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 the bailout fund paid for by a number of the NCC's member churches. The Methodist contribution was the largest, and the church tied its gift to financial and structural reforms promised by the NCC.

The NCC needs the bailout money to balance its books for the year 2000 and end the year in the black. Under the agreement approved Saturday by the church's General Council on Finance and Administration, the Methodists will advance the NCC the promised $400,000 out of the church's expected contributions over the next four years at 7 percent interest.

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

Both NCC and Methodist officials would not call the agreement a loan but rather an early delivery on church funds that have already been promised to the NCC. The plan means that the NCC will receive lower Methodist contributions in the next four years, a scenario that has already been planned for, said the NCC's general secretary, the Rev. Bob Edgar.

"We would have preferred it to be new money, but each of the member communions had to decide how to give us the money over and above what

they already give," Edgar said. "We recognize that this is an advance on future monies."

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

Chapman said the Methodist share to the NCC will eventually fall but it would be "crippling" if the church automatically pared down its contribution to the 25 percent level.

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

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