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Connecting through giving, United Methodists change lives

Young people engage in Bible study during the United Methodist Seminar Program on National/International Affairs sponsored by the General Board of Church and Society. Photo courtesy of Church and Society.
Young people engage in Bible study during the United Methodist Seminar Program on National/International Affairs sponsored by the General Board of Church and Society. Photo courtesy of Church and Society.

United Methodists are a generous people.

For three years, Hilary Taylor served as a commissioned Mission Intern (now Global Mission Fellows) with the General Board of Global Ministries. Of her intern experiences, she said, "Global Ministries has shaped me in ways I never would have imagined, allowing me to wrestle with the church, Christian mission and, most importantly, myself."

Before Banyam Theological Seminary in Nigeria received funds for solar electricity, seminarian Wala Zubairu could only study a few hours at night. A new power system lets him "read as long as I wish. My semester grade was ‘B' but after the installation of the solar system, my grade has been up. ... I became an ‘A' grader."

Epworth United Methodist Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, is "an intentionally multicultural, multilingual community," says the Rev. Jennifer Fenner, pastor, with weekly services in English and Spanish. Aiding the transition from being a predominantly white church was a CORR Action Fund grant.

Carson Jones attends summer conferences of Native Americans at the United Methodist Center at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. In recent years, his daughter has joined her dad, a member of the Lumbee tribe. Jones likes "being with the different people and my daughter meeting other children like us. I believe it helps her self-esteem to sing and play and do crafts with other children."

United Methodist are generous people, a very generous people. In 2014, they gave more than $135 million to support denominational ministries. Another $373 million went to church-related and other benevolent causes, such as soup kitchens and clothing drives. Church members responded to national and international disasters with $28 million.

The next time you place your gift in your church's offering plate – or approve an on-line donation – consider the far-reaching effects of this simple – but generous – act.

The lion's share of the offerings – 85 cents of every dollar – provides local church ministry and mission. The other 15 cents supports connectional giving, illustrating the power and positive effects of people connecting with their offerings – accomplishing what no single church, district or annual conference could do alone.

Of those 15 cents, 2 cents support denominational apportionments. Taylor, Zubairu and Fenner represent the millions who experience the programs, staff and other resources provided through United Methodism's seven apportioned funds. That's what the $135 million supported, says the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA).

Another 7 cents support mission and ministry through districts, annual conferences and jurisdictions. Six cents goes toward Special Sunday offerings, World Service Special gifts and The Advance.

General Conference adopts apportionment totals

Every four years, General Conference approves a church wide budget for the coming quadrennium – and the total of each apportioned fund. GFCA and the Connectional Table propose a general church budget. The lay and clergy delegates elected from the annual conferences in all parts of the world discuss, tweak and ultimately set the budget for the quadrennium.

Meeting in May, General Conference 2016 approved a $604 million budget for the 2017-2020 quadrennium, a slight increase over the 2013-2016 budget.

Once approved, GCFA staff divide the total among the annual conferences using a formula based on the operating expenses of the churches there. Conference staff then apportion their region's share to the individual churches using various formulas.

Today's apportionment system is nearly 100 years old. It developed in the first three decades of the 20th century as Methodists were becoming more prosperous and increasing their giving to the church. The 1924 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church – a predecessor to The United Methodist Church – created the World Service Commission (WSC) that served in much the same way as today's GCFA.

Apportionments cover seven general funds that enable United Methodist ministry and programming worldwide. According The Book of Discipline 2012, "Payment of all of these apportionments by local churches is the first benevolent responsibility of the church" (Para. 247.14).

World Service Fund

Among other things, the World Service Fund helps:

  • develop new congregations reaching new people,
  • protect vulnerable people,
  • pay missionaries' salaries,
  • support efforts consistent with the Social Principles,
  • provide leadership for ministry with young people,
  • pay for denomination-sponsored advertising. ...

The list goes on.

World Service supports a long list of missions and ministries as well as most of the church's general agencies – Church and Society, Global Ministries, and Higher Education and Ministry, Discipleship Ministries, Religion and Race, Status and Role of Women, United Methodist Men and United Methodist Communications.

