I know this column is called “Since You Asked,” but I would like to turn the tables and ask a question of you this month. My question is: can we talk?
Comedian Joan Rivers often used this phrase during her act. When she said this, it usually meant that she was about to make someone (her husband, for example) uncomfortable. I’m going to take this opportunity to channel Joan Rivers and ask if we can talk—about something you may find uncomfortable. I’d like to ask what would happen if we had conversations between and among churches that pay 100% of their apportionments and churches that don’t or can’t pay 100%.
If your church struggles to meet its financial commitments, including apportionments, what would you say to the churches that support the apportioned budget at or close to 100%? If your church commits to full participation and achieves it or comes close year after year, what would you say to those churches that don’t? Without going into all the possible reasons, we know that some churches consistently participate at the 100% level and some churches do not. What would you say to one another or what would you ask each other if you had the opportunity?
I believe that the annual conference, through the Committee on Finance and Administration, the Budget Process Team, staff, and every committee and team, has been an excellent steward of the apportionments remitted to us and all the other giving we receive and process. Yet we seem to remain stuck at about an 85% receipt rate. We have reduced budgets or held them steady; tried a system of apportionment grants; CFA members met with individual churches; we modified our apportionment formula; we increased communications through print and electronic media; and we work every year to increase transparency and accountability of our financial systems and reports.
We have reduced staffing levels, frozen salaries, discontinued programs, and worked very hard to fund the key areas that will help us achieve our goals to reach out to new people and cultivate spiritual vitality.
I’m proud to tell the stories of our stewardship of gifts and of the ways lives are impacted by those gifts. And Minnesota’s response to Imagine No Malaria amazes me every time I see the latest report of pledges and gifts received to date. Then I’m struck again by the contrast between this generosity and the level of apportionment participation.
Whether or not you consider any of the above list a success or failure—after all we don’t know where we would be if we had not done these things—we still seem to be stuck.
What are we missing? What might we learn if we talked among ourselves? What would happen if we had conversations between and among churches? What if we have a conversation, no blame, no tales of woe, no attempt to design a better formula, just a conversation? If we are accountable to one another, not just to the Annual Conference or the CFA, but to each sister church, what would we learn if we talked to each other? It’s my turn to ask you a question and my question is: can we talk?
Barbara Carroll is director of finance and administration for the Minnesota Annual Conference.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church