Council expresses ‘deep regret’ over UTO events

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Oct 17, 2013

[Episcopal News Service – Chicago, Illinois] The Episcopal Church’s Executive Council formally moved Oct. 17 to try to heal the wounds incurred during the recent controversy over the functioning of the United Thank Offering.

Council’s efforts included two resolutions and many statements of support for the future of UTO and its relationship with the wider church.

In addition, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told council that she and UTO board president Barbara Schafer, from the Diocese of Nevada, were working on a joint statement to later release to the church.

Steve Hutchinson, chair of council’s Joint Standing Committee on Governance and Administration for Mission (GAM), told his colleagues that his committee’s Oct. 15 discussions with four UTO representatives were “substantive, frank and productive.”

He characterized the attitude as one of “very strong support and high hopes to move forward – not to dwell on the past – but to move forward cooperatively.”

In one of council’s two UTO-related resolutions, passed on the final day of its Oct. 15-17 meeting here, members “acknowledged with deep regret the breakdown of communication and relationship between the board of the United Thank Offering and leadership of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society.”

They “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.”

At the same time the members committed themselves to “continuing support of the UTO by offering gifts of thankfulness on a regular basis through the ‘little blue box’ or [to] direct gifts to the spring and fall Ingatherings,” and invited the whole Episcopal Church to join them.

“We give thanks for the years of inspirational and prophetic service to the wider Church that the United Thank Offering and generations of women leaders have made, and look forward to celebrating the 125th anniversary of this important work as we seek renewal of this mission for generations to come,” Resolution GAM011 concluded.

Council’s Joint Standing Committee on World Mission also brought forward a resolution Oct. 17 expressing thanksgiving for the ministry of the UTO and support of its work going forward. Resolution WM015 affirmed the UTO board’s 2014 United Thank Offering Grant Focus and Criteria (to be posted Nov. 1 on UTO’s website). Finally, the resolution also encouraged every Episcopalian to get and use daily a UTO Blue Box.

Council’s discussions were prompted by the resignation in early September of four UTO board members over what became for some a controversial effort to draft a memorandum of understanding between the UTO and the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, and new bylaws for the historic organization which Jefferts Schori said were meant to bring the operating procedures “into compliance with both federal law and with DFMS policies.”

Hutchinson said during a mid-day news conference Oct. 17 that the most recent controversy was “a bit of a boiling over of a broken relationship, frankly, some of which probably goes back for decades, some of which is more recent.”

He also noted that “notwithstanding 125 years of wonderful ministry in the church, United Thank Offering as an organization has never been formally defined as an entity in the Episcopal Church, and that has promoted a great deal of confusion at different times in its history and in some way has probably contributed to some of the erratic functioning in the relationship with other parts of the church.

Now however, Hutchinson told the council, there is hope for “a new identity, a new season of collegiality and cooperation.”

He told council that a working group of UTO board members and GAM members would soon be organized to continue the efforts to move forward.

Hutchinson, who had been involved earlier this year in the work on the bylaws revision and memo of understanding, had convened a closed GAM meeting on Oct. 15 with UTO board president Schafer; the Rev. Sarah Carver, appointed UTO board member from the Diocese of Eastern Michigan; the Rev. John Tampa, appointed UTO board member from Diocese of North Carolina and Margaret (Peg) Cooper, UTO Grants Committee chair, Diocese of Missouri. The four had been invited to the first day of council’s meeting.

Hutchinson told the council Oct. 15 that he would asked for the closed session because “this is about creating … a safe place for very open conversation.”

Those present, besides GAM members and the invited members of the UTO board, were Jefferts Schori; the Rev. Gay Jennings, House of Deputies president; the Rev. Heather Melton, UTO missioner; Bishop Stacy Sauls, the church center’s chief operating officer; Paul Nix, church center legal counsel, and Sally Johnson, Jennings’ chancellor.

Hutchinson had said he wanted to create “a safe place for very open conversation” that would be “quite brutally honest where necessary, compassionate, hospitable.”

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 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. (The DFMS is the church’s corporate legal entity.)

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 by-laws and called for a memo of understanding between UTO and the DFMS.

