Pipelines, partnerships and promises

March 30, 2023

There was an episode of “The West Wing” that has stuck with me all these years. A billionaire comes to C.J. Cregg, the President’s chief of staff, saying he wants to start a foundation to attack single problem like AIDS, malaria, or clean air—something that could have an impact. “A single problem?” C.J. asks. “Highways is what you’re looking for,” she tells him. “It’s not sexy, no one will ever raise money for it, but nine out of 10 African AIDS projects fail because the medicine or the personnel can’t get to the people in need…Blanket the continent with highways, then maybe get started on the plumbing.” The donor thinks about what she’s saying and repeats the problem aloud: Infrastructure. “Well, if you think that’s what needs fixing, I’ll give you $10 billion to fix it,” he says.

Infrastructure. We take it for granted. Until it does not work. Witness our potholes this spring.

I tell you this story because I believe the biggest value of our apportionment system is that it creates a pipeline, an infrastructure, that allows us to get ministry and resources where they are needed. It is not sexy, but it matters.

I often relay the example where this hit home for me. I was listening to a podcast from Willow Creek Community Church, a megachurch in Chicago, that had raised over $1 million from its congregation for disaster relief after Hurricane Katrina. But church leaders had a problem: They didn’t have a pipeline to get resources to the people who needed help. They had to find a church in the area, develop a relationship, and create a process to give the resources and ensure they were going where intended. As I listened, I realized we United Methodists already had the pipeline built. We had resources going to hurricane survivors, and not just from one of our churches but from churches all over the world. We sent millions of dollars, along with work and recovery teams—all because of our infrastructure.

Disaster relief is one of our more visible pipelines, but there are others that touch our churches every day. Clergy credentialing and deployment is our biggest and most foundational pipeline. It was what made the Methodist movement different in the beginning. John Wesley had a process for raising up leaders, and those who became itinerant circuit riders were sent to the mission field—to where the people were—to form communities, provide sacraments, and train lay leaders. The movement effectively spread across the Americas because of this clergy credentialing and deployment pipeline. That method and process has changed over the years, but one of the distinctives of the United Methodist system is our appointment process where we send clergy to churches instead of churches needing to find and call their pastors. In smaller communities, ELCA and Presbyterian churches sometimes go months trying and failing to call a pastor because of geography or financial resources, whereas we can send someone, or we have superintendents working with congregations to raise up lay leaders.

The apportionments pipeline is what allows disaster relief supplies that we donate to reach areas of the world where they are needed most.

A frequently asked question is: What do we get for our apportionments? Why don’t we just keep the money here and invest in our own ministry? And I get it. Money is tight. There is a lot of need and opportunity in each congregation and community. My response: Because the pipeline and partnerships matter. Without apportionments, it goes away. There is no district superintendent to call when there’s an issue you don’t know how to address. There is no automatic assignment of a new pastor when your current one retires. And, oh yeah, there is no health plan or pension plan or money to move that pastor when you do find them. There is no Safe Gatherings resource for doing training and background checks for volunteers. No trusted camping programs with a Wesleyan focus to send your kids to. There is no group workers’ compensation program to give you a better rate. There is no communications director you can call when you have a communications crisis and need help without paying a big fee. There is no finance ministry office you can call when you have questions about payroll taxes or how to fill out a W-2 for your pastor. I could go on.
Not sexy, right? But the pipeline allows resources to flow in multiple ways. You can receive help and resources. And you can share help and resources. Our hearts break for the people in Ukraine. We can help you get resources there. We have a church there. We have a process to ensure that every single dollar you give goes there because apportionments care for the pipeline. There are thousands of ways to make a difference, to alleviate suffering in and through The United Methodist Church. We can help you be there and do that work. And together, we can do more than any one church could do individually.

That is what the pipeline allows us to do. We can be the church all over Minnesota and all over the world because we have shared our resources. A church has a new idea for ministry but isn’t sure if it can fund that idea. Because we have shared our resources, there is a grant available to that church for that new thing. We can also start a whole new church that is reaching new people. Or create a campus ministry that is connecting to college students. These are just a few things we can do together.

I just want to say thank you. Thank you for supporting our pipeline and partnerships here in Minnesota and around the world. In 2022, 280 churches gave $4,643,638, which was 78.7 percent of the amount that we asked of our churches. Every time we pass a budget at annual conference session, it is a promise. It is our promise of what we intend to do in the name of Jesus, and it is our promise of how we will commit to support the shared work of ministry. Without all of us keeping our promises, the pipeline begins to fail. As we continue to recover from the pandemic, our churches have been financially challenged, so I recognize how much this is sacrificial giving. And therefore, an even bigger thanks for extending yourself to help us keep our promise and get the resources where they are needed.

I leave you with one story out of the thousands of stories illustrating the difference you have made in 2022 through your apportioned giving. Africa University recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Doing something as basic as building a school and continuing to support it has created a pipeline of leaders, pastors all over Africa. This is possible because you have kept your promise to fund the pipeline and partnerships of our connectional church. Watch this three-minute video. Be inspired. This is you. You are helping to make this ministry happen and thrive. Thank you!

Learn more about apportionments / View or downlaod a printable apportionments guide

Rev. Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries and clergy assistant to the bishop for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

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