From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Task Group Chair Responds to
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 PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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