(B. Kevin Smalls) - This is the time of the year when the letter comes. Yup. The letter. The letter that informs pastors of what the apportionment number is for the next year. For those who are not United Methodist, each one of our congregations is assessed an amount to support the mission and ministry of the global church.
When this letter comes, I open the letter and slowly peak in it at first. Then, I begin to take it out of the envelope and then BAM, there the number is. Bright and bold.
I will confess, I cringe. I begin to think of what I could do in the life of my church if we could keep those resources. I think about the staff I could hire. I think about the new drum set we need. I fantasize about updating the technology in the building. Oh, don’t forget about the parsonage. That needs its own share of repairs and remodeling as well.
I remember growing up hearing the complaints of how costly apportionments are to some local churches. “We don’t have that many people.” “Our building is falling down around us.” “We have needs in our own backyard.”
Sadly, I’ve also seen the passive-aggressive ways of congregations to punish the connectional church for being situated outside of the bounds of their theological compass. Some congregations get mad at the annual conferences or bishops for sending them pastor’s that don’t meet their approval and the response has in some cases been, “we will not pay apportionments.”
The problem with this is that there are people in the middle of these fights, who suffer. While we are using our resources to send our denomination a message, we aren’t showing up to do our part in the line of our missional commitment and responsibility. We are leaving people stranded in life’s lowest places.
I can’t be too judgmental, however. I have to reconsider the all-too-frequent temptation to add to my own ecclesiastical luxuries. Such temptation leads to the sin of greed and selfishness.
The bottom line is this. While we make our individual congregations fatter and while we punish the larger church for its multiple complexities as it attempts to navigate theological, cultural and systematic dynamics, we pull the feasting table back from those who would eat by the gift of our hands in the name of Christ.
I was never more convicted, when I read the report that the congregation I lead came last in apportionment giving on our district. We only gave 10% of our asking last year. I was horrified. I called my leaders together immediately and informed them that this can never happen again. They concurred. We committed to doing 101% in this year. Prayerfully, we’ll meet our goal.
When I now get that envelope with the new number for the next year I am beginning to think of other things. For example, I attended Claflin College (now University) one of our institutions of the African American tradition. That school is largely funded, along with ten other institutions of the historical black college family by the United Methodist Church. I later represented this giving as an intern for the Black College Fund as a college student having the privilege to thank annual conferences for their generous support. To this day, I still am grateful for Claflin’s scholastic influence on my journey.
When in seminary, I was given financial support through the Ministerial Education Fund. Those resources came in handy while sitting in a financial aid office wondering how it would all come together!
The year of 1989, Hurricane Hugo ravished South Carolina, my freshman year in college, and the first on the scene was the United Methodist Committee on Relief repairing, replenishing and re-energizing the neighborhood and the church.
The list goes on. Through apportionments we assist the students in Africa taking an opportunity to advance scholastically; the women in India by giving alternatives to a life of human trafficking; the bishops of the church and their work in the world; the efforts of missionaries, teachers and preachers who serve poor and rural areas. People NEED us!
Our apportionments often boil down to individuals: an individual mother, father, son, daughter who somewhere on this globe, often with little strength, asks of us, “are we the ones to come, or shall we look for another?”
Faithful giving will always leave you wanting something for yourself. Giving is supposed to happen while you have your own checklist of needs. Suffering and challenged people should never have to wait until we hire our staff; buy our new equipment; win the denomination on our side of the theological coin; or finally until the perfect pastor’s arrival before we show up with grateful hands and giving hearts to help someone along the way.
As for me, I want to live so God can use me. I want someone to have a burden lifted. I want one less person, one less family to be lifted from the disasters of despair, hardship and poverty. Children, the elderly, women, teens of every color and nation need us!
When you add up their need, what we give becomes so very small yet so very powerful!
The plea to give never comes at the right time. Such pleas are always an inconvenience of sorts. But then again, so are national disasters; unsupported clergy and church personnel in retirement; lack of medical supplies in hospitals and poor learning environments in urban and rural centers.
All of us are blessed by someone’s inconvenience!
I’ve read my letter from the conference treasurer. But then, I read another letter from Paul, “For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter, I do not commend you!” I Corinthians 11:21-22
Ouch and God bless!!