As a mission intern, Taylor worked first as the field education and ministry coordinator for Seth Mokitmi Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. She helped seminarians experience ministry with marginalized people in the local community and then was a financial coach for the United Way Center for Financial Stability in Miami. In both settings, she learned "how churches can function as centers for community development, where relationship and imagination create abundance in environments of scarcity. Without a doubt, I can say these last few years have been the most meaningful years of my life."

Through Generation Transformation, Global Ministries is providing a number of short-term mission experiences for young adults.

The Central Conference Theological Education Fund – included in World Service – supports pastoral training in Africa, Asia and Europe.

A grant from the fund to his seminary makes it possible for Zubairu to study well into the night. Perhaps best known for providing e-readers with theological texts to seminary students and pastors in areas where printed materials are scarce, the fund is supporting theological education in areas of the world where the church is growing rapidly – and more pastors are needed.

General Conference increased funding for the Central Conference Theological Education Fund for 2017-2020 from $5 million to $10 million – the only change to the proposed budget approved. They also directed that any funds central conferences provide above $750,000 for the General Administration Fund go directly towards theological education.

Awarding CORR Action Fund grants is one way the General Commission on Religion and Race works to develop intercultural competency, affirm diversity and combat racism.

The agency, Fenner says, "has been instrumental in allowing (Epworth Church) to be creative in how we reach youth and the communities surrounding the church, and has always been at the forefront of intentionality in multicultural and intercultural ministry and understanding its challenges.

"The U.S. church is 95 percent white, according to the General Council on Finance and Administration," says the Rev. Amy Stapleton, Religion and Race's leader for organizational accountability. "We are trying to change the narrative so that every person and congregation is equipped and prepared and ready to embrace a cross-cultural ministry experience."

Africa University Fund

Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe, will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2017. On June 11, the university graduated its largest class, 841 students from 22 countries in Africa. Fifty-four percent of the class was female. More than 6,000 alumni hold degrees in disciplines such as agriculture, management and administration, theology and health sciences. The Africa University Fund provides scholarships and other resources.

Ministerial Education Fund

Supporting future clergy and lay people serving in professional ministry as they prepare for ordination, licensing and certification, some funds help provide local-pastor courses of study offered by annual conferences. Most of the fund helps defray the costs of a seminary education and provides continuing education.

When the Rev. Dennis Miller responded to God's call to full-time pastoral ministry – after a brief career as an attorney – he was married and had a child with a serious medical condition. Attending seminary full-time was not an option.

Miller became a licensed local pastor and began the Course of Study. He moved from youth ministry to an associate pastorate and in 2006 to the pulpit of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Nixa, Missouri. The church has since grown from 250 to more than 600 in average worship attendance.

Black College Fund

"If black colleges did not exist, they would have to be invented," said Johnnetta Betsch Cole, the fifteenth president of Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. It is one of 11 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) related to The United Methodist Church. Many of the students at the schools are the first in their family to attend college. A study by Virginia Tech researchers showed black men earn more over their lifetimes when they attend a historically black four-year college or university instead of a majority white institution.

Episcopal Fund

Elected and consecrated to speak to the church and from the church, 46 U.S. and 20 central conference bishops receive their salary, office and travel expenses, pension and health-benefit coverage from this fund. United Methodists in the central conferences in Africa, Asia and Europe as well as the United States support it.

Interdenominational Cooperation Fund

When General Conference approved "full communion" with the Uniting Church in Sweden and the Moravian Church (pending Moravian approval), it affirmed work by staff of the Council of Bishops' Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Relationships (OCUIR).

Full communion is a relationship between two or more Christian churches that:

  • recognizes each other as members of the one church, the Body of Christ, as described in scripture and confessed in the church's historic creeds;
  • recognizes the authenticity of each other's sacraments and welcomes one another to partake in the Eucharist in each other's worship;
  • affirms the authenticity of each church's Christian ministry, and,
  • recognizes the validity of each other's offices of ministry.

United Methodists are now in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church in Norway, the Uniting Church in Sweden, and the Pan-Methodist churches: African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, Christian Methodist Episcopal, African Union Methodist Protestant and Union American Methodist Episcopal.

OCUIR staff are in dialogue with the Episcopal Church and conversation with Roman Catholic Church.

