Introduction: In the three previous posts, Monomakhos published analyses of the Treasurer’s Report submitted to the 16th All-American Council. Particular emphasis was directed to what the present Central Administration model (which is headquartered in Syosset) represents –a harkening back to the ethnic model of the OCA when it was still an eparchy of the Russian Orthodox Church. In other words, the present model is little different from what obtains in other other eparchial, ethnic jurisdictions. We believe this represents a startling lack of evangelistic and philanthropic vision.
Emphasis was also directed to the parlous numbers which sustain the present financial regime. Shockingly, this decline was only mentioned in passing in the Treasurer’s report. However, events have forced Syosset’s hand ever since the Diocese of New York and New Jersey has brought forth a resolution that will strengthen the hands of the Dioceses and may turn back the OCA’s present trajectory of failure.
This plan has caught fire within the OCA, even in some Dioceses outside of New York/New Jersey. In the spirit of showing how a decentralization can actually help the national Church, we direct your attention to the following reports from the Diocese of the South.
Part IV. Back to the Future: A History of the Diocese of the South
Is the Diocese of the South a Model for the Future OCA?
The experience of the Diocese of the South spans a short time as the Church reckons time, a blink of an eye in the long history of the Orthodox Church. The diocese was founded in 1978, and began with about 12 churches and missions, and now exceeds 70, with more in the planning stages. Certainly the South stands at a crossroads, having recently buried Archbishop +Dmitri of blessed memory, the founding hierarch of the Diocese of the South. But, the OCA stands at a crossroads as well, and as we prepare for the All American Council, the OCA might profit from taking a look at the map that the DOS has followed.
That map is a little rumpled. It has chicory coffee stains, and is worn from many road trips. It shows evidence of a detour or two. But the direction traveled, toward the wide distribution of Christ’s Good News to cradle and convert alike, is evident. Specifically, a financial road-map has enabled Orthodoxy to travel and thrive where a strong ethnic base did not always exist.
Beneath it all is the tithe.
The South does have the advantage of some cultural basis for tithing, coming largely from the Baptist and Evangelical norms commonplace in the South. But the South’s explosion as a relocation point has brought many “Yankees” down to Southern cities, which were not raised in this tradition. Nor were many of the Orthodox settling in the South taught this in their Orthodox cradles.
The story of individuals coming to the understanding that “It is all His, anyway!” regarding the tithe is a post of its own for another time. The real story of the DOS is how the fledgling diocese used the 10 percent tithe from the parishes as a point of focus, as a way to develop, grow, and support the parishes and missions.
Examine the assessment system currently in place in the OCA. At a snapshot in time, say in November of any given year, a headcount report is taken, multiplied by the assessment number, and divided by 12, to come up with the dollar figure that the OCA budgets as income from each parish, paid through its diocese. That is the amount owed, and Syosset does not look at the parishes again in any systematic manner until the following year’s headcount report.
Tithing Indicates How Parishes Are Doing
Contrast this with the experience sitting in the dumpy Diocese of the South chancery office in Dallas. The diocesan treasurer, Milos Konjevich, opens an envelope containing the monthly tithe and deposits (more on this later) sent by each parish. He might smile about how well that new mission is doing, or he may note that this parish had a rough month. This is because the amount of the check is a comparatively real-time monthly “pulse” of how each parish is doing. He might get on the phone and call the priest, just to see how things are going. Or he might go to visit, or suggest the chancellor Fr Marcus do so. But the feedback causes him to think about each parish and each mission as the envelopes come in. The focus is on the well-being of the parishes. Perhaps those doing well might need a little encouragement in order to take steps to get their building plan off the ground. The knowledge that the diocese “has got your back” has sparked more than one property purchase or building campaign in the DOS.
And the focus also occurs because the DOS budget is directly linked to the success of the churches it supports. When the parish tithe is generous, this is reflected in the 10 percent passed along to the diocese. When the summer giving is lighter due to vacations and whatnot, the diocese sees the impact as well. The parishes and missions in the DOS need not starve their programs or their priests in order to pay the head tax to the Diocese. The parishes are well aware that with this proportionate giving, we all eat at the same table, and one group does not go hungry in order that the higher level can dine sumptuously.
A few years ago, the DOS decided to hold the OCA assessment liability at the Diocese level – preaching the tithe while expecting payment of the head tax too got in the way of the shepherding relationship between the Diocese and the parishes. Although considered at the time a risky move, the DOS treasurer’s June 2011 message explains that initial deficits have been offset by increases in parish deposits and general tithe growth, and that the deficit impact of the transition will disappear by 2012.
Dollars are Allocated Differently
There is another critical, more empirical marker of the DOS focus on the mission of spreading the Gospel and bringing people to Christ. It appears in the very first paragraph of the June 2011 DOS Treasurer’s message. See if you can spot it!
The funding base of the Diocese continued to show good growth through the first six months of 2011. Funding from all sources totaled $717,473, with Tithe income of $298,159, loan payments received from our churches of $150,163, and church deposits growth of $140,955 being most prominent. Funding was utilized as follows: Missions & Parish Development outlays $430,304 (60%); OCA Expense $155,342 (22%); Payroll, Travel, Occupancy Expense, Administrative Costs $118,128 (16%); and additions to cash reserves $13,608 (2%).
