Monday, October 07, 2013

Letter from Finance Officer of UTO

My name is Patricia (Patty) Tourangeau, and I write to offer my perspective and experience to this conversation. That perspective and experience comes from having served for six years (2003-09) as Finance Officer on the UTO Board. Previous to that I had served as Treasurer for the ECW Board for six years, from 1997-2003.

During those twelve years of service and ministry I spent substantial amounts of time working with the finance department/staff at the Church Center in New York City, keeping accurate and open financial records for both organizations. Beginning in October of 2007, however, It became harder and harder for me to do this. Indeed, after Joanne Chapman retired from her Church Center staff position as UTO Coordinator and liaison with the UTO Board in 2007 it became harder for all members of the Board to do what we had been elected to do. Beginning in December 2007 I experienced numerous insinuations that I was “authorizing expenditures of the UTO fund inappropriately”, coming from Church Center leadership: the new UTO Coordinator and her supervisors (not the behind-the-scenes clerical staff).

In December 2007 the Executive Committee of the UTO Board was informed, by the new UTO Coordinator, that she (and staff that she and Church Center staff would hire) would be more knowledgeable and better informed to administer UTO funds and approve the "right kind” of grants (implying that the UTO Board were NOT so qualified and WERE “out of step” with Church Center priorities). This new Coordinator informed me that she was now the person who would develop the budget and administer income from the Trust Funds. These Trust Funds were given and specifically designated to provide operation funds by which the UTO Board could perform its ministry throughout the Church.

December 2007 marks the first “official” indication that there was an administrative intention to eliminate the UTO Board from their historic role of stewardship of Trust Fund income and the decision-making process regarding the distribution of that income, as well as from their role in the Ingathering granting process. I must add, however, that I had heard this hinted at in June of 2007 while on a trip to the Philippines (representing the UTO President), to represent the UTO Board at the final meeting of the Joint Committee on the Philippine Covenant (JCPC).

Early in 2008 I had a conversation with Judy Gillespie, who had served as the UTO Coordinator in 1985. During our conversation Judy told me that when the Memorial and Gift Trust Fund was established it was set up for the use of the UTO Board and was not intended to pay any “salaries” for Church Center staff, even the UTO Coordinator. Judy was very surprised that UTO was providing 20% (around $35,000.00) of the Coordinator’s salary and benefits (2007). My understanding is that now the UTO contributes approximately $100.000 toward this salary & benefits. Judy also mentioned she had worked on the wording for the Memorial & Gift Trust Fund, and the money was to be used solely for the travel and expenses of the UTO Board members to do the work they were elected to do.

I had hoped this was all settled with the agreements between Executive Council and the UTO Board, and the vote of General Convention in 2012. I am, however sadly, not surprised that authorities at the Church Center continue a program of neutralizing and disregarding the elected members of the UTO Board.

The Women’s Auxiliary was established almost 125 ago and has been doing mission in Jesus’ name and under the banner of The Episcopal Church throughout the world and the Anglican Communion for those 125 years. People outside the USA might not know of The Episcopal Church, but they certainly do know of the United Thank Offering!! This is all thanks to Women in the Pew, giving thanks for God’s daily blessing and incarnating that Thanksgiving through their offerings of time, talent, treasure and self.

I have heard over and over again the frustration of UTO Board members and others who ask in one way or another, “Why are the funds gathered through the UTO Ingathering decreasing?” Certainly, for a time, the church-wide response to one natural disaster or another (e.g. Hurricane Katrina) and our recent economic circumstances account for a portion of that decline. In some quarters there may even be significant doubt about the direction of this Church. But the major reason, I believe, is because of the efforts since 2007, on the part of individuals at the Church Center in New York to neutralize and dismiss the UTO Board and any voice the Women in the Pew have in the mission of the Church by their prayers and coins dropped in their Blue Boxes and then gathered in and granted through the United Thank Offering Grants each year. Indeed, there are men who are very active in this mission work and who daily give thanks and put coins in the Blue Boxes; men have even served on the UTO Board many years ago (!), and so it should be noted that the decision taken to neutralize and dismiss this “Women’s” ministry in fact reaches beyond gender to all who support the UTO effort from their pew at each service held in an Episcopal Church in all nine provinces of this Church.

My husband, a priest of this Church and sometimes less diplomatic than I, has his own perspective on what is going on. Having lived with me throughout these years, read letters and listened to telephone conversations and been trailing spouse to more than one Board meeting (tacked on to a family vacation), driven me to Chicago to get my passport renewed at the last minute, and supported my ministry in numerous ways, has likened this entire turn of events to an “ecclesiastical purse snatching”.

But that’s my husband. For myself, I pray that the newly proposed By Laws are not accepted, and that a respectful and gracious way is found the UTO Board to continue to serve and be served by the Women in the Pew as Board members as well as prayerful and thankful givers. That said, at this point I believe it would be better for the UTO Board to be its own 501(c) 3 corporation. I continue to pray for the UTO Board until this is settled once and for all!
God’s Blessing,
Patty Tourangeau
(UTO Finance Office 2003-2009)

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