Should the Church of the Brethren relocate its general offices from Elgin, Ill., to the Carroll County town of New Windsor, the location of the Brethren Service Center, there will be a number of happy people in the area. About 80 jobs would move from Illinois to Carroll County, and New Windsor would become headquarters for the 155,000-member church.
The reason prompting the move is nothing to rejoice over, however. Donald E. Miller, chief of operations at Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, said a steady decline in contributions is forcing the church to re-examine its financial condition.
Last year, the church ran a deficit of $234,000. If current trends continue through this decade, the church projects it will face a $1.8 million annual deficit.
Since 1990, the Church of the Brethren has seen a steady decline in donations from congregants. This mirrors a national pattern.
Even though donations to religious organizations represent about 45 percent of the $126 billion Americans donate annually to philanthropic organizations, denominational giving among all religions has been dropping in recent years, according to annual surveys conducted by the American Association of Fund-Raising Councils. Instead of giving to national programs, Americans are giving to their local churches to support programs closer to home.
Consolidating the Church of the Brethren operations would conserve money. For the past half-century, Carroll County has been home to the Brethren Service Center, which supports the church's worldwide missionary, medical, disaster relief and agricultural development programs.
The 26-acre operation has 100 employees, and is best known for its international gift shop that features crafts made by artisans in lesser-developed countries.
If New Windsor were to become the church's headquarters, 80 percent of its members would reside within a 400-mile radius.
Before any moves are made, a committee of the church's governing body is to study its ministry needs and vision for the next century. It is to report its findings to the church's annual conference in North Carolina in late June.
The church's leadership and members will have to decide whether a move to New Windsor fits that vision.