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Finance still priority

OVER FOUR days members of the 28th Synod meeting grappled with the financial situation of the Church in Queensland.

On the final day of the meeting members recognised, by consensus, the significance and complexity of the financial posit-ion of the Synod and supported the process which has commenced with presbyteries and agencies to identify underutilised assets and reallocate those resources.

Part 3(b) of the proposal was also passed by consensus, that the Council of Synod, resourced by the Finance, Investment and Property (FIP) Board, develop, approve and implement a new model for contributions by presbyteries, congregations and agencies to the Synod.

Part 3(a), that the same group would progress the work outlined in the previous statement to deal with the current financial deficit and sustain resourcing for mission and ministry into the future, was passed by agreement.

FIP Board Chair Andrew McBryde spoke to Synod members on the “financial challenge”. He warned Synod members that the Church is still in a financial crisis.

“The financial challenge hasn’t gone anywhere,” he said.

Synod Financial and Property Services (FAPS) Department director Robert Packer said it was difficult to explain the complexities of the situation.

“In just two and a half years the Synod reserves have dropped from $94 million to just $20 million and will drop further.”

He said that $20 million was insufficient to meet Synod requirements.

Mr Packer said the Synod had cut as much as possible.

“This is not another ‘we need to cut 20% across the board’. We need to stop doing something,” said Mr Packer.

As a short-term measure the Synod was able to secure a line of credit from the ANZ bank.

“The Synod is currently able to operate not only on the good grace of God, but also the grace of the ANZ bank.”

Mr McBryde assured the Synod members that the bank loan is only a short-term solution.

Mr Packer reminded Synod members that the staff in the Synod office have not only suffered huge cutbacks through natural attrition and redundancies, but have had to pick up work done by people who had left as well as cope with abuse from people angry that work was slow in getting done.

Mr McBryde assured members there was no fraud in regard to the impaired loans which initially caused the financial crisis in the Synod.

“There were errors of judgement, perhaps a lack of skilled staff, and great reliance placed on the expertise of one or two people,” he said.

He said the focus on profitability and growing funds for the Mission and Service Fund and unnecessarily complex fund structures led to poor transparency and accountability. He said a lot had been done to amend those practices.

After small groups met, Mr McBryde said there were some “very considered and heartfelt questions and responses” that the FIP Board will take into account. He was encouraged by the positive nature of the table group responses.

To the comment that the Synod could sell off one large asset he responded saying that the problem is more complex than that.

“That won’t fix the problem in the long run. It hasn’t fixed the problem in the past.

“I wish it was that easy, but it is not.”

Mr Packer reminded Synod members that saleable assets are the ones that are generating income for the Church.

He said that while Uniting Church agencies are under strict guidelines and “extreme pressure for their assets to perform”, congregational assets can remain underutilised with little consequence.

Mr Packer said it was difficult to define what are underutilised congregational property.

“The issue for the FIP Board is that you can’t just say things are underutilised.

“There is missional usage as well as economic usage,” he said.

Mr McBryde reminded Synod members that the FIP Board can make recommendations but is powerless to act.

“The bottom line is that we can’t seize assets that are beneficially used by other parts of the Synod.”

The $1000 for a 1000 campaign launched by the Moderator at the 27th Synod raised around $120,000 for the Synod. The Synod has also reduced its contribution to the Assembly.

Mr McBryde said the FIP Board was committed to work with UnitingCare and Wesley Mission Brisbane to develop specific ways the agencies can support the Mission and Service Fund in a more transparent way.

Mr Johnson acknowledged members of the FIP Board and their dedicated work to deal with the situation.

There were over 100 questions and comments asked regarding the report. Answers to those, as well as Mr Packer’s PowerPoint presentation, will be available on the FAPS website in the coming days.