Ecumenical Flagship Still Drifting, Taking on Water

by Jerald Walz

16 Feb 2002

Reproduced from Virtuosity News

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.