UTO, Episcopal Church ratify ‘historic’ agreement

New bylaws, memo of understanding on operations meant to begin a new day

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Feb 7, 2014

Editors’ note: Story updated to add links to agreement documents.

[Episcopal News Service – Linthicum Heights, Maryland] The United Thank Offering and the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council officially agreed Feb. 7 on a memorandum of understanding and a new set of bylaws for the organization that for 125 years has supported the church’s mission and ministry.

The agreement is a “historic leap into a new day for the UTO,” according to a cover letter for the two documents from UTO Board President Barbara Schafer and Steve Hutchinson, chair of council’s Joint Standing Committee on Governance and Administration for Mission (GAM).

The documents provide “new mission opportunities and collaborative working relationships” between the UTO and the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s departments and staff (the DFMS is the church’s corporate name), the letter says, and they outline a vision for UTO of “broader inclusivity of divergent populations within the church.” UTO’s activities will expand to contribute to the wider mission work of the church, Schafer and Hutchinson said.

The memorandum of understanding is here and the new bylaws are available here.

They acknowledge that there will be a “period of transition and learning” as the memo and the bylaws are implemented.

Hutchinson told the council that the working group, the UTO board and GAM all understand that both the memo and the bylaws were created to give UTO “a suitable foundation” for the future of UTO but, that they are not perfect.

“The expectation is that this will be a continuing conversation for a while,” he had earlier told ENS.

In fact, council also passed a resolution calling on the working group to monitor the implementation of the bylaws and memo and recommend “refinements that will further enhance the mission work of the UTO Board and its relationship to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.”

The bylaws outline the UTO’s mission and purpose, its responsibilities, the roles of the board’s officers and members (and the terms of their service) and other functional issues.

The memo of understanding details operational aspects of how DFMS will work with the UTO and vice versa.

Among the things the DFMS has agreed to do are:

  • include the UTO in its mission-planning discussions so that it is aware of the mission department’s goals and priorities;
  • collaborate with the UTO board in preparing annual and triennial budgets for the council’s approval;
  • manage all of UTO’s financial affairs in conjunction with the UTO board, reporting to the board with monthly financial operating statements and quarterly investment statements;
  • manage trust funds held in whole or in part for the UTO “in a prudent manner consistent with DFMS investment policies and in accordance with the terms of the funds;
  • provide the board with meeting-planning services and travel logistics, as well as needed staff training;
  • provide the board with grant-accountability information;
  • provide communications resources and a web-based internal communication system for the board that will also allow for archiving of electronic documents;
  • manage the archiving of non-electronic documents, memorabilia and other UTO items;
  • provide translation services and legal services as needed;
  • promote UTO “whenever possible”; and
  • provide two full-time DFMS staff members to work with the board (the memo outlines the tasks of each employee).

Among the UTO’s responsibilities are:

  • acceding to the authority of the church’s Constitution and Canons, the council’s bylaws and DFMS policies and procedures;
  • submitting an annual report to council;
  • having its annual grant recommendations vetted by the DFMS director of mission for compliance with that year’s council-approved grant criteria, and submitting the awards to council for approval;
  • agreeing to consult with members of the church center’s Global Partnerships Team regarding grant applications from provinces outside the Episcopal Church;
  • being “responsible for the UTO granting process in support of the mission initiative as established by the leadership of the Episcopal Church”; and
  • expanding participation, with cooperation of DFMS staff, in UTO “to represent all demographics found within the Episcopal Church.”

Hutchinson said that because of the intent of the memo “there’s a new day of collaboration and consultation going on already” between the board and the DFMS staff.

The agreements stem from a pledge council made at its October 2013 meeting to heal the wounds incurred during a controversial effort a few months earlier to draft a memorandum of understanding between the UTO and the DMFS, and new bylaws for the historic organization. Four UTO board members resigned in disagreement over the effort in September 2013.

At the time, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said the effort was meant to bring UTO’s operating procedures “into compliance with both federal law and with DFMS policies.”

At the time, there was also a desire to help the 125-year-old ministry evolve its fundraising process in a changing church and culture.

