The United Methodist Church has suspended its hefty financial support of the National Council of Churches (NCC) after expressing concern about the ecumenical agency's debt level.

The United Methodist Church is one of the largest contributors to the NCC. The 8.2 million-member church was expected to give a total of $670,000 and has already contributed $327,081 this year. The denomination's Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns decided to stop support based on the size of the NCC's debt, as well as the NCC's lack of income data or a realistic budget to address the debt.

The NCC was taking steps to meet the concerns cited by the Methodist commission, says Joan Brown Campbell, the NCC's general secretary. "We understand this suspension to be a prod to swift action," says Campbell, who explains that NCC officers had been working on a "financial transformation process" since 1997.

Two months ago, Methodists rejected a NCC proposal that the denomination contribute $700,000 above pledged support to a financial recovery plan designed to resolve half of the NCC's $4 million deficit. "It's important that people understand the deficit in the context of our $70 million budget," says Randy Naylor, NCC director of communications. "We incurred a series of onetime expenses this year that created a great immediate need."

Naylor says the $4 million deficit consists of $2.5 million in board-approved consulting fees to help streamline the group's current structure; a $500,000 error in the 1995 employee retirement fund; and $330,000 for restoring the NCC's burned churches program.

As part of its budgetary remedy, the NCC proposes to close its national ministries unit and cut funds from several service committees. The NCC's administration ...

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