By Sam Hodges*
The General Council on Finance and Administration will see the departure of much of its top staff over the next months under a voluntary separation program offered as part of the agency’s reorganization.
GCFA is at the center of United Methodist operations, collecting and distributing general church funds, providing financial oversight and reporting key statistics about the denomination.
Among those slated to leave are John Goolsbey, deputy general secretary for administration; Peggy Sewell, assistant general secretary for episcopal services; Brent Smith, chief financial officer, and the Rev. Pat Youngquist, director of church administrative resources.
Eighteen GCFA staff members — out of about 70 — are part of the voluntary separation. But two have yet to make a final decision about going.
The Rev. Alan Morrison, business manager for the 2008 and 2012 General Conferences, and most recently GCFA’s director of support services-meeting planning, facilities and procurement, also will be leaving. Morrison is not part of the voluntary separation program and said he had been contemplating a return to direct church work for some time.
He’s been appointed pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Monongahela, Pa., and begins Dec. 1.
Not all leaving at same time
The voluntary separation program offered GCFA employees two weeks of pay for each year of service, 13 additional weeks of pay and three months of medical benefits.
The top staff who took the voluntary separation offer won’t be leaving at the same time. The plan is for those top staffers to work with their replacements for a while to get everyone up to speed.
But some in the denomination still are concerned.
“Any organization that loses the core of its financial experience and knowledge will see its effectiveness diminished, at least for a time,” said Joe Whittemore, a retired accountant and former member of the GCFA audit and review committee. “The financial and budgeting matters of The United Methodist Church are complicated and intertwined with agency operations. The impact of GCFA staff is critical to the general church and General Conference.”
Goolsbey said the agency decided early this year to eliminate its records and statistics department because automation had eliminated much of the work. Bishop Mike Coyner, GCFA president, said fairness dictated extending the voluntary separation program beyond that department to other agency employees.
“Our GCFA staff changes are occurring between now and February of 2015, so GCFA believes this long time period will allow for a smooth transition,” Coyner said. “Of course it is always tough to lose experienced and dedicated staff members, but there is always some transition as people move into retirement or move to other job opportunities.”
Moses Kumar, top executive of GCFA, also expressed faith that the voluntary separation program would serve the agency long term.
“GCFA is embarking on a new way of working collaboratively with the other agencies and annual conferences of The United Methodist Church to better serve the people of the church,” Kumar said. “This requires us to review our staffing needs to provide that service. The changes in staffing are focused on restructuring the way we work and facilitating an orderly transition of our staff.”
GCFA has begun to advertise some of the openings, said Sharon Dean, communications director.
Making plans and helping to train
Goolsbey plans to work through the end of February and then retire. Sewell, who works closely with the bishops, said she will work through the end of June and then retire.
“I hadn’t set a specific (retirement) date, but that was in the works for me,” she said. “I just want to spend time with my family more.”
Sewell added that she’s eager to help whoever succeeds her.
“I would hope that I would have an opportunity to just help do some training so that transition can go smoothly,” she said. “It’s important to keep that kind of continuity for the bishops.”
Smith, a 27-year veteran at GCFA, said he hopes to find part-time work at a job “more simple” than the one he has, while also focusing on his golf game. He plans to leave GCFA at the end of the year.
“GCFA is losing a lot of good people with lots of institutional knowledge,” Smith said. “I am not sure how many would have chosen to leave otherwise but some were close to retiring and this offers GCFA the opportunity to restructure areas if needed. Hopefully it offers more time for a smoother transition while some of those leaving are still there.”
All general church agencies have faced budget cuts since General Conference 2012, but Goolsbey stressed that the voluntary separation program was not a financial move.
Dean said it is unclear how much the program will cost or how many employees the agency will have once the program has ended.
GCFA is not the first agency to have such a program. The Board of Global Ministries last year saw 33 employees depart through voluntary separation and eight through layoffs because of reorganization and budget cuts.
Christine Dodson, treasurer of the North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference and a GCFA board member, said she supports the GCFA voluntary separation program and the reorganization.
“Implementation of the voluntary separation program has been an attempt at moving forward in ministry and I invite us all to pray that all those actions ultimately will be judged to be for the best of the employees and, most importantly, for the advancement of the kingdom (of God),” she said.
*Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org