WASHINGTON, Nov. 21 (RNS)-- The United Methodist Church has agreed to a $400,000 "advance" for the National Council of Churches as part of a $2 million bailout fund for the fiscally troubled ecumenical agency.

Earlier this year, the Methodists agreed to give $700,000 to thebailout fund paid for by a number of the NCC's member churches. TheMethodist contribution was the largest, and the church tied its gift tofinancial and structural reforms promised by the NCC.

The NCC needs the bailout money to balance its books for the year2000 and end the year in the black. Under the agreement approvedSaturday by the church's General Council on Finance andAdministration, the Methodists will advance the NCC the promised$400,000 out of the church's expected contributions over the next fouryears at 7 percent interest.

The interest will be repaid in full in the form of a grant, churchofficials said, once the NCC "demonstrates positive net assets and abalanced operating budget."

Both NCC and Methodist officials would not call the agreement a loanbut rather an early delivery on church funds that have already beenpromised to the NCC. The plan means that the NCC will receive lowerMethodist contributions in the next four years, a scenario that hasalready been planned for, said the NCC's general secretary, the Rev. BobEdgar.

"We would have preferred it to be new money, but each of the membercommunions had to decide how to give us the money over and above whatthey already give," Edgar said. "We recognize that this is an advance onfuture monies."

Clare Chapman, executive director of finance and administration forthe Methodists' ecumenical agency, said the agreement is in line withthe NCC's commitment to lower each church's share to no more than 25percent of all church contributions. Currently the Methodists contributethe largest share of any church to the NCC.

Chapman said the Methodist share to the NCC will eventually fall butit would be "crippling" if the church automatically pared down itscontribution to the 25 percent level.

The Methodists still owe $200,000 from their initial promisedcontribution, and that money will come from various church agencies andoffices.