Questions from Annual Meeting:
The Varied Forms of Christian Outreach

by Larry Bowers


Our 1998 Annual Meeting raised some questions which intrigued me, and I want to share what I have learned in pursuing the answers.

1. Are our dues to the UCC a tax rather than Christian Outreach? Old South belongs to the United Church of Christ, by virtue of our church's membership in the Metropolitan Boston Association (MBA) of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC. For a church to belong to the UCC, it must belong to an Association. The MBA annually assesses its member churches voluntary dues of which about 85% are set by the Mass. Conference and paid through the MBA to the Mass. Conference. Because each church's dues are based on its number of members, these dues are sometimes referred to as a "head tax." Unlike everything else we call a "tax", there are no consequences for non-payment. The MBA does not expel or otherwise penalize non-paying churches. For 1998 our dues will be $9.00 per church member of which $1.60 will support the local expenses of the MBA. The remainder, $7.40 per member, will pay part of the expenses of the Mass. Conference. Both at the Association and conference level, part of these dues will also fund a multiplicity of scholarships, social justice programs, and pastoral care initiatives, in addition to the expenses of the processes by which students become ministers, churches find ministers, and churches are assisted in dealing with daily problems and great crises.

The national offices and ministries of the UCC do not receive any portion of the membership dues. Old South contributes to the expenses of the national UCC by an annual Sunday morning offering and by a yearly donation to Our Church's Wider Mission (OCWM), recommended by our Christian Outreach Committee. About 65% of these OCWM donations finance the national UCC, the other 35% supplement our dues in supporting the state conference. Thus 35% of OCWM, which is considered "Christian outreach," is used for the exact same purposes as most of our dues. The remaining 65% is used for analogous purposes at the national, rather than state level.

2. Should we consider our rent subsidy to Training, Inc. Christian Outreach? Old South owns an office building at 294 Washington St., adjoining the original site of our church. On May 10, 1988, when the church budget was about double its current level and the office occupancy at 294 Washington was about 100%, the Church Council voted: "... a $45,000-50,000 per year reduction from present rent... under a three-year lease" for Training, Inc., an organization, which trains people in basic office skills to enable them to support themselves. Old South, together with the YMCA, had participated in the founding of Training, Inc. (Indeed, the national YMCA itself was founded in an Old South chapel, overlapping where 294 Washington St. now stands.) On May 14, 1991, with the church finances declining, the Christian Outreach Committee proposed, and the Council approved, the extension of the Training, Inc. lease through June, 1993 "under favorable terms and conditions similar to the [then] current ones." By the end of 1991, it was clear that Old South would need to cut its budget by 50-60%. Rusty Aertsen negotiated a series of agreements which averted financial catastrophe and began to insulate our church assets from enormous liabilities. One such agreement was to use all of the net income from 294 Washington St. to pay down its mortgages. The only other benefit which flowed from our ownership of 294 Washington St. was the subsidy for Training, Inc.

When the Training, Inc. subsidy was originally voted by the Council in 1988, it represented a clear use of operating funds by the Council, money that could have then been used for other church purposes. During many of the intervening years, the subsidy has had no real impact on the church budget, because the subsidy was paid from a non-liquid asset, our equity (sale value minus mortgage balances) in 294 Washington St. Because we had agreed to use the income of 294 Washington St. to pay down the mortgages, we could not have substituted the hiring of additional staff or donations to other charities for the subsidy. In the early nineties, vacancies at 294 Washington St. were so high, that the subsidy arguably represented no cost to the Church because, if Training Inc. had not rented it, the space might have been vacant. In recent years with rents and occupancy climbing, that subsidy has represented a real, non-speculative cost, if still not to the operating budget, then to our equity in 294 Washington St. and thus to Old South's net financial worth. Sometime in God's time, somehow in God's way, our remaining equity in 294 Washington St. is going to be a major factor in our financial future and in all we may aspire to accomplish. That equity has been reduced this last decade due to our subsidy to Training, Inc., recently at the rate of $44,000 per year. If that money has not been used for "Christian outreach", there has been no justification for this depletion.

3. How much should Old South give to Christian Outreach and to the UCC? While we have always funded "Christian outreach" as one of the several integral parts of our church life, carefully balancing the needs of each, we are being urged to evaluate separately the percentage of our giving to Christian outreach, in comparison to other churches. If we do decide to judge our Christian outreach giving by a percentage driven model, we should then at least consider the model proposed by the Mass. UCC. In 1994 the Annual Meeting of the Mass. Conference UCC, delegates from the various churches, encouraged Mass. UCC churches to allocate to "all benevolences and charitable contributions" an amount equal to at least 10% of "local" expenditures (presumably the operating expenses for the church building, pastor, and program, excluding outreach), with an additional challenge that outreach expenditures be raised by 1/4 to 1/2% of current local expenditures annually towards a goal of at least 25% of local expenses. Applying this UCC formula to Old South, our budgeted local expenditures in 1997 totaled $663,027. All benevolences and charitable contributions for 1997 totaled between $87,000 and $118,100, or 13-18% of budgeted local expenditures. (These figures exclude some special offerings which should be included, but do include both the Training, Inc. subsidy, which some have suggested excluding, and $34,000 raised through the very special efforts of our Housing Committee.) The UCC recommended annual increase for Old South in all outreach giving would be between $1,660 and $3,320.

As was pointed out at our Annual Meeting, Old South gives far less than most UCC churches to support the denomination. In 1996 our Christian Outreach Committee recommended $1,500 for Our Church's Wider Mission (OCWM) from the operating budget. With a supplemental gift, Old South's 1996 contribution totaled $3,700, about $6.39 per member, as compared to 1996 averages for all MBA churches of $7,700 per church and $28.83 per member. For 1997 the Christian Outreach Committee recommended an increase of $500 in the church's budgeted contribution to OCWM. Although some consider all these percentage goals an artificial imposition, the Mass. UCC 1994 Annual Meeting recommended that 50% of each church's total outreach expenditures should go to OCWM, with the challenge that this increase very gradually over time to 75%. The $2,000 allocated in 1997 by the Christian Outreach Committee falls short both of this recommendation and of the practice on average of other local churches. Using the lower 1997 outreach gift figure of $87,000, Training, Inc. received 51.1%, Habitat 43.1%, OCWM 2.3%. Five other organizations, City Mission Society (the major local UCC outreach arm), Rev. Little's street ministry, Saturday's & Sunday's Bread, Mass Coalition for Homeless, Boston Community Loan Fund, and Boston Aging Concerns, received 0.57% each.


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