Hispanic ministry position gets revamp in wake of budget cuts



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Hispanic ministry position gets revamp in wake of budget cuts

By John Michael De Marco | May 21, 2010 {1173}

A recent decision by the Florida Conference Council on Finance and Administration to cut $525,000 from the conference’s 2011 budget is causing leaders to make tough decisions related to Hispanic ministry programming and staffing.

©iStockphoto.com/Philpell

With a decrease of $50,000 each in the conference’s New Church Development and Congregational Excellence budgets, leaders have decided not to refill the Hispanic New Church Development position, which is being vacated by the Rev. Samuel Gonzalez effective July 1 when he begins an appointment at a local congregation. Gonzalez has served in the conference position for two and a half years.

Recognizing the importance of serving the state’s growing Hispanic community, however, leaders have developed a solution: the Rev. Dr. Juan Feliciano, director of Hispanic Congregational Excellence, will assume a combined, scaled-down version of his current position and the one Gonzalez has held until both full-time positions can be restored.

New Church Development and Congregational Excellence committee members submitted their 2011 budgets to the Council on Finance and Administration (CF&A) several months ago under the assumption each ministry would have a position working with Hispanic ministries.

“The issue was settled,” said the Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins, executive director of Congregational Excellence, “or so we thought.”

Shortly afterward, CF&A decided to cut the portion of the budget funding ministry in Florida.

It’s a decision designed to help ease the burden on churches during the current economic downturn, said Mickey Wilson, the conference’s treasurer and director of administrative services.

This is a time of economic and financial difficulties for the church. We all need to make the effort to make adjustments when times like this arise. ... We have the opportunity to be very creative right now.

Rev. Dr. Juan Feliciano

Wilson says the economy, while beginning to recover, is still struggling and churches are suffering.

“The conference overall remains strong,” he said. “But when you have high unemployment, churches experience difficulties, not only in Florida, but across the nation. This (decision) is a reflection on the U.S. economy on the whole and the fact that this filters down to our individual churches. To be good stewards, we’ve got to be conscious of that.”

The reduction is part of ongoing efforts to help churches weather the financial challenges of the last several years. In early 2009, CF&A rolled back conference apportionments to 2008 levels, resulting in a nearly 10 percent reduction in the amount of money churches contributed to conference connectional giving. And since 2007, the conference’s Ministry Protection committee has worked to reduce property and casualty insurance premiums by more than 35 percent.

The General Council on Finance and Administration has taken a similar tack this year, redistributing the amounts conferences are being asked to pay to support mission and ministry around the world. Florida Conference leaders were notified that the conference’s general church apportionments would be $348,000 less than expected, bringing the total budget reduction for 2011 to nearly $900,000.

Members will consider the entire budget at the 2010 Florida Annual Conference Event June 10-12 in Lakeland.

Feliciano, who began working with the conference in January, believes the decision to combine the positions makes sense and will be a win-win in the end. “My sense was that this was done out of respect for the Hispanic population,” he said.

Feliciano says it will help also him “get to know the whole Hispanic ministry in the Florida Conference” and better understand what has been done in the past related to new churches.

©iStockphoto.com/Hidesy

“Both Jeff (Stiggins) and I think it’s a positive move,” said the Rev. Dr. Mont Duncan, executive director of New Church Development. “Juan is well respected in the Hispanic community. He’s been a known entity for at least 10 years. He’s taught with them in their sessions in Leesburg. I think it’s a win-win.”

Duncan says Congregational Excellence has the tools needed to help existing Hispanic churches with any issues that might arise.

“He (Feliciano) will know the issues those churches have come through,” Duncan said. “To me, it provides kind of a seamless method for working with Hispanic congregations.”

Duncan said most conferences do not have two positions for Hispanic ministries. The original 2000 Florida Hispanic Plan called for one staff person — a coordinator of Hispanic ministries.

Currently, there are 40 Hispanic churches in the Florida Conference. Duncan compared that to the 74 black churches being supported by the Rev. Dr. Harold Lewis, director of Black Congregational Excellence since May 2009.

Funding for Gonzalez’s position has come from money earmarked for new churches, rather than apportionments.

“Either we cut staff or we cut starting new churches,” Duncan said. “We felt our mission of the conference is to start new churches, so the only option we had was to reduce the amount going to salary. My hope is that they (Hispanic leaders) will support what we’ve done.”

Duncan and other leaders are predicting the solution will be a temporary one. Wilson is optimistic it will be. He said apportionment payments increased during the first four months of the year and ministry protection costs continue to decline.

“We hope that by 2012, Florida will be in a better position to pay its apportionments and these individual departments can have the funds available to the level where they want to fund their programs,” Wilson said.
 
“The problem we’ve had in Florida and every other conference is these constraints mean budget cuts,” Wilson added. “I applaud them (Duncan and Stiggins) for being inventive.”

Feliciano agrees. “This is a time of economic and financial difficulties for the church,” he said. “We all need to make the effort to make adjustments when times like this arise. This is a temporary arrangement. We have the opportunity to be very creative right now.”

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant based in Nashville, Tenn.




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