Faced with increasing expenses and declining donations, the Church of the Brethren is considering closing its general offices in Elgin, Ill., and relocating to the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor.
The 25-member General Board of the church, which has 155,000 congregants nationwide, last week asked for an overall view of the Brethren's ministry into the next century before it votes on the move.
The final decision, which would mean transferring about 80 people to New Windsor, could take a year.
"When we looked at a five-year projection for the church and its finances, we knew we would have to make strong moves in the light of increased expenses and declining giving," said Donald E. Miller, chief executive administrator for the General Board in Elgin.
"Two centers are more expensive than one to operate, but that is about as far as we got before we recommended further study," he said.
The Church of the Brethren is struggling with a $234,000 budget deficit for 1994. Contributions have declined by about $90,000 annually since 1990.
"A projected $1.8 million deficit by 2000 for the church really got our attention," said D. Miller Davis, executive director for center operations in New Windsor.
Last month, the Goals and Budget Committee called for cost-cutting measures, including $100,000 from projects proposed this year. The Brethren plan a $100,000 fund-raising campaign among congregations, including the several churches in Carroll County.
The committee also asked the General Board to consider consolidating its offices into one at the Carroll County location.
The Elgin center, near Chicago, has served the church for nearly 100 years and was the site of the triennial meeting, which ended Tuesday.
"When I got there last week, everybody was talking about the move," Mr. Davis said. "Back here, the staff is not as much concerned. People assume understandably that our jobs essentially will go on."
Mr. Miller said, "We have high regard for the worldwide work done in New Windsor, but the center in Elgin has been important for nearly 100 years. We would not combine the two without careful consideration."
The New Windsor site includes a conference center; a refugee resettle ment program; On Earth Peace Assembly; a distribution center that responds to international crises with medical, shelter and clothing assistance; and the SERRV missions project, which markets crafts from Third World artisans.
In a statement issued Monday, the board agreed to "redesign the structure for ministry in the new century," but asked first for a statement of long-term direction.
"The board did not want to study the possibility of a move without looking at the church's vision and mission," Mr. Miller said. "The vision statement will give a broader portrayal of our overall purpose. The mission statement will provide the specifications. Then, the board can reconsider a move." The church has asked the committee to act quickly and to report its findings at the annual conference June 24 in Charlotte, N.C.
All local congregations send delegates to the annual conference, which is the decision-making entity of the church.
The four-month interim will give the committee time to study all options.
"I personally feel the wait is the right direction," Mr. Davis said. "It will be a useful and appropriate time to talk about our vision."
The Brethren Service Center, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary in New Windsor, employs about 100 people. Mr. Davis said he does not foresee any loss of local jobs. If the general office closes in Illinois, about 30 of the 110 jobs would be phased out or combined with other positions, he said.
"Consolidation is a trend that all denominations are considering because of changing membership and giving patterns," Mr. Miller said.
The sale of the 26-acre Elgin center, appraised at about $8 million, could ease some of the church's financial problems, Mr. Davis said.
He has never undertaken a complete appraisal of the New Windsor complex, which includes several buildings on 26 acres. The structures and inventory are estimated to be worth about $18 million, he said.
"In terms of selling, Elgin could be sold more easily than New Windsor," he said.
The Carroll County site also is within 400 miles of 80 percent of the church members.
"Within a few hours' drive, we can reach a large number of our congregations," Mr. Davis said. "The Brethren Service Center is extremely well-known throughout those congregations and supported by many volunteers."
Mr. Davis said he can see positive aspects to a move, but it would involve major renovations and possibly new construction.
The board has asked him for a complete review of the facility.