November 18, 2016
To all members of the United Church of Christ in the Ohio Conference:
The Executive Committee of the Board of Directors, meeting November 16, 2016, directed us to send this report throughout the Conference. This information has an immediate impact on discussions planned for a December 9 meeting of the full Board of Directors with a number of invited guests.
Here are the details.
Prior to November 1, 2016:
Due to difficult decisions made by the Conference Board of Directors, the yearly significant financial losses from the management of the two camp sites were averted. There were still deficits in summer camp programming expenses, but they were reduced enough to provide hope that we could maintain this ministry.
Earlier decisions to sell one camp site and concentrate resources and energy to strengthen the other were reconsidered. After a sabbatical, Templed Hills was reopened as an experiment. The camp was placed under new management, and the Board decided to evaluate the results after two years.
At the same time, it was still necessary to address long standing issues of deferred maintenance and capital needs at the camp sites, plus the $1.9 million in losses incurred by the Conference since 2010 as it supported the Outdoor Ministry program. Approximately 132 acres of property around Pilgrim Hills were to be offered for sale. None of those acres are used for programming.
This proposal met strong opposition from some quarters. Decisions to proceed with sale of such acres were put on hold until the matter could be addressed at the December 9 meeting of the Board.
A movement named AFFIRM CAMP funded a study by the consulting firm Kaleidoscope. The study was commissioned at the time it was thought one camp site would be sold. AFFIRM CAMP members proposed that an Association consider purchasing the camp as a retreat center. Kaleidoscope was asked to develop a business plan to support that proposal. When such a sale was put on hold, AFFIRM CAMP offered the consultant’s report to the Board of the Conference to aid the Board in making decisions regarding the future of our camp sites.
Friends of AFFIRM CAMP, and members of the Division of Outdoor Ministry, have been invited to engage with the Board on December 9 to discuss the sale of acreage, the Kaleidoscope report, and the development of longer range plans for outdoor ministry.
Please keep in mind that dramatic changes have occurred to Conference programming, staffing, and support of the wider United Church of Christ in recent years. The steady decline of OCWM support from congregations and subsequently by Associations dictated massive spending cuts. Budget shortfalls have continued annually, much of it due to efforts to continue a beloved outdoor ministry program.
Associations have also made their own adjustments to the decline in OCWM dollars. In one instance, two Associations have sought to reduce costs by sharing their staff members, developing a joint budget, and considering various other ways to combine their efforts in order to maintain a strong presence and service to their congregations. Other Associations have made a variety of adjustments in order to reduce their operating expenses.
All of this experience was factored into Conference planning for 2017, prior to November 1.
After November 1, 2016:
Associations completed their annual budget-making for 2017. As Conference leaders learned of their decisions, the shape of the financial landscape for the Ohio Conference changed overnight! The Executive Committee received this information on November 16:
Retention rates in Associations (the percent of OCWM to be retained in an Association for its support) range from 45% to 89% for 2017. In one case, an Association did not budget a retention percentage but pledged $3000 for Conference use and 10% of its OCWM income for national use. There are congregations in each Association who provide no OCWM support and others which have chosen to withhold any OCWM support for Conference use.
The Conference Treasurer reported to the Executive Committee the following:
“I now forecast a deficit (to the Conference) of over $54,000 in our current operating budget for 2017. A deficit of this level is not sustainable. Major reduction in spending is required. At this point, any reduction will seriously compromise the ministries of the Conference. For instance, fully 1/3 of the budget supports outdoor ministries. Currently we operate outdoor ministries with a ½ time registrar and a ½ time “director” of outdoor ministries (whose half-time also includes other significant duties). Any further reduction in staffing will seriously compromise the summer camp operation.”
Actual dollar support looks like this: (2016 and 2017 figures are projections)
For the Conference and its programs, especially outdoor ministries, this represents a decline of nearly $88,600 below what was received in 2015.
Alongside these funding changes, efforts to re-imagine a sustainable and faithful structure for the Ohio Conference and its Associations are underway. This is not news! All previous proposals for re-structuring over many years have been defeated. This is also not news!
Current working groups are to present ideas on restructuring for consideration by Association representatives, two Conference representatives, and two members of the national UCC staff in January, 2017.
The Board is being requested to delay all action regarding camp properties until a long range view of Conference and Association relationships is in place. But the funding crisis effectively forces that discussion into a very tight corner with little room for maneuverability.
Even Associations, as witnessed by their increasing retention rates and adjustments to staffing and program, are finding it difficult to maintain their own strength and levels of programming.
The most serious victim of this changing landscape is the national setting of the UCC!
Clearly, decisive action is needed, and quickly.
Therefore, it is important that members of the Ohio Conference community of the United Church of Christ be aware of factors which are shaping the discussions on December 9 and beyond. We dare not expect definitive answers which can be immediately implemented as a result of that one meeting. However, we pray for responsible and thoughtful dialogue which will have a present impact on decisions about camp properties and programming, and which offers options for longer term decisions about how to serve the congregations of the entire Ohio Conference.
We commit to keeping you informed as these crucial discussions continue, and to create opportunities for dialogue with you.
Through it all, we remember that our call is
to love God,
to love neighbor,
to do justice,
to love kindness,
to walk humbly with God.
Respectfully and prayerfully submitted by
Mindy Quellhorst, Conference Moderator
John Gantt, Interim Conference Minister