Thoughts from a United Thank Offering board member

[Episcopal News Service] Anne Gordon Curran, a United Thank Offering member-at-large from the Diocese of Virginia who is in her second term, released the following statement Sept. 13 to Episcopal News Service concerning recent developments in the Episcopal Church organization.

Thoughts from a United Thank Offering Board Member

I have served on the UTO Board for 4 years now, which included active participation in the work and writing of the “Theology of Thankfulness” as a subcommittee of the Ad Hoc INC 055 Task Force with Sarah Carver and Marge Burke. In my time on the UTO Committee/Board, 2009-2012, I began to read about the history of UTO and its development in the Episcopal Church (DFMS) as a part of the Department of Mission and its relationship to the Women’s Auxiliary, Women of the Church and ultimately the Episcopal Church Women; and how it has been a vital ministry of the Church. UTO has represented to the Church financial support when there were requested needs in times of social change and growth as well as the millions of dollars that have supported mission both foreign and domestic since 1883 when the first offering was taken at General Convention in the amount of $371.27 and divided between domestic and foreign fields.

The United Thank Offering has always been under the Department of Mission with the beginning defined by the hiring of Miss Mary Emory as Secretary in 1872. She was hired by authorization of Executive Council to establish a Woman’s Auxiliary to increase funds for the mission fields in the Episcopal Church. As you know, the women, with a challenging beginning, have done a remarkable job over the years. With its energy based in prayers of thanksgiving and the development and ultimate patent of the Blue Box in 1891 representing individual gifts offered through daily thanksgivings, the money generated became the major support resource for mission in the Church. Over the years changes were made in the structure of the United Offering, ultimately the United Thank Offering as designated by resolution at General Convention in 1967.  At that time UTO became an organization of the entire Church, even though it was managed by the women of the Church but still under the Department of Mission and Executive Council. The women never held the money, however. DFMS always did, but the “feeling” was that since the women made the decisions about how the money was to be disbursed for granting that the funds were theirs. They were always good stewards and kept impeccable records.

In 1970 the new UTO Committee structure came into effect with representatives from the IX Provinces of the Church, two members from the former Committee of Women, one from Executive Council and 1 from the Lay Ministries Committee (a male). The UTO Committee was responsible to Executive Council with recommendations coming from ECW Triennial. This structure basically remained the same until 2008 when Executive Council, and a tax lawyer thereon, learned that UTO and other organizations of the Church were not operating in compliance with current tax laws to continue to fit the criteria for tax exempt status for their funds. Executive Council eventually decided that UTO was too important a ministry in mission of the Episcopal Church (DFMS) to go the route of a 501(c)(3) organization and requested that a comprehensive study be undertaken to see how this could be remedied. That is when they established the Ad Hoc INC 055 Task Force in October 2008, appointing 10 people in various areas of the Church primarily to show the relevance of the ministry of UTO to DFMS as a funding source for mission in the Church.

This background shows, to me, not a takeover of funds which the UTO Committee has generated over the years, but it shows that the Church in good faith and benefit has invested funds raised by individuals and bequests in the name of the United Thank Offering and has assisted in that effort to help those funds grow for the benefit of mission. With the Memorial and Gift Trust Fund, established in 1989, to support the work of the committee while it continued to gather funds through Blue Box giving with semi-annual ingatherings, the work of the UTO Committee was supported by trust funds for its operations. The monies, however, remained invested in DFMS earning interest, and the organization continued to be governed by Executive Council. A viable question became how could UTO remain under DFMS when its board members were elected by only one part of the Church, the volunteer based organization of the Episcopal Church Women, and be a viable organization of DFMS? According to the tax laws, the organizations of the Church must show legal connections and lines of authority and responsibility to DFMS to be in compliance with IRS regulations which offers the benefit of tax free status. It was clear from the request to the study committee what the goals were and they did a good job showing a relationship through their research and writing and a relevance to mission in the Church. The governing documents, however, were not in compliance. I do not know why that was not recognized in the study group nor why it was not noticed by Executive Council or General Convention, as each body approved the documents along the way. The study was approved by General Convention in its entirety in July 2012 and UTO became officially a board of the Episcopal Church.

During this journey there was turnover in the legal department of the Church; a new chief operating office was hired; a new Director of Mission was hired…..two of these positions were filled after the study was done but not yet approved. The legal position was filled just before General Convention 2012. They were not aware of the details of the bylaws until the UTO Board sent the documents before a July 2013 meeting with the Presiding Bishop and other DFMS leaders. That opened the door for a good look. If our documents stay the way they were written in the study, we are not a legal entity of DFMS. We cannot be defined by another volunteer group (ECW) for our membership nor for our financial accountability. We must work, as a volunteer board, directly under the staff of DFMS and subject to their rules and procedures. “Our money” has always been the money of DFMS.

