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April 1, 2009

Council reduces churchwide staff, budgets for 2009

 
Responding to an overall decline in mission support funds, the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America reduced the churchwide organization's current fund spending authorization for 2009 by $5.6 million to $76.8 million. Its action, taken without comment, resulted in elimination of a number of churchwide staff positions and vacant positions, and affected churchwide ministries.

The council also reduced the 2009 World Hunger Appeal spending authorization by $1.9 million to $18.7 million.

The Church Council is the ELCA's board of directors and serves as the legislative authority of the church between churchwide assemblies. The council met here March 27-30. Assemblies are held every other year; the next is Aug. 17-23 in Minneapolis.

The reduction was needed because at least 35 of the ELCA's 65 synods revised their mission support plans, resulting in a collective downward adjustment of $2.4 million for 2009, reported Christina Jackson-Skelton, ELCA treasurer. Mission support funds are provided by congregations to synods, which share a portion of those funds with the churchwide organization.

Jackson-Skelton said the financial condition of the churchwide organization is stable. Contingency planning continues, she said.

Reporting for the council's budget and finance committee, Phyllis L. Wallace, committee chair, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, said all churchwide units reduced their budgets for 2009. Staff salaries for unit executives and other senior staff are being reduced by 3 percent beginning April 1 through the end of the fiscal year, she said.

Since the council met last November, the churchwide organization has eliminated 23.5 full-time equivalents — positions involving churchwide staff — and another 12 vacant positions were cut, Wallace said. Some churchwide staff were notified in January their jobs were to be eliminated, and more staff were notified last week.

Churchwide grants to global companion churches, colleges, universities, seminaries and social service agencies were reduced, said M. Wyvetta Bullock, executive for administration, Office of the Presiding Bishop. Only critical positions in the churchwide organization are being filled, she said.

Significant reductions occurred in Communication Services, Vocation and Education and  Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission.

Communication Services eliminated Grace Matters, a radio ministry which has aired each week since 1947. The action eliminated three full-time staff and two contract staff. The program's final broadcast will be Easter, April 12. The broadcast aired each week on nearly 180 radio stations in the United States, several European countries, plus Australia, New Zealand and Puerto Rico. Programs could also be heard online, and will continue to be available on the Web. (See also "Grace Matters' canceled" in the April issue of The Lutheran.)

ELCA Vocation and Education eliminated its three full-time deployed campus ministry coordinator positions and an administrative assistant for campus ministry. In each of the ELCA's nine geographic regions, Vocation and Education also has a coordinator who works primarily with candidates preparing for ministry. They will now be asked to facilitate some of the work in campus ministry.

EOCM reductions included funding for new starts, plus reductions in positions for stewardship and an administrative assistant for rural ministry. New EOCM directors of evangelical mission in synods include mission support and stewardship education in their work.

"Each decision you make to end a ministry is very painful," Bullock told the council. "There is a lot of stress in the system now." She praised churchwide leaders and staff for taking on new responsibilities and keeping the organization stable.

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