Deficits are nothing new to the United Church’s General Council, but the current deficit — about $4 million — comes with at least $1.5 million in high-priority costs, aimed at meeting the goals of the church’s strategic plan.
Among the new plan’s initiatives are creation of at least 100 communities of faith.
Over the past year, that plan has added at least 11 new General Council jobs, including two in communications, six regional “growth animators” and positions for diaspora ministries, global LGBTQ2S+ advocacy and solidarity and government relations. The General Council office has also been reorganized into eight units, up from six in 2021, with seven executive ministers.
General Council Office has been asked to balance its budgets while maintaining staff and programs aimed at meeting the strategic plan. General Secretary Rev. Michael Blair, in his accountability report to the General Council’s October annual recall meeting, says, “This means we need to remove something close to approximately $6 million in potential costs by 2025.”
The 2024 budget will be approved at a November General Council Executive (GCE) meeting but was unveiled in principle at Executive’s September meeting. It has an expected deficit of up to $3.2 million and 25 percent cuts in grants to global and Canadian partners adding up to about $3 million.
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Blair’s accountability report cites “several circumstances impacting the long-term sustainability of the church,” including “the changing landscape of the Canadian culture, the impact of COVID-19, the increased financial stress on communities of faith… as well as the well-being of ministry personnel and the economic challenges of inflation.”
At the recall meeting, that report led commissioner Rev. Kevin Cox, of Timberlea, N.S., to ask: “Are there other solutions other than staff cuts?”
Blair did not clearly rule out staff reductions, but he did confirm that “for the 2024 budget what we have looked at is a reduction in grants, both our grants to partners in the Canadian reality and our global partners.”
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The causes of the current deficit — alongside the planned strategic expenditures — are a fiscal trifecta of Mission and Service givings dropping by $1 million a year, reduced assessments as pastoral charge incomes drop, and inflation that boosted staff wage costs by 3.4 percent this year. For 2024, according to the GCE budget preview, minister personnel would get a 6.3 percent pay raise (in line with rising consumer prices) while General Council-related staff will receive a raise of only two percent, in a move intended to prevent staff layoffs or increased cuts to grants.
A quick review of 2021 and 2022 church statistics attached to Blair’s report shows continuing drops in membership and givings. The only stats on the rise are the values of church building and land, local capital expenditures and pastoral charge expenses.
While much of the deficits for 2022 and 2023 will be covered by rare budget surpluses from 2020 and 2021, continuing deficits after 2025 could eat into the church’s $20 million in reserves.
Correction: In a previous version of this story, Broadview incorrectly reported the number of General Council units and executive ministers. The error has been corrected in this version.
Mike Milne is a writer in Owen Sound, Ont.
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