Clergy-Laity Congress Plenary Session #2

by | Jul 8, 2024 | Religion

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After a Doxology by Patriarchal Representatives Their Eminences Archbishop Nikitas of Thyateira and Great Britain and Metropolitan Cleopas of Sweden and All Scandinavia, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, and the hierarchs of the Holy Eparchial Synod, the second session of the Clergy-Laity Congress Plenary was underway, on Thursday afternoon, July 4, 2024.

Evan Anagnastopoulos, a student at the University of Redlands, who lives out his faith through the intersections of his passion for business and law, his Orthodox identity, and Hellenic heritage delivered a speech on youth involvement in the Church.

Elaine Allen, Treasurer of the Archdiocesan Council, then presented her report. She first shared the current financial status of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America— one in which, she explained, the Church has become stable, transparent, and accountable in its finances:

1. For six years (2018-2023), the Archdiocese has met its budgets and its revenues have exceeded its expenses.

2. Liquidity, or the available unrestricted funds, has improved.

3. Budgetary controls are in place and operating. Every quarter’s financial statements and budget to actual are shared with the Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council as required by the Regulations of the Archdiocese and the National Finance Committee. These are also shared publicly on the goarch.org/finance webpage.

4. During the pandemic, the Archdiocese implemented cost controls and received $5.5 million, including repayable CARES Act loans (EIDL) worth $500,000. The remainder of the funds were shared with Metropolises based on qualifying expenditures and payroll. Certain parishes in financial need also received direct grants aggregating $450,000 from the Archdiocese.

5. All vendor and Metropolis payments are current.

6. The Archdiocese has a mortgage on its property with a remaining balance of $4.4 million at an interest rate of 4%. The Archdiocese also has a line of credit of $5 million, with $2.5 million drawn to support the construction needs of St. Michael’s Home; interest is paid by the Home.

7. Restricted funds from Leadership 100 and other donors as well as bequests have been served as the “life blood” of the Archdiocese, but they also demonstrate the high level of trust and accountability the Archdiocese has developed with donors. Restricted funds have been used to provide millions of dollars in scholarships to Hellenic College Holy Cross, as well as support St. Michael’s Home, IT transformation and cybersecurity across the Archdiocese, Ministry development and enhancement (e.g., a drug addiction pilot program in the Archdiocesan District).

8. Unlike the past, major events like the Centennial celebrations of the Archdiocese, as well as the 2022 Clergy-Laity Congresses generated a modest surplus, with no burden on the operating budget and with no usage of the Total Commitment dollars. The same is anticipated for this 2024 Clergy-Laity Congress.

9. The Archbishop Elpidophoros Nameday event yielded over $400,000 for needs-based camping grants to Ionian Village and all Metropolis camps. A quasi-endowment was also established for future camping scholarships.

10. The Archdiocese established in 2023 a planned giving ministry to assist parishes with developing and implementing ministry programs for legacies, bequests, and endowments.

11. Through funding from the Lilly Endowment, the Clergy Family Initiative provided financial literacy programming and debt relief to clergy worth over $1 million. It also provided Covid related relief, worth $250,000, to clergy and presvyteres.

12. The Archdiocese established a captive insurance company to assist in managing legal defense costs and claim settlements with plans to expand coverage for Metropolises and parishes.

13. Disaster relief programs continued with assistance to victims of the war in Ukraine, the earthquakes in Turkey, and the Bilikli hospital fires.

14. Financial statements are audited on a timely basis.

15. Effective internal control processes and procedures have been implemented, and the independent auditors have had no comments to improve internal controls from 2020 to 2023.

The Archdiocese has also implemented many of the resolutions from the 2020 Clergy-Laity Congress. Funding to the Clergy Pension Plan has increased and the funding methodology has become fair, equitable, and inclusive of virtually every parish. Beginning in 2021, the Archdiocese has allotted funding to Hellenic College Holy Cross up to $3.5 million per year, based on cash flow needs. Whereas in 2018, Hellenic College Holy Cross had been approximately $20 million in debt, it today is less than $5 million— thanks in part to contributions from the Archdiocese of $5 million above the $3.5 million available to it annually to support operations. A number of generous gifts from donors has also contributed to this reduction in debt.

The Archdiocese’s own revenue sources have been diversified, as well, and it does not rely solely on Total Commitment monies from parishes to support its national ministries.

