United Methodist News Service
Plans to restructure The United Methodist Church’s 13 general agencies could imperil ministries that local congregations need and value, say agency executives.
“We need vital congregations,” said Gilbert C. Hanke, the top executive of United Methodist Men. “But we also need a vital general church at the same time to do what it is we as United Methodists are called to do.”
Hanke and 12 other members of the United Methodist General Secretaries Table released a statement Jan. 26 to respond to proposals that would consolidate agencies, shrink their governing boards and potentially slash their funding. The General Secretaries Table consists of the chief executives of the 13 general agencies.
The group’s statement urges 2012 General Conference delegates to “identify essential functions best provided by the general church system and support those functions through organizational structure, resource allocation, and churchwide action.”
General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking body, will meet April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Fla. Hanke, who is also a General Conference delegate from the Texas Annual (regional) Conference, and at least five other agency heads have issued personal statements sounding a note of caution about the restructuring plans.
What will the restructure affect?
One significant piece of legislation — the result of the multiyear Call to Action process — would consolidate nine of the general agencies into a new United Methodist Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry under a 15-member board.
The legislation also would allow the new center’s board to redistribute up to $60 million toward funding theological education, recruiting young clergy and laity, and fostering vital congregations.
The legislation does not specify where that total will come from, but agency executives expect either a majority or the entirety of the money will come from the World Service Fund, which provides most of the funding for agency work.
Agencies already face more than a 6.5 percent cut to the World Service Fund under the 2013-16 budget of $311.6 million, which the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration has submitted to General Conference. The redistribution potentially would represent another reduction of nearly 20 percent.
“That being the case, the essential functions of all general agencies will not continue,” Hanke said. “There is not a single one that can take that large a reduction.”
Under the restructuring legislation, United Methodist Men would be among the few agencies that remain a separate body. However, Hanke joined other agency executives in expressing concerns about what the redistribution of $60 million in general church funds could mean for the ministry his and other agencies provide.