ministries is reducing its 2009 operating budget by $3.9 million, or seven percent, because of a combination of economic factors.

"This is stressful but essential to keep within our means in this time of global economic downturn," said the Rev. Edward W. Paup, the mission agency's top executive.

The reduction affects an approved core budget of $57.6 million, a figure that does not include the Women's Division, the corporate unit of United Methodist Women, or the United Methodist Committee on Relief. A Feb. 13 letter to Global Ministries' directors indicated that the operating budget could change if the financial picture improves in the coming months.

Global Ministries receives its core revenues from several sources, including:

  • World Service, the basic benevolence fund of The United Methodist Church
  • designated gifts for missionary support
  • allocation from Women's Division
  • investment income.

The revised budget lowers projected 2009 income from World Service receipts, investments and designated giving for missionary support through The Advance. It eliminates the use of reserves, according to Roland Fernandes, the general treasurer of the agency.

Budget reductions include $2 million in program and $700,000 in personnel expenditures across the agency. The latter will leave unfilled or eliminate 17 staff positions, according to Fernandes (at left). The 17 positions do not involve missionaries.

A reduction in the length of directors' meetings and the postponement until fall of the formal training and commissioning of missionaries originally set for April are two other steps taken to reduce costs. Most of the missionary personnel affected by the postponement are already in their places of assignment.

The letter to directors, signed by Paup and Bishop Bruce Ough of West Ohio, president of the board, stressed that the delay of formal missionary training and commissioning in no way "indicates a lessening of commitment to the maintenance, even the increase, of our missionary community. Missionaries are part of our lifeblood, essential in every aspect of our involvement in God's mission."

Decline in income expected

In explaining the budget reduction, the Ough-Paup letter said:

"It is too early to predict the World Service income for 2009, but we expect some decline both in 2009 and 2010. In December 2008, apportioned giving was almost six percent lower than in December 2007. The current year's budget is also directly impacted by the low yield in investment income.

"The financial environment has resulted in a significant decrease in the market value of the Collins Pension and Health Plans for retired missionaries, causing significant under-funding in those plans based on very preliminary numbers for 2008. Along with this, recent legislation requires us to book the unfunded liability in these plans, a move likely to eliminate our reserves."

The letter stated that the agency can no longer depend upon unreliable investment income to supplement the costs of missionaries.

At present, the agency has some 220 basic ("standard support") missionaries, mostly serving outside the United States. The average annual cost of each of these missionaries--including salaries, benefits, and other expenditures--is $55,000, which does not factor the retirement costs for health and pension. The costs of missionaries in other service categories are shared with the institutions or annual conferences to which they are assigned.

"We will soon be issuing a challenge to the church to ensure the future of missionary support through both World Service and designated gifts through The Advance," Paup said. "This may be exactly the right time to let our membership know that we cannot sustain missionary levels even as they are now without greater commitment from congregations and individuals."

The Advance for Christ and His Church is the designated mission giving channel of The United Methodist Church. It covers gifts to UMCOR, mission projects around the world, and mission personnel. One hundred percent of every Advance contribution goes to the designated ministry.

Total giving to The Advance was up in 2008 but only marginally for missionary support, one of few giving categories that have a direct impact on the agency's core budget.

Global Ministries is currently engaged, with the assistance of an outside organization, in a thorough operational and program "audit." A report on the process will be made to directors in April, and the outcome could affect staffing and program patterns.

*Wright is the information officer of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.