Jefferts Schori called a meeting with UTO board members and DFMS staff this past July. During that meeting she appointed a committee to work with some UTO board members to draft a memorandum of understanding and to revise the group’s bylaws to bring about the compliance with federal laws and DFMS policies that the presiding bishop sought. It was that work that eventually led to the UTO board member resignations.

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

Correction: Feb. 11, 2014, An earlier version of this story reported that General Convention also adopted the UTO report and bylaws. Convention did not take action on either document.



Comments (29)

  1. Marilla J Whitney+ says:

    You want to have a conversation so you pack the room with people whose position titles are longer than their names or could include the word “Esquire”? How intimidating do you need to be just to talk?


    It is an outright shame that UTO is caught in some game of political control. For as long as I have been an Episcopalian (around 40 years) there has been a Blue Box on my dresser. One of our former Bishops (Michigan/Eastern Michigan), Bill Gordon, received two airplanes (sequentially) from UTO to visit the parishes of Alaska when he was the Bishop there . That is but one of their many and profound missions. -Bill Thewalt

  3. Judith M Gillespie says:

    As a former Coordinator of the UTO I would like to comment that the decline in the offering over the past several years is very likely related to the sense of mistrust of the volunteer UTO Committee that has been generated by the Episcopal Church Center management staff and committees. This deeply saddens me as working with the UTO wa one of the best experiences of my work life because of the wonderful, trusting, supportive, deeply committed group of women and men that I had the pleasure of working with.

  4. Bruce Green says:

    Give us the short form of this! UTO has been a long term honored institution. Who messed with it? Has it been corrected? That will determine it’s next Incoming

    1. Weston F. Cook, Jr. says:

      Thank you, Bruce Green, for speaking for so many of us [Episcopalians and others] who are learning of this controversy for the first time and, reading this article, cannot for our lives figure out what all the fuss is about – except that apparently there are a lot of intensely hurt feelings, angers, frank [but unquoted] exchanges, and some rather typical episco-drama going on at high velocity. Could those of us who have given so much for so long have some substantive information about the conflicting issues? Regards and blessings to all.

      1. Chris Harwood says:

        Last GC passed a new set of bylaws but somewhere along the lines someone decided they weren’t good enough and a new group was formed including DFMS people and UTO members to form a new set of bylaws. In Sept. the UTO members received a new set of bylaws that were to be voted on at this EC meeting. Those proposed bylaws made the UTO mere observers with no power, DFMS controlled everything, so four members of the UTO resigned in protest. They have made a blog detailing their point of view at:

  5. Marylin Day says:

    Still wondering- the trite phrase of “where there is smoke, there’s probably a fire.” I am not confident when there are closed-door meetings that all is on the “up and up.”

  6. Bruce Green says:

    Upon further review this looks a lot like an investigation of a Rector’s Discretionary Fund. However, UTO has an annual audit. Does ECW want to have a slush fund? If it uses DFMF IRS tags, no grant that would not be authenticated by DFMS passes muster. Was money diverted and to whom for what?

  7. Nancy Sherwin says:

    How sad, that after 125 years of Episcopalians putting coins in their blue boxes, the P.B. & the Executive Council are investigating the prayerful & conscientious work of the UTO Board! It makes me wonder who wants control of this money?

  8. Chris Harwood says:

    Investigating? Demanding full control and making the UTO members observers more like. Some of the documents suggest 815 has already been refusing to pay on grants approved by the UTO. And these resolutions still don’t say who’s in charge now or which rules/bylaws are being used. One of the people who attended even tweeted afterward that they didn’t know which rules are in effect right now. The titles etc. on the CCAB board had already been changed for the new bylaws before the meeting so I get the feeling this really means, “We’re sorry you’re upset, so we’ll just wait until things quiet down and do what we want when you’re not looking.”

    Sorry, my blue box will just have to get heavier or go to another charity until this mess is cleared up. I don’t want the Thank boxes to become just another general fund income to be used on lawyers, lobbyists, etc.

    1. Martha Clark says:

      I am sad to say that many friends I have talked to say the same and the love and volunteer hours of all these years spent on doing God’s work encouraging thankful generosity has now been tainted by a political power struggle.

  9. Twyla Zittle says:

    How is it possible to have an open, honest conversation about the tension between the UTO board (prior to resignation of the “UTO four”) and the folks representing 815? What efforts, if any, have been made to reconcile with the UTO four?

