From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Task Group Chair Responds to

Date 04 May 1996 16:06:44


96117              Task Group Chair Responds to 
             Special Offerings Questions and Comments 
                         by Julian Shipp 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--The Rev. John G. McFayden of Woodbridge, Va., chair of the 
Special Offerings Task Group, responded recently to questions and comments 
about the Presbyterian Church's four special offerings following February's 
General Assembly Council (GAC) meeting here. 
     McFayden was interviewed by the Presbyterian News Service, which asked 
him more than 10 questions compiled through phone calls received by the 
Congregational Ministries Division (CMD) and by monitoring the GAC Feedback 
Forum meeting on "PresbyNet," the denomination's computer communication 
     Significant changes are planned for two of the "special 
offerings"--the Witness Offering and the Christmas Joy Offering.  There are 
no changes proposed to the other two offerings--the One Great Hour of 
Sharing Offering and the Peacemaking Offering. 
     The task group's report, which examined churchwide participation in 
these offerings, was endorsed by the CMD Committee last December and 
approved Feb. 23 by the GAC.  If they are approved by the upcoming General 
Assembly in Albuquerque, the changes will go into effect in 1998. 
     Currently, half of the Christmas Joy Offering receipts go to PC(USA) 
affiliated racial- ethnic schools and half go to the Board of Pensions. The 
task group proposed that the offering be divided three ways: 50 percent to 
racial ethnic schools, 30 percent to the Board of  Pensions, and 20 percent 
to programs for children facing hunger, poverty, violence and other threats 
to their well-being. 
     The task group's research showed that giving to the Witness Offering 
has declined 34 percent over the past few years, and that fewer than 35 
percent of Presbyterian congregations participate in the offering. The 
offering has been taken by most congregations on Pentecost Sunday and 
traditionally has helped maintain mission personnel, support evangelism 
programs, and develop educational materials for small and racial-ethnic 
     The task group believes a new name--and new emphasis on supporting 
youth ministries--will boost participation in the Witness Offering. 
     PNS--If the Witness Offering is transformed into a Pentecost Offering 
for youth and young adult ministry and mission, how will the denomination's 
regular overseas missionaries be funded? 
     McFayden--"The Witness Offering moved away from an exclusive focus on 
funding overseas mission personnel years ago. The Witness Offering 
presently funds mission through the Worldwide Ministries Division (50 
percent of the offering), evangelism and new church development through the 
National Ministries Division (30 percent), and education through the 
Congregational Ministries Division (20 percent). For the past two years and 
until 1988 when a new pattern of offerings approved by the General Assembly 
takes effect, the Divisions have agreed to apply Witness Offering receipts 
to programs for youth and young adults. This focus seems to have slowed the 
decline in offering receipts that has occurred over the past five years. 
The recommendations for a Pentecost Offering take that direction a step 
further, providing the offering a new identity that we believe will help 
the entire church become involved in that offering. 
     "Equipping and sending youth and young adults out in ministry and 
mission cultivates enthusiasm and support for mission in the Presbyterian 
Church. Our research suggests that Presbyterians will respond 
enthusiastically to such a focus. We project the Worldwide Ministries 
Division will receive $375,000 from the recommended offering, an increase 
of 40 percent more than their present receipts from the Witness Offering. 
These receipts may be used to involve youth and young adults in worldwide 
     "There are many opportunities for funding overseas mission personnel. 
Unified funding supports Presbyterian missionaries worldwide. Additionally, 
congregations may participate in Extra Commitment Opportunities, 
designating support for missionaries in the field. Current studies and our 
own survey conducted through the Presbyterian Panel show the preference of 
congregations to fund mission more directly, allowing more involvement by 
members. Many congregations also establish direct relationships with 
     PNS--Under the task group's reccomendations, how will the Witness 
Offering be used to support international missions around the world in a 
manner that most of our churches are familiar with? 
     McFayden--"The reality is less than a third of our congregations 
participate in the present Witness Offering. Real numbers are likely much 
lower than that percentage. That compares to more than 90 percent of our 
congregations participating in the One Great Hour of  Sharing Offering. 
