Last week the Spanish Union of Seventh-day Adventists (UAE in Spanish) urged all its pastors, union board members, institutional leaders directors and administrative staff, and all local church boards to meet UAE leadership in one of several planned meetings to discuss new, sweeping austerity measures. The meetings, to be held at locations throughout Spain, began Tuesday, November 19 in Madrid and Sagunto, and conclude Sunday, November 24 in Málaga and Sevilla.
A letter went out the day after the UAE board decided on cuts that will affect virtually all church entities. The letter said in part, “Due to the importance of the financial cuts and the the readjustment of pastoral care to churches [approved in the end-of-the-year UAE board meeting that took place on November the 10th and the 11th] we want to explain [these measures] personally."
According to sources familiar with the matter, UAE's deficit from the beginning of the 2008 economic crisis through this past September added up to €3.7 million. Debt is estimated to reach €4.2 million ($5.6 million) by the end of this year. Given an absence of official data regarding UAE's annual income, it is not a stretch to say that this figure could easily represent at least 50% of UAE's total income for 2013.
Spanish Union's current published membership numbers roughly fifteen thousand, Romanian and Latin American immigrants comprising a majority. Many members are victims of Spain's high unemployment, or get by on low-paying jobs. While the unemployment rate among Spaniards is about 25%, among immigrants it is 36.4%. In Catalonia, however, one of the richest areas of Spain, unemployment among natives drops to 20% while among immigrants it climbs to 40.6%.
Just before the Spanish housing bubble burst back in 2008, UAE's annual income reached a historic high. Like a roller coaster, however, what came next can best be described as free fall.
Spending more than it was taking in since 2006, UAE finished 2008 with a negative balance. Still, the union kept opening new churches and helping them pay the rent and hiring. Tithes and offerings dropped off, but the union added members faster than ever. In 1999, the Spanish church baptized 234 new members and welcomed twenty-four through profession of faith. In 2009, baptisms reached 693 and professions of faith rose to 154.
The disparity between income and money spent increased year by year, but the numbers still added up. No miracle was behind this. UAE used its own savings and the Inter-European Division offered financial aid.
At the 2012 Spanish Union Constituency Meeting, delegates received a financial report, but nobody realized UAE's actual structural economic deficit. While harsh austerity measures had already been adopted by the Spanish Government, the Spanish Union happily opened more departments, moved 30 pastors and hired more of them.
At that time, a new treasurer took office. He studied the books that summer, and in September, he sounded the alarm. Just a couple of months after the Constituency Meeting, UAE created a finance committee to study the union's viability. UAE's 2012 deficit reached €1.2 million.
In the 2012 year-end meeting, the UAE adopted for the first time important austerity measures. Salaries were reduced 7.5%, hiring abruptly stopped, expenses were cut and departments received less money.
2013 brought no good news. Tithes and offerings were still in free fall. The situation was so dire that a second finance committee was created to study anew the Union's viability. Last September a plan was presented. Proposed measures were so crude that UAE cried for help. The EUD came to the rescue with generous financial aid that includes the cost of three pastors (€120,000 ($161,000) a year) for two or even three years.
Despite this economic boost, UAE is adopting harsh austerity measures. While the numbers have not been officially disclosed, SPECTRUM has ascertained the following from sources close to the matter:
1- UAE employees' salary will be reduced again. This time a 5%. 2- About five pastors' salaries will be halved. 3- The Union will let go less than five pastors. 4- Pastors' workloads will be increased. 5- Churches will be merged.
CAFÉ HISPANO published a longer version of this article last Friday. Before running it, this publication contacted the Spanish Union with some questions and informed its leaders about the coming article. This made them to publicly release how the UAE will be restructured. According to the official Spanish Adventists news site, some UAE's departments will be merged while others, like the Health Department, will be run on a voluntary basis.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5650