Members of the United Methodist Church gave more money than expected to the church's budget, causing church officials to be "overjoyed" at the giving in spite of national tragedies and a sluggish economy.

Total giving in 2001 for the nation's second-largest Protestant church reached an estimated $171.3 million, a 2.1 percent increase over the budget approved in 2000 by the church's General Conference meeting. That figure includes $17.5 million raised for relief efforts in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Local churches give money to their regional conferences, which then make payments to the church's General Council on Finance and Administration. Sixteen of the church's 66 domestic conferences met 100 percent of their funding goals.

Funding goes to two main categories -- seven "general funds" for specific purposes, and other giving, which includes relief efforts and special offerings and appeals. Giving to the seven general funds totaled $114.7 million, which was 90 percent of the goal set in 2000.

Four of the seven funds -- including Africa University in Zimbabwe, the Black College Fund, the Ministerial Education Fund and the Episcopal Fund for bishops -- saw slight decreases.

When the General Conference meeting sets the budget every four years, delegates also approve increases in what churches are expected to give. The 2001 budget included the largest increase between 2000 and 20004 -- 4.4 increase -- but that figure is budgeted to drop to just a 0.4 percent increase in 2002.

The unexpected surplus is one of the brighter spots for the church, which like many religious groups has faced budget woes in recent months. Last October, the church's missions agency cut staff by 20 percent and spending by $6 million when its stock portfolio plummeted in the weakening economy.

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