By Daniel R. Gangler
Wall Street may have crashed, but that crash so far has not affected finances in the new Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church, according to the two conference treasurers based in Marion and Bloomington.
In an interview with Together, Brent Williams, treasurer of the former North Indiana Conference, and Jennifer Gallagher, treasurer of the former South Indiana Conference, both agree that it's too early to tell if the economic downturn has affected conference receipts, those funds from congregations received as conference tithes and denominational income. The funds finance the statewide and worldwide mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church beyond congregations. Through September the downturn in the economy had not affected conference finances.
However, both conferences continue to receive income from Indiana's 1,200 congregations but at different rates compared to last year at this time. Since tithe income is tied directly to what congregations receive, if their income declines, so will conference income.
North Indiana conference tithe and general church income budgets are running behind.
South Indiana conference tithe income is minimally ahead of last year, but General Church income is down.
Gallagher said, "I don't believe the South Conference is in financial trouble at all. We need a strong finish for the year which is difficult to predict."
Gallagher reports $4.2 million or 66 percent of the $6.38 million budget has been received through the conference tithe for conference expenses.
"Keep in mind, we make up a large percentage of our tithe in December most years," she said, hoping the same will be true for this year as well. Total World Service giving to the denomination and General /Jurisdictional apportionments stand at $2.9 million. Unfortunately, the South Indiana Conference Center has received and paid only 39 percent of the $1.14 million General Church and Jurisdictional apportionments through September.
In North Indiana, Williams says the Conference Tithe and General Church Income received through Oct.15 was $5.1 million, compared to $5.4 million as of the same time last year. Tithe income totals $4 million toward an adjusted expense budget of $8.9 million. Conference board, commission and committees have been asked to reduce their expenditures.
Despite the economy, Hoosiers continue to be generous with mission and outreach giving beyond the budget. Churches have sent directed mission donations through the North Indiana Conference Center of $1.3 million in 2008 or $90,000 more than the same period of time in 2007. Williams said he has received $62,881 for all three flood relief funds this year, which is beyond budget income.
The South Indiana Conference Center has received $62,257 for flood relief this year, also beyond its budget income.
New conference finances
Both treasurers said they are working on the 2010 budget that will be presented during the first Indiana Annual Conference session next June at Ball State University in Muncie.
When asked about the effects of the changes coming with the new conference structure, Gallagher said, "There will be some new costs and some savings. The report given to both annual conferences (this past spring) was the hope that finances would be cost-neutral. There are still many variables - who, where and when - which need to be answered before we will know exactly how some of the financial picture will fill in."
Williams said, "I am not prepared to answer this question at this time. There are many decisions that will impact this answer and these decisions are being made and re-made as we move forward."
He added, "During a time of transition like we are in, funds are still needed to continue current support operations while managing change to meet our mission objectives."
General Church giving
Both Williams and Gallagher agree that more needs to be done by the conference and congregations about the mission and ministry of the worldwide United Methodist denomination.
"We need to get the stories out about where the money goes. People want to know what they are paying for," said Gallagher.