My summary is that UTO is experiencing a time of major change and clarity. When I look at the history of UTO, I see shifts and realignments but no real changes to the basics….we have always been a volunteer entity of the Episcopal Church whose funds are held and invested in DFMS, and we have always been under the Executive Council for our governance. DFMS being a church organization run primarily by church people and a huge volunteer force, the Episcopal Church has not always had the best alliances in place but they have done the best they could with the understanding they had at the time. At this time in history when funds and support are a challenge to the organization at large, the Church has tried to be good stewards of what they have and reset priorities to make the business of the Church work for all. UTO funds are designated and cannot be used for anything other than UTO work and granting. We ARE the largest mission funding source of the Episcopal Church and I believe the powers that be want to protect that, hence the study and ultimately the required changes proposed for our legal documents. I see no way around this definition for UTO’s relationship to DFMS. In fact, I see it as assurance that we can go forward with security, changing some of our alliances and responsibilities accordingly. Our relationship to ECW as a part of how we are formed and function, cannot continue as they are a volunteer organization of the Church also. They are currently having to show how they are tied to the Church legally as well to be able to keep their funds invested in DFMS. It likely will be a more difficult task for them because they are a 501(c)(3) organization. They are in fact defined as independent. We are not.

When I look at the whole picture, I am proud to be a part of UTO at this time in history. It is a time of change and for the better, I believe. It brings security for UTO to have us so clearly defined to the entity which allowed and encouraged and supported this ministry to exist in the first place. Having permanent staff in New York as the working and legal connection for the work that we do….granting, publications, Face to Face, etc… allows for easier transitions between board changes in each triennium. Yes, I believe that we will still be doing most of what we have done in the past but with a more interdependent relationship with the mission staff at DFMS. Now we will be a part of General Convention and I am not sure how that works at the Triennial/General Convention meetings. I am not clear on what our presence can be. Having staff in the Church Center with oversight and responsibilities for the management of UTO as a ministry of the whole Church, lends continuity and connectedness to UTO for the changing Board. We will not have to keep reinventing the wheel of UTO according to personalities and leadership, strong and weak, which should lend more stability to our job. Just think about it, like women who have moved from the kitchens and pews to be representing the Episcopal Church as deputies, priests, bishops and ultimately the Presiding Bishop, we have moved from a secretary to the Department of Mission to be an organization with full inclusion in General Convention. As the Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls has reminded us, quoting our recent past President, Sarita Redd: “DFMS is UTO and UTO is DFMS”. We have said this ourselves….UTO is the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church is UTO. We pray, we give and we support mission in the world. What more can we want?

Thank you for listening and in God’s peace with abundant thanksgivings,

Anne Gordon Curran
Member at Large for Africa, UTO Board
September 12, 2013


  1. Allison Duvall says:

    Thank you, Anne.

  2. Jeffrey Parker says:

    What a wonderful explanation. Kudos.

  3. Emmetri Monica Beane says:

    Thank you for sharing a perspective on what has been confusing to watch from a distance.

  4. Thank you for an interesting contribution. Having read the documents, I do not see how the UTO will have any more “full inclusion in the General Convention” than it has ever had. This letter does not address how grants will be approved, or more accurately, prepared for approval by the Executive Council. It looks to me like more work is needed, as well as broader coverage of the issues and of the varied perspective on the future of the UTO.

  5. Susan Page Howland says:

    Ann, this is an excellent piece. Sounds very much like the conversations I have had this week with other UTO leaders.

    I have one comment and a question: It would very interesting to look at the documents that formed the UTO Joint Board in 1970, after the suspension of the Women’s Auxiliary bylaws. I wonder did they have bylaws? What happened after 1970 is many, if not all, Province ECW’s wrote into their bylaws the election of the Province Representative to the United Thank Offering Committee, now Board. I am in Province I and I know for sure it is in our bylaws and I have copies of the Province III and VIII bylaws and the same provision is in those bylaws as well. It is clear from your article that there have been significant leadership changes in the DFMS, the UTO Board, and the EC, and the historical memory has been lost. It would be wonderful if some people, from outside the Board or EC with pieces of the history, could work collaboratively as a council of advice and who could take a second glance at the information coming out of the Board and the EC before major decisions were made. I wondered myself how the prior counsel could have approved these by laws (Quoting from Minutes of Executive Council 21-24 October 2011, “Canon Harris reported that DFMS’ in-house counsel had reviewed the proposed by-laws and approved them.”‎)

    Ann, I am concerned about one statement you made about the National ECW. If I read it right you said the National ECW is a 501(c)3 organization. I have been asked to sit on the ad hoc committee that by Triennial resolution 101/104 will look at the structure and function of the NECW; I have asked the question of tax entity many times and was told the NECW is a NOT a separate 501(c) 3 organization, all money flows to and from the DFMS and the NECW reports under the tax ID of DFMS. I was told this by a NECW treasurer. I hope someone who can answer this question definitively will comment, or that you will go back and double check this for accuracy; it is an important point,, and I wil do this fact checking as well. Thank you so much for your hard work on the UTO Board
    Susan Howland, ECW President and UTO coordinator, Diocese of Western MA and Province I ECW VP, Communications and Information .
    Sent from my iPhone

  6. Excellent posting.

    And I concur, UTO is the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church is UTO.