Most of those congregations presently participating in the Witness Offering 
are from the former PCUS, where the Witness Offering had its roots. The new 
offering provides an opportunity to involve a greater number of 
Presbyterians in a significant dimension of ministry and mission. And the 
funding received by the Worldwide Ministries Division can be used to 
involve youth and young adults in international mission." 
     PNS-- But isn't the Worldwide Ministries Division losing funding for 
mission under these proposals? 
     McFayden--"No. Currently, the Worldwide Ministries Division is the 
recipient of the largest share of funding from special offerings. The 
Worldwide Ministries Division now recieves $8.8 million out of a total of 
about $16 million in receipts from the four Special Offerings. With the 
recommendations and projections of the task group, Worldwide Ministries 
Division will continue to receive the largest percentage of Special 
Offering receipts. We project that Worldwide Ministries Division will 
receive almost $9.5 million of receipts totaling $18 million." 
     PNS--Won't the shift in focus from the Witness Offering to a Pentecost 
Offering be confusing to church members? 
     McFayden--"Interpretation staff will have 18 months to prepare 
interpretive materials that help Presbyterians understand the focus of the 
offering. The proposed timing will be a big help.  Pentecost is an 
appropriate occasion for this offering, focusing as it does on the power of 
the Holy Spirit to call and send people out in ministry and mission. The 
timing also corresponds with graduations and, in many congregations, 
confirmation. The focus of congregations on youth in this season makes it 
an ideal opportunity to interpret the importance of youth and young adults 
in ministry and mission. We believe the recommendations will provide the 
offering greater clarity and cohesion, and will generate new resources for 
the support of Presbyterian youth and young adults in ministry and 
     PNS--Doesn't focusing the Witness Offering so narrowly, as the 
proposed Pentecost Offering would do, eliminate much of the long-term 
support that the offering has received in the past? 
     McFayden--"Support for the Witness Offering as it now exists is 
steadily declining. The offering desperately needs a new focus. We expect 
the proposal will increase participation by congregations, thereby 
increasing funds available for funding mission and ministry. Our research 
suggests that people will contribute to an offering that supports 
involvement of youth and young adults in the church's ministry and mission. 
Congregations who are interested in directly funding mission personnel will 
readily find avenues for such funding."  
     PNS--Will denomination members want to contribute to an offering which 
supports youth from this country who happen to go overseas on a mission 
     McFayden--"The Task Group received responses, including feedback from 
a Presbyterian Panel survey, which confirmed that Presbyterians will 
enthusiastically support an offering focused on youth and young adults. 
Funding for mission study, mission trips, mission internships, and mission 
conferences for youth and young adults received favorable responses from 
those surveyed.  People also responded positively to the idea of funding 
youth conferences, youth leadership training, and the development of Bible 
study materials focused on youth in mission. Also, the offering will 
support programs for youth and young adults at the local level through 
portions of the offering retained by local congregations (20 percent) and 
presbyteries (10 percent)." 
     PNS--Will the Board of Pensions have to terminate the Nursing Home 
Care Assistance Program because of shifts in the allocation of the 
Christmas Joy Offering? 
     McFayden--"No. The Special Offerings recommendations will not cause 
the Board of Pensions to terminate the Nursing Home Care Assistance 
Program. Instead, the recommendations reflect the reality that a special 
offering cannot feasibly fund this program. The Board of Pensions informed 
the General Assembly in 1993 and 1994 that the Christmas Offering cannot 
sustain the high cost of nursing home care assistance. In 1994, the Board 
informed the Assembly that no new applications will be accepted after 2002. 
     "The Rev. John McAnlis, director of Assistance and Retirement Housing 
for the Board of Pensions, informed the Task Group that new projections 
indicate no new applicants can be accepted into the program after 2001. He 
stated that even if the Board receives the entire Christmas Joy Offering, 
still no applicants can be accepted into the program after 2006. It was 
clear to the Task Group that the Christmas Joy Offering is an inadequate 
means of funding nursing home care assistance. 
     "At its meeting in February, the GAC approved appointment of a work 
group to collaborate with the Board of Pensions in exploration of 
alternate, more feasible funding for nursing home care." 
     PNS--Hasn't the distribution of funds received from the Christmas Joy 
Offering changed from its original conception? 
