Commentary by Patrick Scriven
Yesterday the United Methodist News Service (UMNS) reported on some good news in the area of connectional giving. For the fourth year in a row, more conferences paid 100% of their general-church apportionment. In fact, 29 of the 56 U.S.-based conferences met this mark, the most ever! United Methodists increased this category of apportioned giving by $1.8 million in 2017 to total $133.2 million, supporting the work of the general church in the U.S. and around the world.
To be honest, this was something of a surprise to me, just as it was around this time last year. Given all of the focus upon our points of disagreement, maybe it’s forgivable to be surprised by the faithfulness of so many within our United Methodist connection. It should not be forgotten that this faithfulness begins in the local church. Thank you!
The report from UMNS and the press release it referenced from the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) didn’t get into a lot of details. Some of those details will undoubtedly provide necessary context for leaders evaluating how positive this news truly is, and where there is some cause for concern. I’m looking forward to seeing more of that data as it becomes available, along with reading the reactions of folks with wisdom well beyond mine.
A curiosity did jump out at me in the limited data that was presented. Of course I was excited to see our home conference (Pacific Northwest) and the other conferences in our Greater Northwest Area (Alaska, Oregon-Idaho) on the list of those who paid 100% of their general-church apportionments. I saw several other conferences in the Western Jurisdiction (WJ) on the list as well, and being way too competitive, I started to do some basic math expecting (hoping) that the WJ would come out on top, just this once.
Well, as it is written, “pride goeth before the fall.” While seven of the eight WJ conferences paid 100% of their general-church apportionment, 90% of the Northeastern Jurisdiction’s conferences did the same. That is amazing and hard to beat!
Here’s the breakdown for the five U.S. jurisdictions:
While I was fully expecting some differences between the jurisdictions, the range in the results was shocking. How does one explain the differences between one jurisdiction’s 90% and another’s 16%, rounded up. Does it speak to a different level of commitment to the general church, or denote some profound disatisfaction? Is it the result of different missional priorities found amongst conference and episcopal leadership, or is it just some weird anomaly?
I don’t have a desire to shame conferences that didn’t meet this one goal. After all, no jurisdiction can claim a perfect score – though I suspect the Northeastern Jurisdiction is feeling pretty good about scoring the equivalent of an “A-,” or a strong “A” if we were grading on a curve. Heck, I’m pretty happy to see the WJ earning a solid “B+.”
But we all know that no conference receives 100% of the giving that is apportioned to local churches. Again, I have no desire to shame those churches as there can be mitigating factors that undermine even the best of intentions. I only mean to emphasize that no conference pays 100% of its general-church apportionment because they received 100% of that burden as shared by its churches.
Conferences only meet this special goal because they have intentionally put their commitment to our shared ministry, at the national and international level, above potential ministry in their local context. In the PNW Conference, this means that leadership decided to close a 7% gap to meet its general-church apportionment as local church giving came in at 93% last year (which is a number reflective of serious local church commitment as well).
Some popular sage once said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The next time I run across a blog belittling the Western Jurisdiction’s commitment to our United Methodist connection, or any of the conferences in the Northeastern Jurisdiction for that matter, I will likely be thinking of these numbers and the alternative narrative they reveal.
Patrick Scriven serves as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.