Church Officers Say Finances Are Stable as Christian Scientists Gather for Their Church's Annual Meeting, Officials Say Fiscal 1992-93 Was a `Turnaround Year.'
David R. Francis, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
THE First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston has stabilized its financial situation, church officials say.
In a report to the church's annual meeting here today, Treasurer John Selover will call fiscal 1992-93 "a turnaround year."
A church financial crisis followed the expenditure of more than $300 million on various television activities over several years. Most of these were shut down in the spring of 1992. Since then, the church has taken additional drastic measures to balance its books.
Speaking during a joint Monitor interview with managing treasurer Donald Bowersock, Mr. Selover said the operating expenses of the church in the fiscal year that ended April 30 were as budgeted - $70 million. Income reached about $76 million, $6 million more than budgeted. This was primarily because income from restricted funds held by the church was more than that forecast in the budget, he said.
In addition, the continuing shutdown costs of the television operation (projected at $68.5 million and charged to the previous fiscal year, 1991-92) have been running about $5.8 million less than anticipated, Mr. Bowersock said. "Our financial position has been improving as the year has gone along," Selover said. Line of credit
Nonetheless, the church has arranged what Selover calls "a fiscal safety net" - a $5 million line of credit from the Bank of Boston "to be available to us, during this year only, for swings in cash flow which change from month to month." Selover said the church will strive not to use the credit line.
Selover also said that contributions by church members, branch churches, associations of Christian Science students, and "friends" of the church are down about 8 percent in the first five months of this calendar year from last year at this time, but are about equal to those made in the same period in 1991.
This decline may reflect a general downtrend in giving experienced by other charitable organizations, Selover said. It may also result, to an extent "almost impossible to determine," from an effort by some critics of the five-person board of directors that governs the church "to dissuade members from giving or to divert contributions to other purposes."
Selover said he hoped the church's financial performance in the past year "will indicate a sense of stability, purpose," that will overcome any hesitancy among contributors to the church. He said that the church's finances are "not the big story," which he described as the efforts of the church to bring to the attention of the world the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the church's founder.
One concern of critics of the board is its decision to publish a controversial book, "The Destiny of the Mother Church," by Bliss Knapp, as "authorized literature." The critics charge its publication violates the Manual of The Mother Church, or bylaws, and that the directors did so regardless to obtain the almost $100 million in bequests conditional upon its publication. Church officials deny both charges.
If the conditions of the wills of Knapp, his wife, and her sister are not met, the funds go to Stanford University and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Attorneys for the church and the two other institutions have been engaged in talks to settle a dispute over the bequests and are working with a mediating commissioner to help resolve the matter. A meeting with the commissioner is reportedly scheduled for Thursday, to be followed a week later by a hearing before the Los Angeles County Superior Court, which is hearing the dispute. A group of critics have indicated they will attempt to oppose a settlement in the court.
Because the dispute is still before the court, Selover said he could not comment on the case. …