UM Publishing House adopts new methods as sales rebound
Cokesbury, the retail arm of The United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH), has seen a marked increase in sales of resources used for local church ministries. Each month since February 2021, the number of orders and array of products purchased by churches, small group leaders, pastors, and others have increased compared to the same months in 2020.
Revenue in the last week of March was 167% over the prior year and sales were up for all of April, with one week’s totals reaching 215% compared to the year before. Sales through Cokesbury.com topped $1 million in April, the first time that’s happened in one month since the pandemic began. As many churches add varying levels of in-person activities, purchases of church necessities including communion supplies, candles, hymnals, and songbooks are brisk.
Under its publishing imprint, Abingdon Press, UMPH develops and produces many types of products including worship resources, Sunday school materials, small group studies, vacation Bible school (VBS) programs, Bibles, and books. Through the Cokesbury retail division, UMPH also provides an assortment of products from other publishers and vendors. Over the last year, UMPH found creative ways to adapt its operations and now maintains a comprehensive publishing operation, telephone sales center, and Cokesbury.com ecommerce site using remote work arrangements for its 130-member staff.
The different staffing methods opened the way to selling the no-longer-needed headquarters facility. This week, UMPH entered a purchase agreement with an investment firm expected to lease the attractive state-of-the-art Nashville office space to the public. The board of directors has earmarked proceeds from the sale to guarantee pension benefits for over 1,200 current and past employees. Under a special arrangement, UMPH will transfer assets required to fund the pension plan and responsibility for ongoing management to Wespath Benefits and Investments.
“The shutdown of many local church activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic triggered an extremely challenging year for the UMC’s publishing and distribution ministry,” said UMPH President & Publisher, Rev. Brian K. Milford. “Undeterred, we have found fresh and efficient ways to serve the churches and adapted to temporary steep declines in sales, which are fortunately now picking back up. Our board and staff used these events as a springboard to reduce operating costs as we continue to serve thousands of UMC and other congregations with a wide assortment of publications and supplies. I am especially grateful to Wespath for their initiative in providing expert counsel that has helped us devise and fund a strong plan that will fulfill our continuing pension obligations for decades to come.”
“At Wespath, our mission is to care for those who serve. We are pleased to extend this mission to UMPH employees and retirees through the management of their pension fund,” said Barbara Boigegrain, General Secretary of Wespath. “We believe all those who work within the UMC connection should have access to pension benefits that support their retirement after years of dedicated service.”