This was my first experience as a Commissioner to the Synod of the Northeast’s Biennial Conference. During the 2016 Synod, a New Way Forward had been revealed. The reality of the changes made was a whole new way of doing the work of the Synod. The two-day agenda was built around worship, with the theme taken from Esther ‘For such a time as this’ (Esther 4:14). This overall format worked extremely well with corporate worship beginning and ending the Synod meeting, while various worship elements such as singing and celebration infused many portions of the agenda. Our new General Assembly Mission Director (PMA) Rev. Diane Givens Moffett preached at the opening service.
I want to focus on one aspect of the meeting, which was the financial report and 2019 & 2020 budgets (the budget is set for two years at a time). The Synod per capita was kept at $4.10 for both years (the same as it is in 2018) and this was done intentionally because the General Assembly had increased its per capita this June in General Assembly for 2019.
What struck me in the financial report was the similarities in discussion about the use of financial resources on hand (investments) between the Synod and our own presbytery during its planning for the 2019 budget. The Synod acknowledged that it could no longer support the ministries at the level it was doing. In spite of that, 43% of the Synod budget comes from investment transfers. Assets have been reduced by 9-10% per year and continuing this pattern would exhaust all resources in 15 years. To offset the future planned reduction of investment transfers, the Synod will be looking to the presbyteries to make up the shortfall. The per capita support currently only supplies 26% of the revenue needed. All the courts of the church – sessions, presbyteries and the synod – wrestle with these realities. But on an extremely positive note, during the last two years the Mission Working Group stated that almost $1,000,000 has gone to grant funding focusing on campus ministries, ecumenical support, and innovation in ministry.
Finally I had the opportunity to meet a number of people from all over the Synod – folks from the 22 presbyteries that make up our Northeast area. I heard many encouraging stories and could see how congregations and presbyteries were facing our often-common struggles in bearing witness to Christ in our communities.