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Denomination’s budget increase impacts Florida (May 28, 2004)

Denomination’s budget increase impacts Florida (May 28, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Denomination’s budget increase impacts Florida

May 28, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0084}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — The budget established at the recent 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh will increase the Florida Conference’s general church and jurisdictional apportionments by nearly $483,000, according to budgetary information being presented at the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event June 3-6 at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach.

The amount apportioned to the Florida Conference increased from a little more than $6.8 million to nearly $7.3 million.

The Florida Conference is responsible for 4.77 percent of the denomination’s total apportionments, according to Florida Conference Treasurer Dr. Randy Casey-Rutland. He said 38 percent of Florida’s apportionments support ministries of the general church and Southeastern Jurisdiction, with the largest 100 churches in the conference responsible for about 50 percent of all conference apportionments.

At the same time the general church apportionments are increasing the 2005 budget requested by the conference’s ministry areas is nearly $100,000 less than the 2004 budget. Conference ministry teams and committees made a concerted effort to reduce their budgets to accommodate larger general church apportionments, according to the Rev. Dr. Anne Burkholder, director of the conference’s Connectional Ministries. Burkholder leads the Conference Council on Ministries, which is requesting 10 percent less than budgeted for 2004. 

Burkholder said responsible stewardship is important, and added, “It’s frustrating when we have to place limits on funds for ministries in Florida because of increased demands, such as the general conference budget, over which we have no control.”

The total 2005 budget being recommended at the upcoming conference event is $19.1 million, an increase of nearly 2.1 percent above the 2004 budget. If delegates approve a proposal that will reduce the conference’s districts from 14 to nine the total budget increase will be nearly 0.7 percent or $18.8 million.

While the expanded budget may seem daunting, Casey-Rutland encourages churches to respond “faithfully and enthusiastically.”

“The General Conference budget, like the annual conference budget and like the local church budget, represents the aspirations of United Methodists to follow God’s call,” he said. “All of these budgets, at the general, jurisdictional, conference and local church level, are approved by a representative vote. Each local church is represented at the conference, and the Florida Conference has more representation at General Conference than any other conference in the denomination, except one, Virginia. So these decisions represent our best collective efforts to live into God’s expectations for us.”

The Rev. Dr. Jim Harnish, senior pastor at Hyde Park United Methodist Church, Tampa, said the General Conference budget places too great a burden on a dwindling number of people. Harnish attended the quadrennial gathering as a conference delegate and challenged the increased budget there.

“We continue to increase denominational budgets on a constantly diminishing base,” he said. “How we can close 200 churches a year and continue to increase the demands on the apportionment system is ecclesial voodoo economics that simply baffles me. The result is that the financial burden increases exponentially on the congregations that are growing. GCFA reports that out of 37,000 congregations, approximately 3,600 pay half of the General Fund apportionments. But General Conference continues to increase the denominational budgets as if there is an endless supply of money in the local churches. That's not a formula for a healthy financial or missional future.”

Casey-Rutland said the budget is large, but reachable. He said the Florida Conference is the wealthiest conference in the denomination and giving through local churches here is higher than in other conferences. He did acknowledge that giving is well below a tithe.

“This budget will not likely be easily attainable because we are not currently living up to our potential,” he said. “As we move closer to what God asks of us in terms of sharing our time, talents, gifts and service, we will move closer to meeting and exceeding this financial budget.”

Harnish isn’t so sure people in the pews believe the best way to do missional work is to send money to general boards and agencies.

“Hierarchical, industrial-era institutional structures of the modern era are being turned upside down in the post-modern culture,” he said, adding, “People want to be more closely connected to mission, and they know that while the denominational mission agencies will continue to be their primary channel of mission support, they are not the only way that mission happens.”

Harnish said it’s simple for General Conference delegates to vote in favor of denominationally-funded programs without measuring the impact those funds will have on the annual conference and local church.

“The result is that annual conference budgets are being squeezed by the constant increase in apportionments for the general boards and agencies,” he said. “Local churches that pay 100 percent of their apportionments are often doing so at the expense of the very programs that would help their congregation grow.”

Despite the increase Casey-Rutland encourages clergy and laity to remember the many good things United Methodists do together around the world, throughout the conference and in their own community.

“There is a lot to be excited and hopeful about,” he said.


This article relates to Connectional Giving and General Conference.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service