Ministers ‘shocked’ as program money slashed effective immediately
By Jessica Connor
A surprise fund freeze is sending S.C. campus ministers scurrying for new ways to support their programs this fall.
On Aug. 28, the Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry voted to stop funding campus ministry programs for the remainder of 2010.
While the conference will continue to pay compensation for the pastors of the eight ministries across the state, they will get no more money for programming this year: things like freshman letters, newsletters to churches, student meals, mission trips, retreats and more.
The Rev. Narcie Jeter, Winthrop Wesley Foundation, said that on the Wednesday before the meeting, HECM Board Chair the Rev. Joseph James sent an e-mail to all campus ministers telling them not to expect any program money for 2011.
“It was kind of shocking, but I figured, OK, it’s 2011, I have until January to change things, I will talk to the churches, no problem,” Jeter said.
The news was even worse than she’d imagined.
Campus ministers learned from James and S.C. Conference Treasurer Tony Prestipino not only would there be no program money for 2011, but 2010 program funds were suspended indefinitely.
According to Prestipino, campus ministries has a budget of $617,801 for 2010, which includes compensation for the eight campus ministers (six of whom are full-time) and programming funds.
On average, that line item gets funded at about 80 percent, Prestipino said – for this year, that amounts to about $494,000. But campus minister compensation this year will be $478,000, he said, leaving only $16,000 left for programming, which was already given to the campus ministries earlier this year.
“In the past to make up any difference, some program funds were met with the contingency fund, but not this year,” Prestipino said. “We’re in a position where we really can’t do that this year.”
James said if they get more than 80 percent paid on the apportionment line item, the board would consider giving the campus ministries some program money in December.
“I’m sympathetic,” James said. “We have a new treasurer, and I’m fairly new on the board, and we are looking at things more closely than before, trying to keep ahead of the curve so we don’t find ourselves in a bind. … In order for us to be good stewards, we have to be aware of what we’re receiving and base it on that rather than what we hope to get. It is regrettable, but I think it had to happen in this quick of a turnaround.”
The hardest has been the surprise factor, campus ministers said
“Y’all may have seen this coming, but no one told any of the campus ministers this,” Jeter said. “Who else is getting cut? What else is getting cut? And how did nobody know about this until two weeks ago? For us as campus ministers, it would be nice to know this ahead of time.”
The Rev. Lisa Hawkins, Charleston Wesley Foundation, said she was shocked to learn the news.
“I kind of felt like a deer in the headlights,” said Hawkins, calling the fund freeze a hardship even without the last-minute notice. “It would have been nice to have some warning. I have four campuses, and I’m trying to get programs at the four campuses up and running, and then to add fundraising to it, it’s a little disorienting.”
Jeter’s Wesley Foundation is heading on a fall trip to New York for a seminar on human trafficking, and some of the students have already bought their plane tickets, which are non-refundable.
“Particularly at the beginning of the year, when classes have started, schedules made, budgets drafted and approved, it is incredibly difficult to welcome freshmen and plug people into ministry and drum up support and be a force on campus in the midst of trying to completely re-vision and draft an entire fundraising program we’ve never had before,” Jeter said.
James said the fund freeze means districts and local churches will need to “pick up the slack.”
“For a number of our Wesley Foundations, a great deal comes from local churches and districts, not solely from the Annual Conference,” he said. “This just means a larger share will come from other sources.”
As former campus minister himself, James said he always marvels at the way local churches partner with Wesley Foundations to offer food and other support. He suggested that churches without a Wesley Foundation in their district consider funding a foundation out-of-district where one of their students is participating – that is, for the money to follow the student.
“If we can’t do it by apportionments, maybe we can do it by a more personal approach,” he said.
Jeter said local churches heavily support Winthrop’s Wesley Foundation, and she hopes they will step up their giving: pay their line item in apportionments and supplement with additional donations.
“Thank God that our board chairs got right on it, contacted the churches and the district superintendent, Patti Parrish, who supports us 110 percent,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins spoke at the Charleston District setup meeting about the fund freeze, and she said Parrish challenged the churches each to send $100 a year to support the Wesley Foundation.
The church that houses her office, Trinity UMC, voted to allow the Wesley Foundation to occupy space rent-free until 2012, and other churches and even Salkehatchie have sent checks in support.
“I am getting the Holy Spirit bumps just talking about it,” Hawkins said.
Over time, campus ministries are growing, showing no signs of stopping. In this time of recession, more and more students are in school – and coming to Christ through their campus ministry. And many of them aren’t able to rely on their parents to support them. They work two or three jobs, attend school and often pay it themselves. Consequently, they tend to rely on programs like the free pasta dinner Winthrop Wesley offers.
“Part of what we are seeing is there is this pot that is a set amount, but because we are increasing our ministerial costs, there is no room left in the pie for programming,” Jeter said, suggesting that the HECM board carefully consider costs when presenting a new budget.
As word spreads about the fund slash, students have been vocal in their support for campus ministries.
Theo Oates III, who participates in weekly Bible studies at the Medical University of South Carolina, hopes programming will not be curtailed at his school.
“To me, the foundation helps to let me know that no matter what is going on or how hard school may be, someone is always praying for my success,” Oates said. “It also keeps me in tune with the Word of God, and the lessons provide me with tools that are needed in my walk with God. I learn something good to share every time I go.”
“The Wesley Foundation is a place of comfort and love in the mist of a stressed life at college,” said Emmy Moran, a leader at Charleston Southern University.
Ashlee Warren, a senior at Winthrop from Eagle Rock, Va., said the fund freeze is
a huge hit.
“Not only do we use that money to pay our monthly (foundation) bills, but we also use it to provide students with opportunities that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise,” Warren said. “For instance, when our group takes a trip anywhere – missions, retreats, fellowship, etc. – Wesley has been able to supplement the fee as much as possible. This allows some people to go that wouldn’t have been able to, because we are students and money can be very tight. This funding cut is forcing us to re-evaluate some of what we do, cut some programs and try to find creative ways to raise funds.”
Creative fundraising is what James and the ministers think they’ll need to rely on to get them through the rest of 2010 and into 2011.
James praised talented campus ministers who are worth their weight in gold; he feels certain they can rally the funds needed for their ministries to operate.
“It’s an adjustment, I wouldn’t want them to have to do it, but I think they can do it by the grace of God,” James said.
“I have no doubt we’re going to be fine,” Jeter said. “That’s what you do – you do what you can with what you have. I honestly think people would give if they knew.”
“The connection is alive and well, and I really believe in my heart of hearts that God has a different way of funding the Wesley Foundations,” Hawkins said. “But there’s a thin line between being concerned and being worried.”
For information on how to donate directly to campus ministries in addition to paying the apportionment, visit http://umcsc.net/ministries/hecm/.