Sympathy Notice: Rev. Dr. Emery A. Percell
Rev. Dr. Emery A. Percell, retired member of the Northern Illinois Conference, passed away on Monday, December 2, 2019. During his ministry with the Northern Illinois Conference, he s…
Approximately 550 clergy and lay members gathered Nov. 16 in the gymnasium at Kishwaukee College for the Annual Conference Special Session to vote on a budget, apportionment formula changes, and to hear from the Exploration Team, a task force directed by legislation passed at the June Annual Conference to explore a way forward for the Northern Illinois Conference, including the possibility of new Methodist expression.
After a presentation from the Conference Council on Finance and Administration (CCFA) and Q&A, the Annual Conference passed a $4,574,255 budget for 2020, down 5% from 2019.
CCFA Chair Stephanie Uhl acknowledged 2019 has been a difficult year financially for the Conference and local churches. “The Special Session of General Conference earlier this year resulted in many of our churches losing members and along with that significant financial contributions,” said Uhl. “We too have struggled as a conference and while that struggle is not new, it has been more pronounced this year.”
The reduction in spending is about $288,000. The largest savings will come from a consolidation of district offices and staff. Technology has streamlined much of the work of the District Superintendents (DSs) and many of them have been working via “mobile offices” for several years.
“Most DSs are rarely in our offices. We are in our cars and pull over on the side of the road to look at tablets,” said Elgin District Superintendent and Dean of the Cabinet Rev. Darneather Murph-Heath. “Most of our files have been digitized and we no longer have to go to paper files. While these changes come with pain, we have come to a point where we have to do things differently.”
The three Regional Administrators will be reduced to two Administrative Assistants who will be based out of the Conference’s Chicago office to allow for collaboration and efficiency. DSs will be the first point of contact and connection for local churches “in the field.” Not much will change for local churches and they will still receive personal customer service, resources, and support through Conference staff.
The job descriptions and application process for the two administrative positions will be posted the first of the year. All three regional administrators may apply, and the Conference offers a severance package for positions being eliminated. The savings from these changes are projected to be approximately $80,000 in 2020, with additional potential savings in 2021 once any outstanding lease obligations and contracts are met. Reducing the number of DSs from six to five is also being considered in 2021 for more cost savings.
Other cost savings include a change from an in-house IT professional to outsourced IT support, resulting in a reduction in expenses of approximately $60,000; reduction in the number of clergy moves per year, estimating a savings of $20,000 in moving expenses; and reducing Conference program ministries by approximately $60,000.
The Annual Conference also approved a reduced local church apportionment formula for 2020 to help churches with financial difficulties. Apportionments will be calculated using a 12% rate instead of the current rate of 14%.
CCFA also announced it will no longer withhold funding from the General Administration Fund, beginning Jan. 1, 2020. The Annual Conference in June approved CCFA's legislation to suspend payments to the General Administration Fund, one of seven apportioned funds of The United Methodist Church that finance general church activities such as General Conference (GC), in light of an investigation into improper voting at the February GC Special Session. Since the investigation has been completed and action steps are being taken, CCFA believes the funding should be reinstated.
CCFA says so far in 2019, general church apportionment receipts are less than 10%. Uhl recognized changes to the apportionment billing and statements as well as miscommunication over the legislation to suspend payments to the General Administration Fund may have caused confusion.
“Some mistakenly believed we were not paying any General Church funds and we apologize for that confusion," said Uhl. "While we understand that it is highly unlikely that we will receive the additional $1.8 million needed to pay in full, we hope our local churches will continue to support our General Church apportionments,” said Uhl. To learn more about the seven General Church apportioned funds go to www.umcgiving.org/resource-articles/did-you-know.
When asked if the Northern Illinois Conference is still viable, Treasurer Lonnie Chafin said, “If we are doing vital ministry together we are vital. Look to each other and what you can accomplish together that is our viability. As long as we are moving together – we are viable.” To find the budget and explanatory materials of further cuts, go to www.umcnic.org/specialsession under "legislation."
Exploration Team Introduces Draft Statement
After the June Annual Conference passed a resolution asking the Bishop to form a task force to explore a new expression of Methodism and a straw poll overwhelmingly rejected the Traditional Plan, the newly formed Exploration Team began meeting a few weeks after Annual Conference.
The Team’s Chair Rev. Chris Winkler said they’re an intentionally diverse, thoughtful group of clergy and laity who are serious about their work. But as multiple plans for the denomination's future and Judicial Council decisions emerged, Winkler said what became clear is that “clarity would not be something we could hope for or expect until after General Conference 2020.”
The Exploration Team worked on a draft identity statement and covenants to guide the Conference in the discernment of who our future ministry partners would be. “We know there is a wide diversity of theology and ecclesiology in our Conference and we are not all of one mind,” said Winkler. “Thus, one of our essential functions of this process is to gain a sense of who among us is united in our desire to be part of a new expression when they emerge and who might wish to align with another.”
The team is asking churches to share and discuss the statement and covenant with their congregations. Suggestions, affirmations, and edits may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. Several sessions across the Conference are scheduled in February for discussion and discernment. In March and April, the team will evaluate the feedback and make changes. In May, the Team will be closely watching the decisions that come out of General Conference and in June they will present the final draft of the statement and covenants to the Northern Illinois Annual Conference.
“We hope to present legislation that establishes a direction for the churches in our Conference who wish to remain together shaped on the outcome and timeline set by the General Conference,” said Winkler. “We must look forward with hope to May when a new expression of Methodism that expands our vision of ministry beyond what it has been and beyond what we can ever imagine will be born.”
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