March 12, 2010 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)
There are probably 24 million reasons United Methodist churches didn’t pay their 2009 apportionments in full.
At the end of 2009, 14 of the 63 annual conferences in the United States paid 100 percent of the money asked of them by The United Methodist Church to support ministries around the world.
The total collected was $24 million short of the $150.3 million budgeted and agreed to by members of the denomination at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference, its top policy-making body.
The recession, declining membership and a lack of commitment to or understanding of apportionments are some of the reasons that add up to a collection plate that keeps coming back only partially full.
The Rev. Tom Seay, pastor of Colonial Heights United Methodist Church in Kingsport, Tenn., might speak for many pastors when he says, “We budget to pay full apportionments, but we do so realizing we probably won’t make it. We have to pay the mortgage and the electric bill first.”
The United Methodist Church works as a connection. Apportionments are the fuel that makes it possible for the church to make a difference in the world. No one local church is responsible for establishing a university in Africa, supporting the work of the denomination’s boards and agencies, supporting historically black colleges or providing financial support for the education of ordained ministers. But every local church does contribute to all those missions and many others when they pay their apportioned amount.
The United Methodist Book of Discipline, the denomination’s lawbook, has this to say about the importance of the financial obligations to apportionments: “Payment in full of these apportionments by local churches and annual conferences is the first benevolent responsibility of the Church.”
In the average local church, 12.4 cents of every dollar given support annual conference ministries, 3.3 cents support ministries beyond the conference, and 84.3 cents of the donated dollar support ministries of the local congregation.
The United Methodist General Council on Finance and Administration uses a formula established by General Conference to determine how much money each conference will be apportioned. Many annual conferences use the same formula to determine how much each church will be apportioned for general church and annual conference funds.
Seven funds get apportionment dollars: World Service Fund, Ministerial Education Fund, Black College Fund, Africa University Fund, Episcopal Fund, General Administration Fund and the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund.
The U.S. church is divided into five jurisdictions or regions. None of the jurisdictions paid apportionments 100 percent.
In each of those regions, however, there are conferences and churches that contribute every cent.
The California-Nevada Annual (regional) Conference, part of the Western Jurisdiction, was at the bottom of the list, paying 49.6 percent of its general church apportionment.
Bishop Warner Brown, episcopal leader of the conference, said a number of churches in his area pride themselves on paying 100 percent, but the effect is diluted by many who do not.
Even the churches that have paid 100 percent in the past are struggling now.
“I don’t have to fight with my church to pay apportionments, they just don’t have the money this year,” said the Rev. Vickie Healy, pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church, Fresno, Calif.
The economic downturn has had a “dramatic impact on our churches,” Brown said. Many people have lost jobs or homes and have had to relocate. However, the conference has a 30-plus year pattern of not paying all their apportionments, he added.
Warner is planning “major changes” to improve apportionment payments by the end of 2012.
“It is my hope and expectation that the improvement will continue into the future and we will get back on par with the other conferences of the church,” he said.
Seay’s church, Colonial Heights, is in the Holston conference, which is part of the Southeastern Jurisdiction. Seventy-five percent of the churches in Holston contributed 100 percent, said Bishop James E. Swanson, episcopal leader for the conference.
Swanson sent a letter to churches that failed to contribute all their apportionments, pointing out the accomplishments of their “sister” churches who gave their “fair share.”
“I ask you to join with the 75 percent of the churches in Holston that pay 100 percent of their Fair Share. I ask that you help new children and youth be filled with great memories, men to discover a new relationship with Christ, women to walk in freedom and dignity, pastors and their families to receive decent salaries and church members to learn how to offer them Christ.”
Two other conferences that struggled with their apportionments were South Indiana (50.1 percent) and North Indiana (53.5 percent). The conferences merged in 2009 and this is the last year Indiana will report as two conferences.
Since the merger, there has been “substantial progress” made on connectional giving, said Jennifer Gallagher, conference treasurer.
Indiana has depended on automobile manufacturing. When that declined, thousands lost their jobs, said the Rev. Kent Millard, chair of the conference council on finance and administration. He is also pastor of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, a congregation with an average worship attendance of more than 3,000. St. Luke’s decreased expenses “dramatically” to end the year in the black, he said.
Indiana went to a tithe program for apportionments a couple of years ago, Millard said.
“The income received by the local churches was down, and therefore, the income to the annual conference and general church was down as well,” he said.
“I think it is good that the income to the annual conference and general church are tied to the income for the local congregation. When the local congregations thrive, the annual conference and General Conference thrive and when local congregations struggle, the annual and General Conferences struggle and that is probably how it should be. We are the body of Christ together and when one part suffers, it affects the whole body and when one part rejoices, it also affects the whole body.”
*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.