     McFayden--"Yes. All the special offerings have gone through evolutions 
in which recipients and distributions have been changed or adjusted. From 
1974 until Reunion, the former UPCUSA split the offering evenly between the 
Board of  Pensions and support of racial-ethnic schools affiliated with the 
denomination. Prior to reunion, the Christmas Offering in the former PCUS 
was devoted completely to pension supplements for church servants who 
retired with inadequate pension and supplementing medical insurance costs. 
     "The intention at Reunion was that none of the causes supported by 
Christmas Offerings would be adversely affected as the denominations 
joined. Consequently, there was some adjustment of distribution in the 
years after the offerings were combined in 1988. These changes evolved by 
1993 to the current split of 50 percent for the Board of Pensions for its 
assistance programs, and 50 percent for support of racial-ethnic 
educational institutions affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). 
     "The perception of many people is that the major application of funds 
received by the Pension Board is income supplements for church servants who 
retired with inadequate pensions. The reality, however, is that more than 
half the offering is now used for nursing home care, a program originally 
initiated by the Board of Pensions of the former UPCUSA in 1979." 
     PNS--Shouldn't the denomination honor the original intent of the 
Christmas Offering to assist retired clergy and church workers? 
     McFayden--"The offering will still provide significant funding, 
projected at $1.6 million a year, for Board of Pension programs responsive 
to critical needs of those who retire with inadequate pensions and those 
who have urgent needs. This actually increases the amount of funding 
available for those purposes most commonly associated with the Board of 
Pensions' receipts from the Christmas Joy Offering." 
     PNS--Won't a third element in the Christmas Joy Offering ("Children at 
Risk") dilute the interpretableness of the offering? 
     McFayden--"The special offering receiving the most enthusiastic 
response from our church is One Great Hour of Sharing. It has three causes. 
The number of causes supported by an offering is not the most crucial 
factor in the successes or interpretableness of a special offering. More 
crucial are the character and compatibility of those causes. Our research 
with more than 5,000 Presbyterians through the Presbyterian Panel indicates 
that people will respond enthusiastically to critical human needs, 
especially those of children. 
     "With the addition of  "Children at Risk," the Christmas Joy Offering 
becomes an offering responsive to the critical needs of all generations of 
the human family: children at risk, young adults seeking educational 
opportunities, and retired church servants with inadequate pensions and 
emergency needs. Interpretation staff assure us that the addition of this 
third cause will increase the interpretableness of the Christmas Joy 
     PNS--How will those retired church workers currently receiving Nursing 
Home Care Assistance be taken care of once funding is withdrawn from the 
Christmas Joy Offering? 
     McFayden--"The Nursing Home Care Assistance program will take care of 
everyone who is accepted into the program. The actions of the General 
Assembly in 1996 regarding special offerings will not take effect until 
1988, providing time for both interpretation of the offering and 
adjustments in programs funded by the special offering. Even more 
significant is the fact that the Board of Pensions established reserves of 
nearly $18 million from receipts of previous Christmas Joy Offerings to 
care for those received into the Nursing Home Care Assistance Program. 
These reserves are expected to provide continuous nursing care for anyone 
taken into the program prior to the deadline for application." 
     PNS--Since Reunion, the portion of funds going to the Board of 
Pensions for its assistance programs has repeatedly been reduced. Isn't 
this the reason why the Board of Pensions' reserves have been depleted? 
     McFayden--"The Board of Pensions reserve funds for nursing home care 
assistance are just beginning to show depletion. This is due to the 
escalating costs of nursing home care which confronts everyone in the 
church and in our society. Indeed, it was in anticipation of these 
increasing costs that the Board of Pensions set aside these reserves. The 
Board continues to meet needs for supplemental pensions and shared grants 
through relatively smaller portions of the annual receipts from the 
Christmas Joy Offering. 
     PNS--How will supplements to pastor's inadequate pensions be continued 
if the Board of Pensions' portion of the Christmas Joy Offering is reduced 
from 50 to 30 percent? 
     McFayden--"The recommendations allow continued assistance to retired 
clergy and church workers. With these recommendations, the Board of 
Pensions will continue to receive 30 percent of the Christmas Joy Offering 
to fund income supplements for church servants who retire with inadequate 
pensions and shared grants for church servants with urgent, critical needs. 
In reality, this level of funding will allow an increase of approximately 
$500,000 for income supplements and shared grants." 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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