Conference budget passes even among concerns
Discussion of the 2017 Upper New York Conference Budget took place across three plenaries: the Friday afternoon plenary, an added Friday evening plenary (which was made possible but cutting time out of the dinner break and starting the Celebration of Ministry later), and Saturday morning’s plenary.
The Rev. Larry Lake, the Chair of the Conference Council on Finance & Administration (CF&A), opened the budget discussion with the tough reality that the ministry shares coming in are not enough to fund the budget. In 2015, 67 percent churches paid their ministry shares in full (602 churches out of 896). In 2015, 178 churches paid between 0 and 49 percent of their ministry shares. The Conference received just over $7.8 million to fund the ministries. Rev. Lake said, “While that seems like a lot, you can see that the unpaid ministry shares amounted to just under $2.5 million. This has caused a huge financial strain, resulting in the Conference only being able to pay about 65 percent of its General Church apportionments.”
While there were many mixed emotions about the budget shared by members of the Annual Conference, the two biggest areas of concern were regarding cuts made to campus and camping ministries.
Rev. Colleen Preuninger, Chaplain of Syracuse University’s Hendricks Chapel, said “I know the achy reality of shared ministries shortfall…In February, I was called into a meeting with Conference leadership and informed that this would be my last semester at Syracuse University…College ministries and many other ministries were suspended because of the projected ministries shortfall for 2016...I wish we could fund all ministries. I wish I didn’t have to send my kids away this year and say, ‘I don’t know what’s gonna happen to your Chaplain’s seat the next year,’ but I have to because we had to make hard decisions.”
Rev. Sara Baron of the First Schenectady UMC said, “I am deeply and profoundly concerned that the budget cuts we are making are to the things we actually care about. It’s gonna get harder each year to continue convincing churches to pay 100 percent of their ministry shares when it doesn’t support camping ministry…when it doesn’t support campus ministry. In particular, I would say that those are the seed ministries…those are the things we do that actually form people into followers of Jesus for a lifetime.”
At her turn at the mic, Rev. Donna Martin of Elm Park UMC reminded the crowd about why the budget is unable to support all ministries. She said, “Year after year, we come into this room; we look at this piece of paper; we get asked to approve it; we do this and then we come in the next year and we yell at or speak to them up there [CF&A] and say they are not doing their job when the reality is, we are not doing our job. If we paid our (Ministry Shares) in full and didn’t hold back for whatever reasons they are held back, the budget would be met consistently year after year...we have people who are not keeping their commitments.”
After much deliberation, the Conference budget passed with an added motion for CF&A to lead the production of a narrative budget that includes one paragraph describing the ministry and priorities of each line item in our 2018 ministry share budget for the 2017 Annual Conference to be posted on the UNYAC website at least two weeks prior to the 2017 resolutions and petitions deadline of February 1, 2017. This motion was further amended that through March and April of 2017, there be regional listening and interpretation gatherings for the entire conference.
Once the budget finally passed, Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb stood up and said, “I am vacating the presiding chair for just a moment so that I can speak to you as your pastor. On my worst days when I look at our financial reality, my spirit is filled with great anxiety…on my worst days. On my best days, when I look at our financial realities, my spirit reminds me that God is enough.”
Bishop Webb then explained how we have the exact gifts we need to live out the mission in the budget. He concluded, “God believes in us. God has called us. I believe we can fund the budget we just approved at 100 percent. I believe that; that’s what God is calling us to do. Let’s pray that God will show us how we live into that calling…that when we gather together next year, we celebrate that every category of the spending (the fixed, the variable, and the contingent) were released for ministry because we believe that God is enough.”