The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors
Presbyterian Churches Report Milestone Losses
he Presbyterian Church (USA) lost more than 69,000 members in 2008, the largest drop in membership since the denomination was formed in 1983, and the more conservative Presbyterian Church in America reported the first membership loss in its 37-year history.
The PCUSA's decline brings membership in the mainline Protestant denomination to 2.1 million, after it lost more than 57,000 members in 2007. Donations to the PCUSA also declined by more than $24 million.
Although nearly 104,000 people joined the denomination last year, almost 35,000 Presbyterians left the PCUSA to join the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church, according to denominational statistics.
More than 34,000 Presbyterians died, and nearly 105,000 were removed from church rolls "after they drifted away from our congregations," said the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the PCUSA.
"These are sisters and brothers with whom we break bread and sing the doxology," Parsons said. "We should not let them drift."
At the same time, the more conservative Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) reported its first-ever membership drop last year, from 345,582 in 2007 to 340,852 in 2008.
Newly elected PCA moderator Brad Bradley delivered the news at the church's annual General Assembly in Lake Buena Vista, Florida in June. He cited "extenuating circumstances," particularly a purging of membership rolls at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, but urged attendees to take the development seriously. "This might be a wake-up call for us," said Bradley. He urged every PCA congregation to plant at least one new church by 2020 in a bid to grow the denomination's ranks.
Suspicious Substance Closes CBN
Christian Broadcasting Network staffers were evacuated from their Virginia Beach, Virginia, office on July 1 after mailroom employees opened a piece of mail containing a powdery substance.
Three employees and a postal investigator were exposed to the substance, which turned out to be harmless, said CBN spokesman Chris Roslan.
"Several of the people said they developed minor rashes but the authorities don't believe those are related to whatever the powdery substance was," he said Thursday. "They were placed under a voluntary medical watch yesterday and nothing developed and the power turned out to be not a harmful substance."
The substance was determined to be whey powder, a protein that is used to aid bodybuilding. The CBN building was closed Wednesday after the incident but reopened on Thursday, Roslan said. "We took all necessary precautions and followed the authorities' advice and then it turned out to be a hoax," he said.
Vatican City State Reports $22 Million Deficit
The Vatican City State reported a deficit of $22million for 2008 as a consequence of the "global economic-financial crisis," the Vatican announced on July 4.
The Vatican's annual profit and loss statements showed that the 108-acre sovereign territory, which includes St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Museums, fared much worse last year than in 2007, when it reported a profit of $10 million.
A Vatican statement attributed the shortfall to spending on telecommunications, Internet, and photovoltaic panels on the roof of the papal audience hall, as well as conservation and restoration work on the Vatican's art collections. The statement did not give a breakdown of expenses.
On the bright side, the Holy See, the Episcopal jurisdiction of the pope, reported a loss of merely $1.3 million, down from $14 million in 2007.
The news is the latest indication of straitened circumstances at the world headquarters of the Catholic Church. In May, the Vatican announced that it would raise its staff retirement age by two years to help make ends meet. Starting in January 2010, newly hired lay staff will retire at 67 instead of 65, while newly hired members of religious orders and priests (below the rank of bishop) will retire at 72 instead of 70.
Also in May, Vatican Radio announced that it would take paid commercials for the first time in its 78-year history. The radio service employs 500 people, broadcasts in 47 languages, and costs more than $27 million a year to run -- much of which is ordinarily subsidized by the Holy See and Vatican City State.
Economy Closes one Relief Agency, Forces Cuts at World Vision
Michigan-based Christian relief group International Aid has closed its doors amid financial struggles while World Vision, one of the largest evangelical relief agencies, has eliminated about 75 positions.
International Aid needed to collect about $1.5 million in the past two months to balance its $70 million budget, but only gathered between $150,000 and $200,000, according to CEO Gordon Loux. "Since we have insufficient funds, the board felt it was prudent to cease operations," he said.
The Spring Lake, Michigan-based Christian nonprofit has offered health and humanitarian support worldwide since 1980. Loux said he is in discussions with six or seven nonprofits about rolling some programs into other organizations. About 40 people were employed by International Aid, roughly half of the organization's staff a year ago. The company also has 32 employees working in Honduras and the Philippines who will be out of jobs.
Meanwhile, about 50 members of World Vision's 1,200-member staff were laid off and about 25 open positions will not be filled, said spokesman Dean Owen. "We can no longer avoid the painful cost reduction steps that many organizations have already implemented," said Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, U.S. "The efforts of our faithful employees and donors have allowed us to swim against the tide longer than almost any other nonprofit."
Private cash donations, which increased 4 percent during the last quarter of 2008, have begun to decline. In the first quarter of 2009, donations dropped about 3 percent. Between April and June, they were about 18 percent below the previous year.
Despite the drop in donations, most child sponsors "remain loyal," Stearns said, giving about $30 a month that is designated to aid a particular needy child.
Among other cost-cutting measures, World Vision is canceling merit raises for the second year in a row and increasing employees' premiums for health benefits. Owen said the layoffs were the organization's first since 1995.
Owen said the layoffs are only occurring among U.S. staff and should not affect the global work of the organization. "Part of the point of this was to make sure we were able to fulfill our funding obligations to our programs around the world," he said.