Did you find it? Did you notice that Administrative Costs utilized only 16 percent of the funds contributed? Or that 60 percent of the diocese funds are spent on Mission and Parish development?
How can this be?
One Parish Helps the Other
Milos Konjevich, the DOS treasurer, has written an extremely meaty, dense report explaining some of the strategies that the DOS has employed to increase the velocity of the Diocese funds he stewards. Milos brings his career experience as a regional director with the FDIC, and couples it with 20+ years growing as a churchman and using his financial gifts to bring bricks and mortar reality to the vision he shared with Archbishop +Dmitri. You will find this message at the bottom of this post, and you should read it, even (or especially) if you never read financial reports.
But here are some of the highlights. (But really, go read the Treasurers message anyway.)
2) Church friendly loans of close to $1M exist in the DOS, providing cash flow cushion and funds that provide flexibility and room to maneuver as new missions are established and parishes strike out to undertake building programs.
3) The Managed Debt Program provides means for churches to acquire funding, but also to keep the debt from inhibiting growth activities, while it is being repaid.
The primary purpose of the Managed Debt Program is to reduce church monthly mortgage payments in order to free up cash for ongoing obligations and emerging developmental needs.
The Diocese provides expert coaching in negotiating loans with the banks, thus using the bank processes to assist in bringing fiscal discipline to the purchase and/or building process. Then by following through with the parish, the DOS assists in the management of the loan in order that it not beggar the parish or priest serving it.
Moving Money at a Higher Velocity
The third paragraph of this report explains how leverage can allow the church to use her funds for the growth of the church, rather than allow that profit to be taken by the banks. Keeping the money moving at high velocity is how banks make their margins, but for the church, that strategy multiplies the impact of the tithes collected to the benefit of the parish and the faithful.
So using a number of strategies, the DOS stands as a shepherd to the missions and parishes under its watch.
The underlying assumption is that the work of the church is done close to the people. The parishes and the missions must come together as the Body of Christ, as loving communities, and reach out to others hungry for the unadulterated faith. The future of the Orthodox Church in America lies with the gathering of immigrant Orthodox to a limited extent – but significant growth will be in the area of converts. For both these groups, keeping the children engaged in the community of faith as they mature is what will reverse the trend of shrinking membership. After all, the children of the converts are uniquely American cradle Orthodox!
DOS Growth Exceeds 10% Each Year
If the DOS trends continue until year end, this year’s tithe income will be 14 percent greater than 2010. The average annual growth over the past 15 years has been 12 percent. Contrast this with the report of OCA treasurer Melanie Ringa to the 16th AAC:
Diocesan assessments have actually declined from 2006 to 2011 ($2.673 million in 2006 vs. $2.4 million in 2010, and projected $2.3 million in 2011),
• Fellowship of Orthodox Steward contributions have gone from $142,672 in 2006 to $135,704 in 2009 and only $7,971 was received through the first six months of 2011,
• The sum of Charities, Ministries, Seminaries, Theological Education and General Contributions has gone from $344,895 in 2006 to $306,063 in 2007 to $100,298 in 2010 and only $9,399 through the first six months of 2011.
• Total annual revenues have fallen from $3.295 million in 2006 to $2.573 million in 2010.
• The financial collapse in the stock markets in 2008 resulted in losses in our endowed investments of almost $700,000.
The DOS treasurer’s message concludes with these thoughts – ones relevant for those attending the 16th AAC, or even those concerned about the future of the OCA.
Milos Konjevich’s Message
There is a longstanding incongruity within the financial workings of the Orthodox Church in America that suggests a lack of discernment of, and a lack of thought about, how our autocephaly should be used to grow the Church. One would suppose that the methodology is self evident – that the work of the church is carried out in the local community, – that the primary focus within our hierarchal structure is the health and well-being of existing churches – to establish churches where the Orthodox witness is sparse or altogether lacking. But, as the saying goes, “follow the money” if you want to know what’s really happening.
The Income Statements of most Dioceses show the OCA Membership Assessment obligation as the predominant expense category. In many instances a Diocese’s ability to cover basic operating costs is marginal, with direct financial support of parishes and missions being meager or nonexistent. The membership assessment dollars collected by the dioceses for the OCA are used exclusively to support Central Administration functions. Thus, the financial statements of both the Dioceses and Central Administration reflect an organizational survival posture; the response of the churches, having been left to fend for themselves, is to do likewise, and their survival posture is revealed in the steadily declining census numbers of the OCA.
That the membership assessment system needs to be replaced by percentage-based system should finally be apparent. A Resolution to reduce the present OCA Assessment amount from $105 to $50, put forth by the Diocese of New York/New Jersey for consideration at the upcoming All-American Coucil is a necessary step in that direction. At first glance the magnitude of the proposed cut is a bit shocking, but the Central Administration is certainly no less capable than the Diocese of the South in devising alternative strategies to offset the loss of assessment income. Some Dioceses may be more open to a percentage- based system than others, therefore a diocese-by-diocese transition, rather than transition en masse, would be a more effective strategy. Thus, an AAC Resolution authorizing the Central Administration to proceed in this manner is all that is needed to begin phasing out the present failed system.
Read Milos Konjevic’s entire message.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” –Albert Einstein