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Financial challenges, great signs of life greet organization

bringing greetingsOfferings to Women of the ELCA continue to dwindle in a time when the organization needs nearly $900,000 to fund a constitutionally required triennial convention in 2017, the churchwide executive board learned at its fall meeting. The board met at the Lutheran Center in Baltimore, Maryland, Oct. 21-23. (Download a copy of this article here.)

At the same time, interest in the organization and the Tenth Triennial Gathering has increased, said Linda Post Bushkofsky, Women of the ELCA’s executive director.

With 66 percent of fiscal year 2016 complete, regular offerings, Thankofferings, designated gifts, special offerings and SWO convention offerings have fallen almost $1 million below budgeted projections.

In 2015, the organization realized a $243,840 deficit.

“Our biggest challenge continues to be regular offerings,” said Ely Smith, executive board treasurer from the Southwestern Washington Synod. “There could be a number of reasons for that. We hope that by fiscal year end we’ll be more on track.” Regular offerings are those collected in congregational units that benefit the unit, the synodical organization and the churchwide organization.

To balance the organization’s proposed budgets for fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the board agreed to allow the transfer of nearly $600,000 from two endowments—New Ministries ($84,186) and Eshelman ($515,000). The transfer would deplete the Eshelman Fund.

“The constitution of our organization requires that we have a convention,” said Bushkfosky. “The alternative (to taking money from endowments) is to cut staff or cut money from programs and ministries.”

Bushkofsky said that if money was cut from programs and ministries “then what work would the staff do? We are at a critical point because every decision we make will have a counter effect.”

The staff has not received a pay increase in three years, according to Deborah Calvert, associate executive director. The 2018 budget does not allow for an increase, she said.

The board adopted the fiscal year 2017 budget of $3,246,995, and the proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 will be sent to the Tenth Triennial Convention (2017).

Taking money from the New Ministries Fund impacts the organization’s grant funding, said Gwendolyn King, executive board member from Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod. “If we take money from this fund, our grants funds will be down to $400,000 or so. Help me see if there is another way.

“I’ve prayed over this. I’ve cried over it,” she said. “The grants ministry is so valuable.” Until this time, interest earned on the New Ministries Fund was used to fund an annual grants program for domestic and international agencies and ministries.

Suggestions for raising money to pay for the triennial convention included asking every Women of the ELCA congregational unit to send $50 to the organization.

“My unit has done it,” said Gwendolynn Edwards, board member from the Nebraska Synod. “If all units would do it, that would help.”

Smith reminded board members to encourage units to give to any ELCA fund, such as disaster or hunger, through Women of the ELCA. Every dollar goes to the intended fund, she said.

“That way we can recognize the financial impact of women for the entire church,” Smith said.

Executive director’s report

Interest in the Tenth Triennial Gathering, July 13-16, 2016, in Minneapolis, Minn., is at an all-time high, Bushkofsky said.

“Unsolicited requests from individuals wanting to speak or present workshops at the triennial gathering have far exceeded such requests in the past.”

Additionally, requests for triennial gathering materials from individuals and units in the Upper Midwest “especially has been robust this fall.”

Gather, the magazine of Women of the ELCA, is seeing increased subscriptions. And donations from subscribers—a previously untapped source—are significant, she said.

“And people want to be associated with us. Two were here today,” she said referring to Lutheran World Relief (LWR) and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) whose representatives brought greetings.

Others include the InFaith Foundation that requested a partnership with Women of the ELCA in regional workshops on stewardship; seminary professors contributing resources; and requests from other organizations for staff to lead workshops and consult, she said.

“In the churchwide office, we’ve noticed a definite uptick in the number of inquiries from women wishing to start new congregational units,” she added. “Lots of people are latching on to the reality that our organization is a powerful force for good and they want to be associated with us.”

She said, “an incredible ministry is happening in the name of Jesus through the women of this organization. I celebrate that on a daily basis, even as I pray for deliverance from our challenges. It is my hope you do the same.”

Board actions

In its October meeting the board:

--elected a new executive committee that includes Karen Voris, Alaska Synod, Deborah Banks-Williams, Metropolitan Chicago Synod, and Lois Bylund, Northwestern Minnesota Synod. Banks-Williams and Bylund are serving a second annual term.

--installed Elizabeth Burgess, Augusta, Maine (New England SWO), as a new board member.

--adopted the Tenth Triennial Convention proposed rules of procedure and a proposed convention agenda.

--elected the Tenth Triennial Convention nominating committee, and approved the memorials and reference and counsel committee slate.

--received a stewardship message from the Rev. Paul Erbes, gift officer at LIRS.

-- adopted a recommendation to affirm and encourage the relationship between Arkansas/Oklahoma Synodical Women’s Organization (“SWO”) and the Oaks Indian Mission in Oklahoma.

--adopted a recommendation to encourage all synodical women’s organizations to develop relationships with American Indian and/or Alaskan Native ministries within or near their synods.

--approved a recommendation to forward a memorial to the Tenth Triennial Convention affirming the ELCA’s Repudiation of the “Doctrine of Discovery,” adopted at the August 2016 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA in New Orleans. It also encourages participants to educate themselves about the doctrine and its consequences for Native People in North America.

--approved a request from the Northeastern Pennsylvania SWO to reduce the number of elected board members from eight to six.

--approved a request from the Montana SWO to reduce the number of elected board members from six to five.

--denied a request from the Southeastern Minnesota SWO to change the number of voting members per congregational unit from one to two.

--tabled a request from the Virginia SWO pending clarification.

--approved a recommendation to update Article XI, Section 5, Item 2 to correspond to the ELCA’s Continuing Resolution 5.01.C96: “persons of color and/or persons whose primary language is other than English” shall be understood to mean African American, Black, Arab and Middle Eastern, Asian, Hispanic, American Indian, and Alaska Native people. This definition, however, shall not be understood as limiting Women of the ELCA’s commitment to inclusive participation in its life and work.

--received an offering of $2,035 from board members—one half going to the Tenth Triennial Convention, one half to the general fund, and a $10 gift to Katie’s Fund.

--heard greetings from Geri Sicola, vice president of external relations, Lutheran World Relief; Linda Hartke, president, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service; Linda Chinnia, churchwide president, Women of the ELCA, 1999-2002 triennium; and Lynette Todd, president of the Delaware/Maryland SWO.

--toured the Lutheran World Relief quilt and kit warehouse in New Windsor, Maryland.

The executive board’s next meeting is April 20-23, 2017, in Chicago.

Download a copy of this article here.

Terri Lackey is director for communication for Women of the ELCA.

Photos by Sarah Carson, associate editor of Gather magazine.