In a resolution council passed at its October meeting, the members “committed to a season of reconciliation and renewal of all involved in a thoughtful and faithful engagement and conversation to resolve matters of governance and administration, while honoring the UTO’s historic promotion of a theology of thankfulness, so that the mission of the UTO can be strengthened.”

That season began during that October meeting when four members of UTO’s board met privately with council’s governance and administration for mission committee for what Hutchinson said was a time of “candid” conversation.

Shortly after the October council meeting, Jefferts Schori and UTO Board President Barbara Schafer issued a joint statement pledging to work together to overcome the controversy.

A working group made up of UTO and council members was formed and met in Fort Worth, Texas in early January. Hutchinson and Schafer attended as did UTO Vice President Marcelle Cherau; UTO Secretary Dena Lee; council members Stephane Cheney, Tess Judge and Marion Luckey; and DFMS legal counsel Paul Nix. UTO Coordinator Heather Melton and Grants Convener Margaret Cooper participated via teleconference.

Hutchinson told ENS that the group met together for 52 hours over four and a half days, and in the end there was “full consensus and unity” on the proposed memo of understanding and bylaws. The UTO board later unanimously approved the two documents, he said.

UTO was established in 1889 as the United Offering by the Women’s Auxiliary to the Board of Missions and primarily supported the work of women missionaries. UTO later broadened its emphasis to include all areas of the church’s work.

UTO grants are funded in large part with the money that Episcopalians deposit in “Blue Boxes,” which they keep in their homes and offices. Over the last 124 years UTO has granted $131,789,046.70, according to a report here.

UTO suggests that people should daily pray and give – by putting some coins in their Blue Box – in recognition of their daily thanks for what God has given them. Oftentimes, the people whom the UTO calls “thankful givers” supplement their daily contributions before sending the money to UTO either individually or through a process known as diocesan in-gatherings. The UTO believes that thankful giving unites the givers spiritually with the people who benefit from their gifts.

During the group’s Sept. 25-Oct. 1 board meeting, Melton said that giving to UTO has declined over the last 10 years.

In 2007, the UTO made 91 grants totaling $2,401,906.70. In 2009, it granted close to $2.1 million in 63 grants. For 2013, UTO awarded 48 grants for a total of $1,517,280.91. The complete list of grants is here.

Executive Council called in 2008 for a UTO study group to clarify the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s legal relationship with UTO.

Sandra McPhee, the first chair of the group, noted at the time that there was nothing in writing that spells out the UTO’s relationship to the DFMS, despite the fact that UTO was using the tax-exempt number assigned to the DFMS by the Internal Revenue Service, which expected the DFMS to “control” the UTO.

The council committee that proposed the study group also noted the UTO’s declining revenue and wondered if UTO’s fundraising model and grant-making methods needed updating.

The 2008 study group reported to council and General Convention in 2012. Council approved the group’s report in 2011, including a new set of bylaws and called for a memo of understanding between UTO and the DFMS. Convention also adopted the report and the bylaws. Hutchinson said that the process did not afford an extensive review of the bylaws. For instance, he said, that council’s governance committee was not asked to review them.

The Feb. 5-7 Executive Council meeting is taking place at the Maritime Institute Conference Center.

Some council members are tweeting from the meeting using #ExCoun.

The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4 (1)(a). The council is composed of 38 members, 20 of whom (four bishops, four priests or deacons and 12 lay people) are elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay) by the nine provincial synods for six-year terms – plus the presiding bishop and the president of the House of Deputies.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


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Comments (2)

  1. Elizabeth Phillips says:

    As a former member (1976-1984) of the UTO Granting Committee, a Province II and “At Large” person, I commend the diligence it has taken to reach this point. Now as I serve as the coordinator of UTO in 2 parishes – one in CA and the other in NY states, I think the greatest part of this program is the strengthening of the prayer life of the participants. The missionary outreach is the blessing.

  2. Change is something that will always occur and is often difficult. As a retired priest I can understand how difficult this process must have been. I am proud of the Episcopal Church for the Spirit of God that seems to be among us, especially our leadership, to have enabled these mutual changes. Over the years I am very proud of the prayerful humility and mutual love and respect that keeps us together and still moves us forward. May that Holy Presence continue to be our guide for what is yet to come.

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