Methodist conference adopts budget Voters meet at St. Mary's College


The headline on an article about a meeting of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church in Sunday's editions indicated an incorrect venue. The meeting took place at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg.

The Sun regrets the error.

EMMITSBURG -- Clergy and lay people representing more than 700 congregations in the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church adopted a 1994 budget yesterday intended to reduce costs of the conference, which has operated in the red for two years.

Voting members meeting on the Emmitsburg campus of Mount St. Mary's College also amended and adopted a bulky reorganization plan that has been in preparation for more than four years.

One of its purposes is to streamline the conference bureaucracy and make it cost-effective.

The budget keeps a total of conference expenditures at the 1993 level of $15 million, but reduces the number and size of programs and eliminates some staff positions.

Among actions taken were:

* The number of district superintendents -- clergy under the bishop who are in charge of geographical areas -- was reduced from 10 to nine, for a savings of about $100,000.

* A new pension and health benefits package was adopted for clergy and church employees that will increase their contributions and reduce their coverage. This is expected to save about $900,000.

These economies were seen as necessary to keep costs from exceeding revenues as they have in the 1992 and 1993 budgets.

The conference provides the central administration for United Methodist churches in most of the Maryland counties west of the Chesapeake Bay, in the District of Columbia and in the West Virginia panhandle.

About 220,000 Methodists are on the rolls of congregations in the conference.

The Rev. Roger H. Strait, conference treasurer, said it has accumulated a deficit of about $1 million in those two years, although revenue has fallen short of desired expenditures by several times that figure.

"Payrolls have been met and bills have been paid by internal borrowing from funds intended for other purposes," he said.

The conference still needs to establish a $750,000 line of credit with a bank to get its financial house in order, Mr. Strait said. He said he saw a need for the ability to borrow that sum for the next two to three years.

Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel, who presided at yesterday's meeting, reported Aug. 31 that efforts to obtain a $750,000 loan approval from a bank had failed. "At the present, we have not satisfied the requirements of the bank for the line of credit, and this activity may take at least another several months to complete," Bishop ** Yeakel wrote. "In the meantime, the crisis has arrived."

A number of Baltimore-area ministers believed the seriousness and extent of the financial problem should have been reported sooner to the congregations.

"They tried to handle it internally -- I don't mean secretly, but within the bureaucracy," said the Rev. Henry C. Thompson III, pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church in Ellicott City. "You've got to go to the people directly with a situation as bad as this."

Mr. Strait, who has been acting treasurer of the conference since June and was elected to that post yesterday, tempered the discussion of financial crisis with good news.

Local churches, whose lagging payments to the conference have been a major reason for shortfalls, were coming much closer to meeting their obligations last month than at the same time last year. A debated proposal to force every congregation to hire at least one full-time or part-time minister, and not allow the option of two or more congregations sharing clergy, was tabled by the conference members.

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