Nashville, October 2020 – The Board of Directors of The United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH) held its annual meeting with members gathering virtually by videoconference, October 27, 2020. They voted unanimously to extend the expiring terms of members and the board’s officers until jurisdictions and the General Conference are able to complete elections that were delayed in 2020. Two additional members were elected, a working budget for the current fiscal year was approved, the board reviewed the status of the Amplify Media initiative, and they learned of the planned retirement of Tammy Gaines, the Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer.
Noting that COVID-19 disrupted the scheduled meetings of General Conference and the jurisdictional conferences, where approximately one-third of UMPH board members are elected each quadrennium, the body adopted a plan employed by other general agencies to retain current members and officers until elections are held and new members can be seated. Two additional members were elected in accordance with requirements of the Book of Discipline. Armand McCoy, a layman from the Oklahoma Annual Conference, and Sara Cobb, a laywoman from the Indiana Annual Conference, will each serve a four-year term.
The board learned that after over 35 years of service, Tammy Gaines, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and Treasurer, will retire on December 31, 2020. The group commended Ms. Gaines for her contributions over a career that began in 1985 and continued with her service in a variety of leadership roles, culminating in her being named CFO and Treasurer in 2014.
Brian Milford, UMPH President and Publisher, noted, “Tammy has been a model leader, acting with integrity, foresight, imagination, utmost professionalism, and compassion. Her influence and contributions have been priceless.” A search for the next CFO and Treasurer will begin soon.
UMPH reported financial results from the fiscal year ending July 31, 2020 that were adversely affected as many churches curtailed corporate worship and other in-person gatherings beginning in March. Sales plummeted to around 55% of expectations. UMPH employed online platforms, such as Amplify Media and Ministry Matters, to deliver resources suited for churches using alternate settings and online worship and programs.
The Publishing House is unique among the 13 general agencies in that it receives no general church funding and is completely self-supporting through sales. The adverse financial impacts of COVID-19 resulted in job eliminations for 92 of the agency’s 298 employees last summer.
The board approved a working budget for the 2021 fiscal year of $31,315,000, with the expectation that adjustments will be required during the year depending on how long COVID-19 pandemic conditions persist. The tentative budget projects an operating loss, and UMPH management has been charged with instituting measures to mitigate the impact. Cost-of-living increases and other compensation benefits have been curtailed for the staff, and numerous projects and capital expenditures have been suspended or canceled.
In September the board confirmed that the remote work arrangement in which staff work from their homes and other locations, which was adopted to address COVID-19 conditions, will become permanent, and the New House Commons property that UMPH developed and moved into in 2015 is being marketed for sale.
Brian Milford, President and Publisher, discussed the enormous impact of the COVID-19 events and resulting shortfalls in sales that may continue for six more months or longer, undercutting the Publishing House’s financial plans. This emerged alongside longstanding annual declines in church attendance and uncertainties related to potential departures by some after the next General Conference, growing preference for more digital products, and the rise of competition for access to church budgets and program emphases, all of which combine to necessitate a major reset of UMPH’s organization and activities. “We are re-envisioning and rebuilding the Publishing House with intensive focus on support for UMC congregations and rethinking how we do our work,” he said. “A deliberate step-by-step process is underway leading to substantial changes that will be considered by the board in January.”
The board members heard a progress report about Amplify Media that offers a state-of-the-art multimedia internet platform that churches use to digitally deliver timely Wesleyan resources—including video-based programs and Bible studies—to their members. This is particularly useful given that church members are currently dispersed because of COVID-19 and many cannot gather in person.
Board Chairperson Justice Cornelia Clark said, “As the church and social order around the world have grappled with unprecedented challenges, The United Methodist Publishing House is at once undistracted in its commitment to serving local congregations, and ready to adapt and change quickly so we can do all the good we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, for as long as we can, to support local churches in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”