From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Semi-tough: Weak economy plays key role in MSS panel's deliberations

Date 13 Jun 2002 11:26:39 -0400

Note #7208 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:



Weak economy plays key role in MSS panel's deliberations

by John Filiatreau

COLUMBUS, OH - The Mission Support Services Committee took only a few minutes on Wednesday to write and approve a statement of its purpose: "to ensure the sound stewardship of the resources entrusted to the General Assembly Council in support of the total mission of the Presbyterian Church (USA)."

Short, sweet and non-controversial.

This after eight laborious hours of "Mission: Impossible" - deciding how to squeeze and stretch every dollar the denomination spends, at a time when the U.S. economy is weak, interest income is off, receipts from PC(USA) congregations are down, human needs are mounting at home and abroad, and the world needs the succor of a loving Christ more than ever.

The dollars-and-cents committee tried all day to walk the thin line between vision and parsimony.
What it heard from most of the staff people who addressed it boils down to this: Things are worse than terrific but better than terrible.

The committee was told that:

* Revenue from endowments is off. 

"We could be looking at the third down year (of stock market performance) in a row," said John Detterick, executive director of the General Assembly Council (GAC)."That hasn't happened since the Depression. Because of the state of the economy," Detterick said, the Presbyterian Foundation's 6 percent (of total endowments) spending formula "is not tenable," adding that the only question seems to be how great the reduction will be. He said he hopes it will drop only by one-half percent, but it could go deeper.

* The Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program (PILP) is down in loan volume but has become profitable for the first time. 

Officials said the program reported a profit for 2001 of $59,307,and has racked up a profit of $105,316 for the first quarter of 2002. PILP achieved profitability profit during its fifth year of operations, just as predicted when it was went into business in 1997. 

In the first two months of the year, the denomination's Coordinated Loan Program made loans totaling about $4.2 million; but surprisingly, receipts exceeded disbursements by about $6.5 million. Many borrowers have chosen to repay their loans early, because it makes more sense to pay off loans on which they're paying 6 percent than to keep their money in savings and collect just 2 percent; PILP director Ken Grant said the economy was mostly to blame for "more loan prepayments that we would really like."

The program's balance of outstanding loan balance is at its lowest point since January 2001, but officials said they expect long-term loan demand to continue growing. PILP disbursements have increased from $18.7 million in 1999 to $19.1 million in 2000 and $19.5 million in 2002. Revenue from its loan portfolio has continued to grow.

* The Board of Pensions reported that income on its $5.5 portfolio was down, but relatively "positive" in light of the current U.S. economy. Investment income was at .27 percent (about a quarter of 1 percent) at the end of April, and had fallen to minus-.3 percent as of the end of May -a far cry from the double-digit investment performance of the 1990s.
* Figures on the performance of the curriculum publishing program in Congregational Ministries Publishing through the month of May - most notably a year-to-date loss of $495,952 - also were described as relatively good. The loss figure was inflated by a write-off of obsolete inventory worth $252,933, and $86,918 for severance pay related to discontinuance of the Covenant People product line.

It was noted that net sales of curriculum for the year so far - $1,247,629 - have exceeded projections by more than $31,000, "the first time ever" that such a thing has happened.

* The committee was told that giving to the church is down this year as compared to 2001. Giving to basic mission support is down by about 15 percent, with 13 of the 17 synods showing a decrease in receipts. According to the Office of the Controller, "issues affecting giving appear to be related primarily to low return on investments, which impacts cash flow."

Giving for the General Assembly Mission Program was reported to be down "7 or 8 percent," which one committee said was "nothing to be too concerned about." The decline was blamed mostly on the weak economy. Receipts from congregations and presbyteries historically accelerate toward the end of the year.

* On a brighter note, MSS recommended that the GAC express its appreciation to presbyteries that led the PC(USA) in the following categories:

For total General Assembly mission support -total giving, Philadelphia, and per member giving, Alaska.

For Basic (unrestricted) Mission Support - Donegal - both total and per member.

For Churchwide Special Offerings - total giving, National Capital, and per member, Alaska.

For other specific appeals (such as disaster relief) - total giving, San Francisco, and per member, Midwest Hanmi.

For Presbyterian Women's Giving - total, Detroit, and per member, North Central Iowa. 

Each of the top-giving presbyteries will receive a certificate of appreciation. In the five years since the GAC began recognizing the annual giving leaders in these categories, total receipts for General Assembly mission have increased from about $53 million to nearly $68 million.
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