Yellowstone Methodists

June 21, 2017

Sudden Financial Crisis Hits Yellowstone Methodists

A swarm of earthquakes hitting the region surrounding Yellowstone National Park in the past week has captured the attention of geologists studying the geologically volatile region. But United Methodists in the area are just now learning about a seismic shift of their own that threatens the continued operation of their conference.

“Unprecedented financial challenges have emerged in the last five months radically challenging our short term sustainability,” warned a presentation by the United Methodist Church’s Yellowstone Annual Conference on June 10. “Unfolding in 2017 is a[n] unprecedented level of deficit that could end normal operations of the conference.”

Karen Oliveto Judicial Council

Bishop Karen Oliveto has overseen the Yellowstone Annual Conference since her appointment to lead the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area in September 2016.

In February, IRD reported that some congregations in the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area – which includes the Yellowstone Annual Conference – were facing decreasing membership and financial contributions following the election, consecration and appointment of the Rev. Karen Oliveto as bishop for the region. Oliveto, who is married to another woman, faces opposition from some United Methodists both within and outside of her Episcopal area.

Methodists in the region launched a “sustenation fund” – later re-styled a “generosity fund” – to compensate for financial “stress” in local congregations, but now problems with local congregation finances have manifested themselves at the conference level.

“We must decide and execute a course of action quickly, to be completed in the next 3-4 months,” the presentation urges.

A Sudden Crisis

While a scarcity of financial resources has afflicted the tiny, declining Yellowstone Annual Conference for some time, the June 10 conference report is phrased in urgent language, describing a grim financial shortfall that has developed only in the past 4-5 months.  Reasons cited include “weakened local churches due to death and loss of significant givers” and “reaction to [Oliveto’s] episcopal election” – which conference officials admit was a significant factor, if “only one of many”.

The Yellowstone Annual Conference has faced a loss of income of $30,000 a year from 2014 through 2016, but the presentation reports that in 2017 this loss has grown to $25,000 a month under 2016 income levels in 2017. Forecast income for 2017 is projected to be $935,000, while the forecast deficit is $303,356. At the start of 2017, conference reserves were only $294,000.

“By year’s end most reserves will be depleted with no new income projected to continue conference operations,” the report states. Citing only three levers of control, the report concludes that the conference must decrease spending, increase income (through squeezing more money out of the congregations within the conference,), and delve into the conference’s financial reserve.

Subtracting for denomination-wide “general church” apportionments (the conference is planning to pay $302,095, which would be slightly below average national and its own giving percentage levels for 2016), program and administrative staff ($398,625), office expenses ($62,000), and Cabinet Level Staff ($297,488) only $240,148 remains in the conference budget. Of this amount, all but $51,250 is needed to paying retiree healthcare, but $188,898 is needed for remaining discretionary items – an amount dwarfed by the projected deficit.

Tough Decisions Ahead

Plans for borrowing funds, raising money from outside the conference and squeezing more dollars out of struggling congregations – who have lost some of their own large contributors – are not sustainable.

All sources of significant spending reductions involve staff reductions, deep cuts to general church apportionments, and eliminating costs such as United Methodist campus ministry within the conference ($32,000), supporting the moving expenses for pastors within the conferences ($23,000), the conference Vital Worship Developer ($30,000) and support for the Blackfeet United Methodist Parish which serves the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana ($15,000).

The presentation suggests increasing conference income through setting of fundraising goals for congregations as part of a conference-wide campaign. But the amount of new funds needed would be significant: to take no more than $100,000 from reserve finds, approximately $150,000 would need to be raised (or cut in spending) by the end of 2017.

“Extraordinary efforts will need to be taken,” the presentation warns. If fundraising is not successful, the annual conference must have a plan ready to execute in November/December to severely curtail operations of the conference.

In the presentation, turmoil or financial distress experienced by local congregations is not addressed. The concern is focused entirely upon a conference budget largely controlled by the bishop (Oliveto). If Oliveto’s appointment as bishop is indeed one of the contributing causes to a financial shortfall, she could step down to relieve some of the distress.

