Reduced costs, continuing gifts help church avoid employee hour reductions

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The church anticipates a substantial savings from suspended travel and face-to-face meetings this year. Photo: Khongtham/Shutterstock

Reduced costs for travel, meetings and Anglican Journal distribution, along with continuing support from the dioceses, have allowed the Anglican Church of Canada to avoid cutting work hours of its staff despite challenging times, the Council of General Synod (CoGS) heard June 13.

After the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic spread across Canada this spring, the national church began planning for the possibility of reducing, at least temporarily, the hours worked by its staff, Archdeacon Michael Thompson, general secretary of General Synod, told CoGS, which met by videoconference for just under four hours.

The church applied for the federal government’s Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, put in place to help organizations pay their employees during the pandemic. It received the subsidy for two four-week periods, but did not see its income fall enough for it to qualify for a third period of the subsidy, Thompson said. In a May 1 email, the church had also asked its employees to consider taking part in another federal program, Work-Sharing, if necessary—a program under which they would be able to apply for Employment Insurance benefits to make up for most of the income they would lose if the church were to reduce staff work hours.

But for a number of reasons, these cuts have so far been unnecessary, Thompson said. The church plans to continue suspending travel and most, if not all, face-to-face meetings for the rest of 2020, and the savings from this will be substantial, he said. The church has meanwhile been saving money in other ways, he added, including reducing the Anglican Journal’s distribution costs. By asking readers last year to confirm whether they wanted to continue receiving the Journal’s print edition, the church brought these costs from almost $1 million to around $350,000 this year, he said. It’s a savings in which dioceses will share, he added, since they also share the costs of distributing the Journal together with their own newspapers.

“The staunching of a leak of such proportions took longer than it should have taken, but it is good that we didn’t let it go on even longer,” Thompson said.

Crucially, a number of dioceses have also made what is likely a “sacrificial commitment” to offer, as fully as possible, their originally pledged proportional gifts to the national church in 2020.

“This, along with the savings noted above, helps us be confident that we will likely be able to move to the end of 2020 without significant financial impairment,” Thompson said.

The same day, CoGS passed a resolution, introduced by Thompson, that it “support the suspension of the terms of reference of the Ministry Investment Fund for one year, and allow the entire amount available for allocation to MIF projects to be recorded as income in the 2021 budget.” The vote follows the passing of a similar resolution by CoGS in November 2019, when it made $250,000 available from the MIF to balance the 2021 budget.

The two resolutions together mean the church will now have a half-million-dollar contingency as it navigates “uncertain financial waters,” he said.

The church’s financial outlook for next year is more concerning than for 2020, Thompson said, since it seems likely that the amounts the dioceses will be able to forward to the national church will be “substantially reduced.”

Proportional gifts from the dioceses, the source of almost 90% of the national church’s revenue, fell sharply in 2018 and 2019.

Allowing the church to access this MIF money if necessary, Thompson said, could help it avoid having to make irreversible cuts just as it prepares its next long-term plan.

“I just think it’s a prudent preparation to make for what are likely to be some lower numbers in 2021,” he said. “I would hate to see us make cuts that we can’t undo when there are finances available to be able to continue. I just think in the midst of the strategic planning, in the midst of a pandemic, I’d like to be able to keep things as whole as possible for 2021, so that when we come to 2022 and start making strategic decisions about the future, we do so as intact as possible.”

Set up in 2008, the MIF provides seed money for new programs in the church.

CoGS normally has two twice-yearly, in-person meetings—once in the fall and once in the spring—each lasting three days or more. This year, however, because of the pandemic, organizers have decided to hold several shorter, online meetings instead of the regular November meeting. This month’s meeting was the first of these.

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Tali Folkins
Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.

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