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Musings, Follow the Money and Tangled Webs: October 25th 2021

On Saturday afternoon I took part in the first ever ‘Annual Meeting of the General Council’. I guess I hadn’t stayed current enough on the changes to the Manual – but I’ve learned that the General Council must now meet annually – in between the historic triennial gatherings.

At this meeting there was a proposal to adjust the assessment formula that was approved in Remit 4 – remember way back when… the remit as presented to the Church was as follows:

Does the presbytery/pastoral charge agree to a new funding model for the United Church with the budgeting process guided by the following principles? (1) use Mission and Service to fund ministry and mission activities; (2) fund governance and support services of other courts/councils by assessing communities of faith/pastoral charges; (3) share assessments equitably across the whole church; (4) permit Conferences/presbyteries/regional councils to use additional resources for regional purposes; and (5) encourage sharing of all resources across the church. Remit 4 – Funding a New Model

Background information on the remit provided by the General Council Office included documents and YouTube videos, all which indicated that the assessment would be based on adjusted revenue. Many samples were provided:

Total revenue (including investment realized and unrealized gains)SUBTRACT: All outward revenues including M&S and refugee funds; Property sale proceeds; Bequests; Capital campaigns for building funds; Government grants; Restorative care and other insurance payouts; HST refunds from CRA; and Reimbursement of shared ministry expense._____________________________________________________________ = ADJUSTED 2017 REVENUE SUBJECT TO ASSESSMENT CALCULATION

On Saturday, at the Annual Meeting of the General Council, a meeting to which only commissioners to the 43rd General Council were invited and provided background material, a proposal was put before the Council to ‘smooth the assessment model’ by applying a 1/4 of 1 percent levy against the investments held by a congregation – as part of the approved 4.5% assessment to adjusted revenue, in place of the 4.5% assessment to revenue that is generated by the investment. Here is the actual proposal:

that the 43rd General Council approve the following refinements to the new funding model aimed at streamlining administration and smoothing the assessment amount calculations in order to provide a simpler and more predictable amount for pastoral charges to pay and for the broader church to rely on in its budgeting and financial forecasting. Effective for the 2022 billing cycle: a) The investment related portion of assessment would be calculated on the basis of a charge at 0.25% or one quarter of one percent of invested assets as reported in annual statistics and CRA filings. This rate cannot be changed without the express authorization of the General Council or its Executive. Certain administrative adjustments would be allowed at the discretion of the General Secretary such as excluding cemetery funds governed by provincial Cemeteries Acts. The first $100,000 of reported investments would be excluded from the calculation to provide for smaller pastoral charges that might still be invested in GICs. b) For church closures and amalgamations, assessment amounts would be calculated and payable for full calendar years based on when a pastoral charge requests revocation of charitable status, or when a newly amalgamated entity has established a first budget. c) In the event of non-payment: General Council Office be authorized to issue bridging loans to congregations as has been done for pandemic relief. And further, that the 43rd General Council authorize the General Council Executive to make such administrative adjustments to the new funding model from time to time as the General Council Executive considers necessary for greater clarity and efficiency in implementation, provided that any such adjustments are in keeping with the principles approved by the United Church in Remit 4 enacted by the 43rd General Council 2018.

The proposal was adopted. I voted against it and my reasons are three-fold.

First, the formula communicated to the Church originally was to be based on adjusted revenue. Assets, in and of themselves, held by communities of faith are not revenue. Yes, gains, interest and dividends are revenue – but the asset itself is not revenue.

In calculating part of an assessment against an asset it is possible that the asset may not be generating any revenue that the congregation can access to put toward the assessment. Or, the asset could be generating revenue that can only be used (because it is restricted by the terms of a bequest) for one of the income streams excluded from the assessment calculation.

And thirdly, with the change that was adopted yesterday, in every case, whether the asset is generating any revenue that will benefit the local community of faith, the General Council will be assessing a 1/4 of a percentage point against that asset – the General Council gets its funds regardless of the health and well-being of the local community of faith.

Finally, and most deeply concerning for me was the lack of communication of this change to the larger Church. Posting a background document to a website to which only those invited to the meeting were encouraged to review is not reflective of the work of a conciliar Church that I was ordained into.

Faithfully, Lloyd Bruce

Our Vision and Mission as United Church of Canada, approved by the 43th General Council on Saturday October 23rd 2021

PS: I hope one day soon I can get as energized by the new Mission and Vision statements as I am upset about the recent changes to the assessment formula.

Looking Ahead

Today I am in the office and looking forward to hosting the 65th Wedding Anniversary ‘come and go’ Tea for Charlie and Jean Scobie!

Tuesday will be another office day with Zoom and in-person meetings all day right through to a pastoral visit at Fenner’s Place over the supper hour.

On Wednesday I will be out and about for visits and meetings and on Thursday I’ll be working from home to finalize the liturgy and sermon for Sunday before turning my attention to celebrating Jennifer’s milestone birthday with her

Friday and Saturday will be days off and I look forward to gathering with you again on Sunday either in person or via Facebook Live.

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