    1. Martha Clark says:

      Well said.

  10. Fr. Gaylord Hitchcock says:

    Closed-door meetings really do not create “safe spaces” for speaking the truth in love. This whole confrontation is doing increasing damage to the UTO, and undermining trust in the DFMS. This matter must be resolved in a way that leaves the UTO board free to set criteria and make grants along principles that have guided it for 125 years, and have strengthened the mission of the Episcopal Church in extraordinarily creative ways. Assuming this mess is cleaned up in a manner that encourages such creativity and freedom, I look forward to making the UTO an important part of my stewardship in the coming years.

  11. John Tinklepaugh says:

    What in the world? Is the Presiding Bishop in charge of everything?
    Give me a break!

    The Reverend Doctor John R. Tinklepaugh

  12. Ann Tucker says:

    True or false, the manner in which this has been handled will surely decrease any future ingathering and subsequently the needed grants. I am 72 and I well remember the Blue Box on my mother’s bedroom dresser. Both she and my Dad frequently put coins in there and it was a pleasant tradition. I am sorry this memory has been sullied. IF there were federal regulations that need to be adjusted this clearly could have been done is a less high handed manner. And, now a closed door hearing should make us feel the matters are resolved. I really don’t think so.
    More social skills in administration might be a course worth taking.

  13. Br. James Teets BSG, Canon says:

    As a former staff officer in the World Mission Unit at the Episcopal Church Center — the department to which the UTO Office was assigned — I lived through the time when the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief (PBFWR) was transformed into Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) and have long wondered why the UTO wasn’t similarly transformed into its own 501c3 not-for-profit corporation? If the PBFWR/ERD is any example as another major fund-raising organization, it has really flourished in ministry and income in these relatively few years since it gained autonomy from The Episcopal Church’s direct oversight and management. Is that not a sufficient reason for the UTO Committee to consider a similar move?

  14. Thomas Finlay says:

    “[the Presiding Bishop] appointed a committee to work with some UTO board members to draft a memorandum of understanding and to revise the group’s bylaws to bring about the compliance with federal laws and DFMS policies that the presiding bishop sought…”

    Having worked for 25 years for private non-profit organizations, what comes to my mind is, did the structure of UTO’s relationship with DFMS suggest that UTO was operating, no doubt unknowingly, as a somewhat independent player outside of IRS regs concerning audits of DFMS funds and their ultimate destination? Has IRS suggested that the “audit trail” they use to track the disposition of charitable funds was unclear in the case of the relation of UTO to DFMS?

    Given how UTO operates – *many* donations from multiple sources – was 815 brought up short by this questioning, which could infer some “loose” (though unintentional) auditing on the part of the church, under IRS regs. for religious institutions?

    I haven’t seen this side addressed by ENS releases on the matter.

  15. Janet Diehl says:

    This is disgusting. If a group is doing its job, let it remain self controled. Why take over a long time reputable group? I vote for letting it be self controled!!

    One of “neat” things about The Episcopal Church is the number of independent, self controled, yet faith filled groups. They have their ups and downs, but good comes through.

  16. inez L. Harris says:

    Having been a six year member of the United Thank Offering Committee (1979-1985), I am appalled at what has happened in this dialog. Recognizing that we need to comply with DFMS policies, I am hopeful that this can all be resolved and that the UTO Committee, as it is now structured, be continued. It is good laity participation, and has worked for almost 125 years. Let it continue. Thank you, Judy Gillespie, for your good words…You were a blessing to us, as was Willeen Smith, who followed you in that position for 17 years.

  17. The Rev. Jeff Douglas says:

    Apparently, the UTO operates on the national level like your ECW does in your parish. Technically, any funds raised by your ECW are funds raised by the parish and therefore subject to control by the Vestry. However, I know of no rector or Vestry, except in the most extreme circumstances that would choose to exert any control over ECW funds. This is probably what led to the issue with UTO. The IRS wanted/sought clarification on the relationship and UTO having operated for years independently, but legally under the umbrella of the Church, needed to have some canonical/structural standing in the Church and perhaps needs to be audited, like any other entity, periodically. This may have seemed to some as a takeover of UTO by the DFMS (the national church) when in fact, clarity was needed to meet legal standards.

