United Methodist leaders are urging their partners in the denomination's budget process to reconsider proposed cuts to church funding.
In a rare act of public disagreement with the denomination's finance agency, Connectional Table members unanimously voted to send a letter to the board of the General Council on Finance and Administration expressing their misgivings. The Council of Bishops also voted to refer the same concerns to its own finance committee.
Connectional Table members also approved a process for allocating their part of the general church budget. Before getting down to the business of slicing up the financial pie, the leaders sounded an alarm at how small the pie is.
"We are concerned that there is 'a minimum level' of funding for program needs of the denomination that will essentially mean we are no longer a 'connectional church,'" the letter said.
"In our responsibilities, we are aware that this raises serious concerns for our missional, connectional work especially as it relates to migration and immigration," said Bishop Julius C. Trimble. Trimble is co-leader of the bishops' Immigration Task Force.
General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking body, ultimately determines the size and allocation of the denominational budget.
The finance agency board approved an 18 percent cut in the base percentage rate used in calculating U.S. apportionments — the requested giving from U.S. annual conferences.
Based on current estimates, the new formula would result in a proposed general church budget of $498.65 million for the years 2021-2024. That's about $105 million less than the current four-year budget approved by the 2016 General Conference.
The general church agencies will bear most of those cuts. For them, the changes could mean about a 22 percent loss in funding.
The goal is to leave more funds within U.S. local churches. That's not guaranteed since each annual conference sets its own apportionment formula for local church giving.
Still, the overall goal resonated with a number of Connectional Table members.
The Rev. Jerry DeVine, a district superintendent in the Michigan Conference, said many U.S. local churches are struggling under the current model.
"You could take away all of their apportionments and some of the churches I serve would continue to struggle," Swanson said.
The expectation is that the World Service Fund, which supports most of the 13 general agencies, will experience the deepest cuts, and that was what had Connectional Table members the most worried.
During the meeting, members who represent the denomination's five official racial/ethnic caucuses had a message for fellow leaders: Partnership with agencies helps their ministries bear fruit.
A number of small groups discussing the budget also reported that they did not want to see agency work diminished.
"We may not be able to change the decision that has been made, but we can say something," said the Rev. Ole Birch, a Connectional Table member, in proposing the letter.
Heather Hahn, multimedia news reporter, UMNS.
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