The Yellowstone Annual Conference is already proposing a merger with the neighboring Rocky Mountain Conference. It remains to be seen if the financial difficulties will accelerate or force the hand of the proposal for Yellowstone to merge into a new Mountain Sky Annual Conference.

The Yellowstone Annual Conference is among the most liberal within the denomination. At its gathering last year, the group of churches in Wyoming, Montana and a sliver of Idaho voted to affirm abortion provider Planned Parenthood and a host of other progressive causes tied up in sexuality and gender identity.

UPDATE [06/23/2017]: Christian Post has more coverage of the financial crisis in the Yellowstone conference. You can view that coverage by clicking here.

16 Responses to Sudden Financial Crisis Hits Yellowstone Methodists

  1. Gwendolyn Fulkerson says:

    If the United Methodists don’t take a stand to hold with traditional, Scriptural teaching, this is just the beginning of a complete decline in the the UMC. I hope they decide to take a true stand and not try to straddle the fence anymore. We are getting tired of waiting and will leave if they don’t stay true.

  2. Dave says:

    No surprise here. Yellowstone was in trouble before KO ‘s arrival. Her presence has destabilized many churches that were struggling.

    But financial concerns aren’t going to change KO’s reign. The RMC will not acknowledge the growing cause and effect of decline caused by her leadership.

  3. Jim Hopwood says:

    Yeah, it’s really “Christian” to delight in the troubles of others. Read Paul’s love chapter and look in the mirror.

  4. Judy Bailey says:

    There is always a price to pay for disobedience. Planned Parenthood support / murdering the uuborn innocents. Weak leadership going on 50 years and not upholding the Holy Word of God. Not holding the unholy alliances accountable. God is angry…you have led others astray and will suffer for it.

  5. Bob says:

    The Yellowstone statement included the “List of Shame,” churches that are not giving and the amount in arrears. Those churches were not asked to include any reason why their contributions have dropped; that would help complete the picture, Oliveto or no Oliveto.

  6. Andy Wilson says:

    As a United Methodist, I am sickened and hurt by the way we are treating scripture. The UMC is dead and we don’t even realize it.

  7. Brad Barringer says:

    The UMC is like Metropolis in the Bat Man movie. The Joker said that the town needed a good enema. All these liberals need to be flushed.

  8. David says:

    Does “Ichabod” ring a bell?

  9. HORST GEYER says:


  10. Bill Selby says:

    What a interesting series of responses. It seems a mixture of glee and anger which tends to be justified by selected scripture. I wonder if the church will die, not because of a stance for openness, acceptance, and affirmation, but because it is viewed by those outside as standing for the opposite.

  11. Hazel Smith says:

    I rejoiced at the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto. It is past time for the Methodist Church to change its policy regarding married LGBT persons or else we cannot claim that we are “Open and Welcoming.” Hearing Bishop Oliveto’s moving, spiritually grounded, and powerful speech at the Yellowstone Conference
    UMW Conference on “Building Bridges of Love” last weekend, I am convinced that like Esther, Bishop Oliveto was “born for a time such as this”. Our conference had been losing members and money long before Bishop Oliveto arrived, and we will survive. May Jesus’ example of unconditional love and acceptance move throughout other conferences as well.

  12. Afua says:

    Jesus’ unconditional love also preached repentance from sinful lifestyles; Jesus said to the adulterous woman “go and sin no more”. He condemned not BUT he condoned NOT. By the way we all need repent from our ‘naturally’ occurring sinful lifestyles of envy, jealousy, gossip as much as homosexuality. Homosexuality cannot claim an exemption; it’s as ‘natural’ a sinful lifestyle as any sin that is natural to human nature but living it show ‘absolute’ no regret, let alone repentance. This is where everything is wrong with leaders looking like quite the unrepentant ‘sinner’ and yet claiming to be in a vocation of a ministry of ‘pastoring’ God’s people. In fact scriptures are clear about the criteria for choosing bishops and deacons or Christian leaders for that matter: must be ‘blameless’ is number 1 criteria. I could go on and on but it is quite clear we cannot and should not make mockery of the good news of Jesus even as Wesley preached so much. Even ‘what would Wesley say’ and much more ‘WWJD’?

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