Paying it forward
Generosity, good stewardship, and smart planning. Those three virtues, says Detroit pastor Sue Melrose, enabled the local host committee for the 221st General Assembly (2014) last summer to end up with a sizeable surplus.
After paying all the bills, the Detroit Committee on Local Arrangements (COLA), which Melrose served as vice moderator, had about $96,000 left over. And now, $22,000 of that amount has been passed on to COLA leaders in Portland, Oregon, to help pay for the 222nd General Assembly (2016).
The Detroit COLA first sent the $22,000 to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Office of the General Assembly (OGA) in Louisville. Thomas Hay, director of assembly operations, says OGA decided to send the money on to Portland rather than keeping it as a reimbursement. (The OGA routinely contributes to the budgets of local COLAs and had given Detroit a grant of $50,000.)
“We felt this was money that was given to support the hospitality of General Assembly, and we thought it ought to continue to be used in that way,” Hay says. “We think that the General Assembly belongs to the whole church, and this is a way to lift that up.”
Hay says this is not the first time local assembly hosts have ended up with excess funds, but “it’s the first time the money has been redistributed back to us in this way.”
Leftover money is sometimes plowed into local mission projects. Melrose says the Detroit COLA used about $70,000 for local mission. It also returned some funds to the Synod of the Covenant and its presbyteries, which had donated about $20,000 toward hosting the assembly.
“Our fundraising exceeded our expectations,” Melrose says. More than $150,000 of the COLA budget was contributed by congregations and individuals in the Detroit area.
She lists other factors that benefited the bottom line: Mission tours paid for themselves. Sales of ceramic communion ware used in assembly worship nearly covered the cost of having it made. Tote bags promoting the new hymnal were paid for by the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, sparing COLA that expense. Engaging a youth orchestra to play at opening worship eliminated the cost of hiring professional musicians.
Across the country in Portland, COLA leaders rejoiced over news of the $22,000 donation to their efforts. Zane Buxton, treasurer of the Portland COLA, says his first attempts at preparing a budget had left him a little concerned. “It didn’t look like we would be swimming in money,” he says. “We thought we might have to use Styrofoam cups for opening communion.”
On a more serious note, Buxton adds, “We’re very grateful, and we hope to be able to pass money on to the next General Assembly.”
Kay Baker, moderator of the Presbytery of the Cascades and co-moderator of the media and communications committee of the Portland COLA, was at a meeting of assembly planners when the $22,000 gift was announced. “We were all sitting there wondering what our budget was going to be,” she says, “so this really filled a hole.”
Peter Smith, moderator of the Detroit COLA, was so pleased by his involvement in hosting General Assembly and by the resulting sharing of funds that he took time out from a vacation in London to comment. “It was a great experience to emphasize the gift of hospitality in Detroit and to pass that gift of grace on to our sisters and brothers in Portland,” he says.
“It was a way of saying thank you and also Godspeed.”