Overhaul of Monitor, layoffs are discussed
Officials of the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston told employees yesterday that ailing finances are forcing them to restructure church operations, including laying off top-level managers, possibly ceasing production of some publications, moving others overseas, and overhauling operations at the Christian Science Monitor.
“Overall contributions to the Mother Church have not kept pace with the demand,” church treasurer Walter D. Jones said in a speech to employees at the church’s headquarters on Huntington Avenue and broadcast to others over the Internet. “We must bring expenses in line.”
The church plans to review the operations of the printed edition of the Christian Science Monitor newspaper and may begin charging for subscriptions to the online version, according to church officials and an employee at the Monitor. The online edition records 4 million unique site visits per month, while the print edition, published five days a week, has about 70,000 subscribers.
“What that suggests to me is a whole lot of people like what they get from the Christian Science Monitor, and those people are reading it online,” Virginia S. Harris, chairwoman of the church’s board of directors, said in an interview after yesterday’s meeting. “We have to take a look at how people are getting their news and want to engage with Monitor journalism.”
She emphasized that there were no immediate plans for changes at the Monitor. While it could take months to finalize decisions, Harris said she hoped to have a restructuring plan in place before June 1.
Jones said the Christian Science Publishing Society, which includes the Monitor, must break even by 2008 and be profitable by 2009.
Paul Van Slambrouck, editor of the Christian Science Monitor, said the church’s board of directors has been “enormously supportive.”
“We’re being asked to work toward a break-even position and then a profit,” he said. “We share that goal.”
According to figures published in the Christian Science Journal, the church’s overall capital, not including fixed assets, dropped from $360 million in 2000 to $236 million in 2003. Yesterday, church officials said that number, which includes holdings with restricted uses, rose to $247 million at the end of 2003.
Operating capital dropped from $143 million to $67 million from 2000 to 2003, according to the Journal figures.
Harris said in the interview that the church has been drawing down the bank account balance “by design.” Now, she said, “we will take a look at the rate that we’re drawing it down and assess whether we want to continue at that rate.”
The First Church of Christ, Scientist, as the Christian Science church is formally known, has a 14-acre world headquarters bordering Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, where a $50 million visitor center and library opened in 2002. The church has about 800 employees and 2,200 branch churches around the world, church officials said.
Along with the Monitor, the church publishes The Christian Science Journal, the Christian Science Sentinel, The Herald of Christian Science, and the Christian Science Quarterly Weekly Bible Lessons.
Production and distribution of many of those publications will be contracted out to other companies, Harris said. The full-text printout of the Weekly Bible Lessons may be discontinued, and the monthly Herald probably will move its operations out of Boston.
Church officials gave no indication yesterday of how many layoffs were expected.
The Christian Science denomination was founded in 1879 by Mary Baker Eddy. The church teaches that healing can come through prayer and faith, and many members eschew medicine. The denomination declines to estimate the number of its followers. During yesterday afternoon’s meetings, attended by one Globe reporter and monitored through an audio feed by another reporter, several church officials mentioned electronic publishing as an alternative for reaching readers. Jones said that using the Internet might allow the church to save money and reach more people.
Eddy “expected the Publishing Society to turn over profits to the church,” Jones said. “Since 1960, the Mother Church has been subsidizing the Publishing Society.”
Church officials said the subsidy has grown from $4 million annually to more than $20 million.
“We know that these changes will require prayer,” Jones said. “Ultimately it’s not organizational change that matters but change of thought.”
Michael Paulson of the Globe Staff contributed to this report
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