  7. Thank you for your service to our Church! May I respectfully ask, why is the idea of UTO, and for that matter, ECW, becoming 501(c)(3) autonomous and interdependent organizations solely for the support of TEC problematic?

  8. Fr. Gaylord Hitchcock says:

    Thank you, Ms. Curran. What you have to say is most enlightening, and puts the actions of DFMS and its leadership in a much more favorable light, and gives them a rationale. I think for me the critical question remains: are the UTO Board grant recommendations final (except for cutting the check) or are they recommendations to some entity in DFMS? I would be loathe to see the UTO Board second-guessed by the powers-that-be at DFMS. I would be loathe also to see only a portion of the UTO ingathering be really under the control of the UTO Board, while the rest goes into the National Church Budget. The extraordinary work done by the UTO over more than a century demands that it continue to have the ability to fund those special projects that fund creative ministry around the world, and make all of us proud to be Episcopalians.

  9. Mary Roehrich says:

    Your comments are a clear and concise rendering of your point of view. The four have also a point of view and both should receive serious consideration. That I think is the issue. The four considered that their point of view was ignored in the documents they received.

    Two points:
    1. a change in DFMS officers causes readjustments just a change in UTO officers does and may or may not provide stability of leadership. It seems that just such a change in DFMS has caused this dust-up because they were not mindful of history or courtesy. Hardly a support for an argument that DFMS provides stable leadership.
    2. Marc Kivel’s point – what threatens DFMS if UTO applies for and receives 501c3 designation? Is DFMS then no longer a missionary organization? Do they do no missionary work of their own? only through UTO AND ERD?

  10. As an active and concerned Episcopal church woman, I have spent the last week or so reading as much relevant material as I can find concerning the recent difficulties of the UTO. If I have read correctly, the UTO at some time in 2008 requested possible 501(C)-3 status. This apparently was not the action taken by the Executive Council but, rather, it began the process to properly “associate” UTO with DFMS. By 2012 this was supposedly accomplished with the rewritten by-laws which were passed by General Convention and now are declared insufficient. More must be done, which has created the current difficulties.
    I applaud the many reasonable posts of Marc Kivel and ask the same question: what would be problematic to DFMS if UTO, and ECW as well, applied for and received 501(C)-3 designation? Isn’t ER-D functioning as such an entity for the benefit of Episcopal mission work? Would someone with expertise in this area respond, please?
    I add that our Executive Council should not undertake at its October 2013 meeting
    by-law revisions concerning UTO nor attempt composing a MOU with the UTO while many of us have concerns and questions about the process.

  11. Sandra Squires says:

    As president of Province VI ECW, I have been following this dispute because our very capable UTO Province VI Coordinator, Robin Sumners, has resigned and yet has kept us informed throughout the process. My grave concern is that DFMS will force a by-laws change and discount all the wonderful work being done by the women of the church for 125 years.
    In conversation with Robin just yesterday, she pointed out the spiritual element to UTO’s recommendation for daily thanksgiving that is not the same as giving to ER-D. UTO is an on-going commitment to mission and thanking God for our many blessings in our own and others’ lives. ER-D is a worthwhile organization but gives emergency funds when disaster strikes our earth, our island home. We write a check for ER-D, not the same as giving daily thanksgiving and the teachings that go along with our “Little Blue Boxes”. Millions of dollars have been collected and disbursed to help people throughout the world as well as here at home. Who can say they haven’t been touched in their diocese or parish in some way by a UTO grant?
    Please pray for reconciliation between the UTO Board and the National Church that respects the devoted service of UTO.

  12. Inez L. Harris says:

    I am sorry to learn that Robin has resigned, but what she says is very valid!!!!
    As a former member of the National United Thank Offering Committee (1979-1985), f rom Province IV, I am distressed at all that is happening with regard to UTO. THIS IS AN OFFERING OF THANKSGIVING, not a fund raiser for mission. When I attended the hearings at the 2012 convention, the report was so glowing of the work the UTO Committee has done through all these years, and that it should remain that way, but now become a committee of the Executive Council. And that seems to me to now be the problem, because of the tax structure…SO PLEASE, executive council, find a way to leave the present committee in tact and its functions the same–don’t let money be your guide. EVERYDAY GIVE THANKS!!!! Drop those coins in your Blue Boxes.

  13. Marcia Himes says:

    Thanks Ann for your letter and the history of the UTO. I served as the National ECW President from 2009-2012, during the time that the “study committee” was doing their work. Lots of talk went on in both the ECW and UTO boards about the pros and cons of becoming 501(c)-3 entities. As I read the comment about that solution, I recall that one of our concerns has to do with the trust funds that are held with DFMS. Many of those funds were given to the Episcopal Church for “women’s work.” These funds are used, in part, to help each board with the administrative work they do. I think that if either ECW or UTO would step out on their own and form a 501(c)-3, they would not have access to those funds. In my limited knowledge of trust funds, I think that they would remain with DFMS and not be available for the newly formed corporation. Although this seems like a fix for the current situation, UTO should proceed with caution if this a route they intend to take.

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