LAKELAND – Growing up Methodist, an active member of local churches, Tony Prestipino has witnessed firsthand what it takes to fuel a fruitful ministry.
“The most successful ones seem to come from people who have a fire for their area, whether at a local church, district or conference,” he said.
The passion he refers to often is associated with preaching, outreach and mission. But Prestipino is on fire, too – passionate about building and maintaining the financial strength to power the ministry of the Florida Conference and its United Methodist congregations.
Though he took courses in religion at Methodist-affiliated Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Prestipino was drawn to accounting and later pursued a career in church fiscal management.
In June, he became the Florida Conference treasurer, stepping into a role vacated by Mickey Wilson, who retired after nearly a decade of overseeing conference finances.
It is no easy task. The Florida Conference encompasses most of the Sunshine State, except for the Panhandle west of the Eastern Time Zone. Its territory includes 700 miles that separate the northern boundary of the state from the southern tip, with more than 650 churches in between.
Prestipino and his Financial Services team oversee a $21.4 million apportionment budget, plus approximately $25 million in other funding, such as ministry protection and employee benefits. The team must juggle the needs of the Florida United Methodist Church as a whole with the needs of local churches, many of which operate ministries with little money and no financial expertise.
Prestipino’s team manages the investments of the Florida Conference, maintains sound financial systems and human resources practices, manages the conference healthcare and property insurance programs and oversees many property sales and assets around the state.
“Mickey left this organization in great shape,” said Prestipino, who had been treasurer of the South Carolina Conference for five years when he was tapped for the Florida spot. He is grateful that many of the systems in place do not need changing. Wilson is credited with bringing the conference into regulatory compliance on many fronts during his tenure.
Prestipino and his staff have continued crafting guidelines for healthy fiscal management and human resources practices for local churches. The department is available to advise local leaders on how to manage resources and stay out of the kind of trouble that can sometimes plague church communities with little oversight and lax procedures.
|Florida Conference treasurer Tony Prestipino oversees funding accounts totaling more than $40 million, but he is determined not to lose sight of the needs of local churches in the conference. Photos by Tim Turner.|
Many small churches could use the help, said Pastor Harry Holloman, who serves part time at Wesley UMC, Gainesville, and as the assistant to the North Central District superintendent.
“What the small-membership churches need is accountability and challenge,” Holloman said.
“Too often, they are left alone, and thus they feel alone in the world. And while no one likes to be held accountable, it is being held accountable that implies we are worth something.”
“Small-membership churches need help in visioning and planning,” Holloman said. “They need help in seeing a future or a calling that they are capable of. There is a tendency to say, ‘We are small so we can’t do anything.’ And yet, there is something everyone can do for the Kingdom.”
Churches, like all U.S. corporations, are heavily regulated by many oversight agencies, such as the IRS and the Federal Department of Labor, and those regulations change all the time.
Prestipino’s main focus as he steps into his new position is to help local churches keep up with those changes.
“A good chunk of this job is helping the local churches find and maintain best practices,” he said. “Things change so fast and it isn’t easy for them to get into compliance.”
Many churches around the state are in financial distress, are unclear on regulatory changes or, worse, are dealing with internal fraud, he said. The first step in Prestipino’s plan to address that is to help churches conduct annual audits.
Healthcare is another major issue facing the church, he said. Florida pastors are covered by a Florida Conference-administered plan, which is paid for by the local church. Costs have continued to rise for both, and revenue isn’t keeping pace.
“We are losing large amounts on health insurance,” he said, adding that he sees changes coming soon in how the conference handles this benefit.
Holloman agrees that small churches are constantly trying to juggle available funds with expenses.
“It is balancing between having enough funds to maintain their facilities properly, pay the pastor and have money left over for ministry and outreach,” Holloman said. “Too many churches are facing deferred maintenance because of their financial situations. In many a small-membership church, the pastor can take up as much as 50 percent of the budget. Rising insurance costs also play into this equation.”
The conference can offer these churches the help they need.
“What I have found in most of the churches … they are not as efficient in their operating costs. This is a point that they can use help on in having the expertise to look at the way they spend their money to see if they are getting the biggest bang for their buck,” Holloman said.
Prestipino sees that the overall economic future looks good for larger churches as the state’s economy improves, but smaller churches may not fare as well.
“The economics in general seem positive; however, this is really situation-specific in the lens of a local church,” Prestipino said. “Local churches in rural areas seem to struggle as the population ages and others move away. Churches in urban and suburban areas have more opportunities for growth, but where they are at in their life as a congregation varies widely.
“There are several realities that we must face as more and more congregations age.”
Despite the challenges, Prestipino said he feels blessed to have the opportunity in Florida.
“I feel lucky to be a part of such exciting things that are happening,” he said. “It’s fun to be part of this ministry.”
In the coming months, Prestipino will continue to get to know the local pastors and church leaders in the Florida Conference with an eye toward trying to meet their needs.
“I hope that people feel free to give me a call whenever they have a question,” he said.
Prestipino lives in Lakeland with his wife, Libby, and their son, Charlie. He can be reached at email@example.com or (800) 282-8011, ext. 112.
– Julie Boyd Cole is a freelance writer based in Gainesville.