Greek Orthodox Archdiocese looks financially sound despite difficulties created by the Covid-19 pandemic
New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Overcoming the problems created by the Covid-19 pandemic that have shut down most major events across the United States, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America held its first ever virtual Clergy Laity Congress.
The 45th Clergy Laity Congress took place on September 9 and 10, with the participation of 400 parishes. The number of the delegates registered, were 1,184. From them, 941 participated on the first day (320 clergy and 573 laymen) and 909 the second (312 clergy and 514 laymen).
Four members of the press covered the first day (2 from the Greek News) and three the second (two from the Greek News).
In closing the 45th Clergy Laity Congress, Archbishop Elpidophoros wished to be the last time we have a virtual Congress praise the Chairman of the Congress Bishop Apostolos and the presiding officer and Secretary of the Executive Committee, Judge Theodoros Bozonelis and all the others who worked tirelessly for a most successful Clergy Laity.
In closing, he invited all at the 46th Clergy Laity Congress, to be held in New Yoirk, in 2022 and called on each and everyone to keep in their hearts two things:
“Love and unity. Forget the disagreements or even bitter feelings; think that disagreements and differences, even disputes, are indications of a healthy organization”.
AND PENSION PLAN
The Treasurer Elaine Allen, along with Financial Committee Chairman Lou Kircos described a “financial transformation” that took place during the period 2018-2020, with the Archdiocese to show healthy cash numbers, with the help of $2,5 million PPP aid. According to the Treasurer’s report, during this period, $5-7 million in annual spending in 2018 budget eliminated in 2020. The personnel of the Archdiocese is at 46 persons in 2020, compared to 108 in 2017. Restricted accounts were restored and amounts due or contributed to St. Nicholas of $5.7 million were paid, while advances of 2.9 million were made.
All vendors and Metropolis payables are current; payables to pension plan are current; excess of revenue over expenses generated in 2018 and 2019; net unrestricted assets on the balance sheets are positive, first time in many years.
According to the Financial Committee Report, in 2020:
Total Commitment to parishes is increased 3% (net to GOA of $330,000 (1.5%) after considering increase in minimum funding to Metropolises and TC Sharing increase).
2. Extra Pension Funding increased to $1 mil
3. St Nicholas needed funding of $40 mil completed with no request for additional parish support
4. Commitment for HCHC support increased to $3.5 Mil
5. Line of credit increased to $5 Mil as sign of availability of financial resources – GOA does not intend to use line.
6. GOA 2019 Audit complete by June 19, 2020 (another record for earliest completion after year end).
7. With 2019 Audit, four years of GOA Audits are completed (2016, 2017, 2018, & 2019) in the span of about 25 months.
As far as for the 2021:
I. HCHC Funding increased $1 mil to total of $3.5 mil from only $1 mil in 2018.
II. The Pension Plan deficit can, kicked down the road for years, is finally being addressed
III. St Nicholas is on track for completion, without additional parish funding.
IV. The only increase to Parish Total Commitment for over 4 years is to cover pension deficits of the past.
V. GOA & ABC have best relationship in years- mutual trust and respect are being
VI. The GOA budget is 23%% smaller in real terms than it was 12 years ago.
In spite of interventions by Archbishop Elpidophoros and Metropolitans Gerasimos and Nathaniel, the plenary voted for the Total Commitment not to be increased for any parish for the next two years (224 or 38% NO with 360 or 62% YES). But later on, followed another motion by Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh, “the 2022 budget total commitment shall be increased by 2% over 2021”. The result of the vote was 250 NO (44%) with 312 or 56% YES.
On the pension plan, the Congress voted in favor of the Retirement and Ancillary Benefits Funding Mechanism and of a New Retirement and Ancillary Benefit Funding Methodology as Presented. But it rejected a motion to amend pension increase from 1 million to 2,5.
The ABC issue was discussed for two hours on the first day of the Congress. With the initial proposal of Archbishop (prior to the Congress) for a new plan withdrawn, the new proposal set forward includes increased fundraising activities.
The four options given to the Committee to evaluate were:
1. Based on the same methodology as Total Commitment
2. Based on the accrued pension liability
3. Based on flat rate per participant (same as current system)
4. Based on compensation of participants
The Subcommittee also evaluated a 5th option. That option uses a combination of #2 and #4 above so as to separately determine 1) Funding for defined benefit costs that should have been paid in the past and 2) the funding of the future costs related to a new defined contribution plan together with ancillary benefits costs consisting of participant life and disability insurance plus benefit office costs.
Metropolitans Evangelos of New Jersey (Presiding hierarch of the Administration Committee) and Savas of Pittsburgh questioned the formation of a subcommittee, inside the Legal Committee, with authority (among other things) to work on constitutional amendments. No sufficient explanation was provided, especially for the fact that no hierarch was assigned to preside, as it happens with every committee. According to very reliable sources, this committee is associated with the Archdiocesan Vicar General Rev. Alexander Karloutsos. A source told us that the real reason for the formation of this committee is to pre-empty situations that may arise in the trial of Mr. Jerry Demetriou.
Finally, the Archdiocesan Covid-19 Relief Fund dispersed over $600,000 through private donations, assisting 350 individuals and families.
The 45th Clergy Laity Congress passed by acclamation three resolutions.
One regarding the Covid-19 Pandemic, in which:
1. The Congress commends the souls of the departed victims of COVID 19 into the loving hands of God Almighty. May their memories be eternal and may our Lord watch over the loved ones they have left behind;
2. The Congress salutes the health care providers and essential workers who risked their lives in the service of others in the true spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ who gave His life so that we may live in eternity with God;
3. The Congress recognizes the enlightened leadership of our Archbishop, His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, who created the Archdiocesan COVID 19 Relief Fund which gave in excess of $600,000 to more than 350 needy families who were impacted by COVID 19.
4. The Congress prays that a vaccine for this deadly disease will be discovered soon.
Second, a thanksgiving resolution, expressing thanks to the Ecumenical Patriarch, the Archbishop and everyone worked for the Congress.
Finally, a religious freedom resolution, presented by the Archons, in which the Congress unanimously calls upon the Government of the United States of America:
1) To oppose the illegal actions of the government of the Republic of Turkey against the Ecumenical Patriarchate and all Orthodox Christians under his global jurisdiction, including those in the United States;
2) To request that the government of the Republic of Turkey comply with its obligations to provide full religious freedom, individually and in community, to its religious minorities and to respect its commitments pursuant to the Turkish Constitution and the human rights conventions and treaties it has signed and ratified;
) To intensify its efforts and strongly urge the government of the Republic of Turkey to:
(a) Refrain from interfering with the governance of the Ecumenical Patriarchate;
(b) Recognize and acknowledge that the Ecumenical Patriarchate exists and functions as a legal entity and maintains its own legal personality;
(c ) Acknowledge the Ecumenical status of His All-Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew;
(d) Take all necessary steps to allow the prompt and orderly reopening of the Theological School of Halki;
(e) End any further seizures of Church-owned properties and return or otherwise provide fair compensation for all properties previously confiscated since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey; and
(f) Restore the museum status of the Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora, in accord with the status of these structures as UNESCO (United Nations Economic and Social Committee) World Heritage sites and with the Republic of Turkey’s legal obligations as a signatory to the Convention on World Cultural Heritage;
(g) Once again make accessible, without any impediment, for public viewing the magnificent and world-historical examples of Byzantine iconography in Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Savior in Chora;
(h) Implement all decisions of the European Court of Human Rights with respect to Turkey.