    1. David Yarbrough says:

      The administrative issues you mention are the likely drivers of initiating this change – but it’s taken on a life of its own far beyond what’s necessary to maintain tax exempt status. Katharine Schori, Stacy Sauls, and Gay Jennings have done an abysmal job in maintaining transparency in the process, and there are unwritten agendas, notably on the part of Sauls.

    2. Chris Harwood says:

      Then perhaps the DFMS should have done something other than send a letter saying, “See you at the meeting next month. We’re taking control of everything, money, the board, and making you just another income earner, but we’ll let you watch.”

      If UTO is just another line in the TEC income spreadsheet with no powers or say outside 815, and the money is used wherever the power at 815 says, not for mission areas decided by the laity, it’s time to find another place to express my thanks. I’m leaning strongly towards independence like the ERD or forget it.

  18. Elizabeth (Betty) Phillips says:

    The Grants given from the prayer coins of BLUE BOX users and others are for NEW AND CREATIVE MINISTRIES. Isn’t this the command from our gospels? The PB Fund for World Relief is our ministry reaching out to the human needs of God’s people when havoc is created. Two separate ministries. Both tremendously important to the Life of our Church and its people. Our
    church must abide for the rules of law that exist in the State of New York, thus protecting the exemption from taxation of donations to both these great programs.
    Let us all pray that our leaders can sort this out without “ruffling” too many feathers, In the meantime: Thank you God, for the beauty of your earth at this beautiful time of the year.

    Elizabeth L. Phillips UTOC Granting Committee 1979-1985 and presently the UTO co-ordinator for St. Luke’s, Long Beach, CA and St. John’s, Canandaigua, NY. at age 90+!!

  19. George Thompson says:

    The desire to take control of the substantial wealth that the Episcopal Church once held (bequests from such financial giants as J. P. Morgan, for example) has always seemed to be the motivation of the very strange band of people who took over the church a couple of decades ago. Their slobbering defense of homosexuals (who were never persecuted that I was aware of during my 50 years as a member of the church) was never the real motivation. Change and destroy the great 1928 Prayer Book, throw in a few more fiddles and the church lost one million communicants, including me. Not a big number until you remember that at its height, Episcopal Church membership totaled on 3.2 million. I miss my church, but the thing that exists now is a freak show and a joke, a very bad joke with a bad smell of corruption around the edges.

  20. Martha Jane Patton says:

    Rev. Douglas, I think you have hit the nail on the head. Ever since Sarbanes-Oxley became the law, ALL nonprofits, including the Church, have come under scrutiny. I can’t imagine that this is a matter of control, except for whatever audit trail the IRS requires. I suspect there may have been some misunderstanding here, in which case the drama knob could be turned down. How sad when these things come between us.

  21. John greve says:

    My hope is that in the end, the UTO will be run separately from 815’s direct oversight. If there are technical details to bring it into alignment with federal regulations, there must be a way to accomplish those while maintaining the unfettered operation of an organization that has done wonderfully good works over the years. If we are looking for a more nimble, locally empowered church for the future, it doesn’t make sense to try to consolidate oversight over existing entities, especially when they are not in need of it to be effective.

  22. Barbara H. Whitton says:

    Our church consistently leads our diocese in collecting for UTO. May it continue that way. But let me add that it is in everyone’s best interest to make sure the UTO is run as professionally and transparently as possible, and is compliant with IRS rules and regulations. There is a lot of competition for charitable giving out there, and many deserving organizations are highly rated by Charity Navigator. Donors want to know that their money is being properly used and that the organization they are giving to is competently managed. Any hint of misuse or incompetence reflect poorly on UTO and the Episcopal Church.

  23. Karen Birr says:

    None of you know the real background story of this ‘misunderstanding’ between the UTO Board and the DFMS, PB, Executive Committee. The UTO has always been run by the women and they have been doing a great job for almost 125 years. How about allow the UTO to have their own IRS number and be able to stand alone and not rely on DFMS’s tax number? That way, DFMS would have no control or say so over it as they want to now. The grants given NOW are for new and creative ministries. This has not always been the case. Rev. Douglas, you do not know the structure of the ECW. I pray this will all be settled and everyone (including the UTO Board) will be happy about the outcome. We don’t need more division in The Episcopal Church.

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