Following Treasurer Allen’s presentation, the Audit Committee’s findings were introduced, and after a presentation by Lazaros Kircos, Chairman of the National Finance Committee, it was time to vote on the budgets for 2025-2026.

The process of approving the budget requires several steps under the Archdiocese’s Regulations. To start, the Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council is charged with approving the budget proposed by the senior members of the Archdiocese with the assistance of the Finance Committee for presentation to the Archdiocesan Council for recommendation to the Clergy-Laity Congress. The Executive Committee approved the proposed budgets for 2025 and 2026 on May 13, 2024. The budgets must then be approved by the Archdiocesan Council, and this was completed on May 14. Prior to their recommendation at the plenary session, the proposed budgets were discussed at the Finance Committee open session of the Clergy-Laity Congress. After several hours of presentations, discussion, and debate, the delegates provided much feedback, and voiced their concerns with respect to the proposed budgets, primarily focusing on the proposed 5.9% increase in parish Total Commitment for 2025 and a 3.0% increase for 2026. According to Allen, the main drivers for this proposed increase in Total Commitment are the need to increase the wages of Archdiocesan employees due to inflation; property and liability insurance increases; and anticipated increased legal costs.

Following this open session, the Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council, including His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros and the Metropolitans of the Holy Eparchial Synod, held an emergency meeting to discuss the original budget proposal in consideration of the feedback of clergy and lay delegates. Revised budgets that incorporated the feedback from the delegates were unanimously approved for presentation at the second session of the plenary.

The amendments to the Archdiocesan Council approved  budgets (a) reduced the increase in Total Commitment to 2.8% in each of 2025 and 2026, (b) increased the budget line item for Hellenic College Holy Cross to $3.5 million in 2025 and 2026 allowing the School additional time to reduce its dependency on financial assistance from the Archdiocese, and (c) retained the additional pension plan payment of $1.4 million in 2025 and $1.5 million in 2026. Comments were received after the presentation of the new budgets, with delegates making cases either for or against its passage. The revised budgets were approved with overwhelming support.

In order to comply with the budget process guidelines— among them maintaining a balanced budget— adjustments to other line items within the budget are required, and these will be made by the Executive Committee of the Archdiocesan Council with input from the National Finance Committee.

The Pension Benefits Funding motion also passed, increasing the allocation for pension benefits funding by 2.3% in each of 2025 and 2026.

According to Treasurer Allen, the Archdiocese hopes to have a continued focus on facilitating the growth of ministries and programs based on its financial means. It also aims to manage its legal contingencies and address aging facilities suffering from years of deferred maintenance. Lastly, the Archdiocese is planning onto establishing a supplemental defined contribution plan for clergy and for the first time provide a vehicle for lay employees across the Archdiocese to save for their retirement.

The Honorable Judge B. Theodore Bozonelis, Chair of the Administrative Committee, gave the report on behalf of the Committee.  First, Judge Bozonelis gave an overview of certain changes to the Archdiocese’s Regulations that have been made since the last Clergy-Laity Congress which are now awaiting approval from the Ecumenical Patriarchate. In addition, two matters were raised by parishes pursuant to Regulation Article 4, Section 10 for consideration by the Congress. These were: (1) a proposal to provide each Metropolitan or the Archbishop the option to stagger the terms of up to 50% of his Metropolis or District Council members to ensure continuity which was referred to the Archdiocesan Council for consideration; and 2) a proposal to require all clergy at age 75  to submit his retirement for consideration by the appropriate hierarchical authority which did not receive the necessary procedural support.

Additional motions that were approved during the new business portion of the Plenary were: (1) to review the feasibility of changing the date of the biennial Clergy-Laity Congress so as not to interfere with camping programs and the 4th of July holiday and (2) to appoint a committee to consider how the Archdiocese, including its parishes, can provide support to Cyprus in light of the 50th anniversary of the Turkish Occupation.

For the first time, this plenary session was live streamed in its entirety. The recording is accessible here, and all reports from the Finance and Audit Committees are available on the GOARCH Events App under “Reports and Documents” or online at www.clergylaity.org/reports.

Photo: GOARCH/Dimitrios Panagos

GOARCH

https://www.goarch.org/-/clergy-laity-congress-plenary-session-2

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