The United Methodist Church has agreed to a $400,000 "advance" for the National Council of Churches (NCC) as part of a $2 million bailout fund for the fiscally troubled ecumenical agency. Earlier this year, the Methodists agreed to give $700,000 to the bailout fund paid for by a number of the NCC's member churches. The Methodist contribution was the largest, and the church tied its gift to financial and structural reforms promised by the NCC.

The NCC needed the bailout money to balance its books for the year 2000 and end the year in the black. Under the agreement approved in mid-November by the church's General Council on Finance and Administration, the Methodists will advance the NCC the promised $400,000 out of the church's expected contributions over the next four years at 7 percent interest.

The interest will be repaid in full in the form of a grant, church officials said, once the NCC "demonstrates positive net assets and a balanced operating budget."

Both NCC and Methodist officials said the agreement was not a loan but rather an early delivery on church funds that have already been promised to the NCC. The plan means the NCC will receive fewer Methodist contributions in the next four years, a scenario that has already been planned for, said NCC General Secretary Robert Edgar. The NCC, to further trim expenses, will eliminate 17 staff positions; full-time staff will then be 47.

"We would have preferred it to be new money, but each of the member communions had to decide how to give us the money over and above what they already give," Edgar said. "We recognize that this is an advance on future monies."

Clare Chapman, executive director of finance and administration for the Methodists' ecumenical agency, said the agreement ...

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