This fund also lets United Methodists participate in ecumenical and interreligious organizations advocating for Christian unity throughout the world.

General Administration Fund

From financing the administrative activities of the church to underwriting the basic costs of General Conference to maintaining official United Methodist documents and historical artifacts, this fund ensures trustworthy systems of oversight and financial accountability. It supports the work of GCFA and the General Commission on Archives and History.

Going the ‘second mile'

The Advance

This channel of designated giving for United Methodists covers more than 850 ministries and 300 missionaries worldwide. Global Ministries staff review and approve each project eligible for funds. One hundred percent of gifts made through The Advance go to the project the donor designates.

Giving through The Advance supports a wealth of diverse programs as well as individual missionaries and mission initiatives.

In Belize, secondary education often suffers from a lack of government support. Construction of the Belmopan Methodist High School changed the lives of approximately 380 children, 20 teachers and even community vendors who market their food items near the school.

The Community Health and Agriculture Development Program (CHAD) in Cambodia recently assisted 1,184 people with medical assistance and livelihood support and established 25 cow-raising groups and 25 chicken-raising groups through 73 Methodist churches.

In Nebraska and Kansas, The Big Garden combines more than 80 self-sustaining gardens created since 2005 with nutrition projects, including fresh food pantries, nutritious snacks for schools, Sunday school, summer and VBS programs, community meals, cooking classes, a seed bank and farm-to-cafeteria programs.

People wanting to give through The Advance can search for projects geographically or by their ministry interests. Find the current listing of projects of The Advance at

Special Sundays with offerings

General Conference 2016 continued observances of six special Sundays and set the dates and use of the offerings. Churches may observe them on another day, if necessary.

Human Relations Day

The Human Relations Day offering supports the community developer program of Global Ministries and a Church and Society program working with non-violent young offenders through education, advocacy or leadership training and development.

The Learning Gym at Clare Christian United Methodist Church in Chicago offers a safe haven for urban youth with athletic tournaments, academic enrichment and life-skills workshops year-round. "It's our hope and prayer that The Learning Gym will create well-rounded individuals who will one day be the leaders of the future," said Ed Bickham, a community developer working with the program.

UMCOR Sunday

Previously known as the One Great Hour of Sharing, this special day supports the administrative costs of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), which receives no apportioned funds. The offering allows UMCOR to use 100 per cent of its donations  as designated for ministries of food, shelter, health and peace.

Native American Ministries Sunday

This day celebrates the contributions of Native Americans to the church and society.

A part of the offering supports Native American ministries in annual conferences. Another assists Native American congregations, ministries and communities in rural, urban and reservation settings that relate to Global Ministries. It also provides scholarships for Native American seminarians administered through Higher Education and Ministry.

The gathering that draws Jones and his daughter to Lake Junaluska is among the ministries receiving support and provides financial assistance for some participants.

Daphine Locklear Strickland, Administrative Council chair at Triad United Methodist Church where the family attends, says, "To the average person, this might seem like a small thing, but Carson and his daughter look forward to this conference as the only vacation time they have to celebrate with other Native Americans from all over the Southeastern Jurisdiction."

Peace with Justice Sunday  

Church and Society awarded 15 Peace with Justice grants from the offerings received in 2015. The ministries supported include Displaced Young Mothers' Ministries Fight for Justice in the Philippines, a seminar on the Social Principles in Germany and Justice for Our Neighbors, Fossil Free UMC and prison ministries in the United States.

World Communion Sunday

The offering provides scholarships for graduate and undergraduate racial- and ethnic-minority students from the United States and international students. The boards of Global Ministries and Higher Education and Ministry administer the scholarships.

United Methodist Student Day

Gifts allow Higher Education and Ministry to award scholarships and furnish loans for United Methodist students attending church-related and other accredited colleges and universities.

Cindy Solomon is a marketing consultant and content writer living in Franklin, Tennessee. Contributing to this article were writers of  articles from the Global Ministries website,, and Sam Hodges, UMNS writer; Priscilla Muzerengwa, Zimbabwe West communicator; Sophia Agtarap, freelance writer for Interpreter; and "The Revival of Stewardship and the Creation of the World Service Commission."

Originally published in Interpreter Magazine, July-August 2016.

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