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Conference finances continue to improve, clergy say why (July 27, 2004)

Conference finances continue to improve, clergy say why (July 27, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference finances continue to improve, clergy say why

July 27, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0123}

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

LAKELAND — Florida Conference finances continue to actively rebound, with apportionment giving continuing on the upward swing begun earlier this year.

That's according to Florida Conference Treasurer Dr. Randy Casey-Rutland who said apportionment monies received in June were the most in both dollar and in percentage terms since 1999 when he began maintaining records as he does now.

The conference received more than $1.33 million dollars or 7.15 percent of the annual budget in June, Casey-Rutland said, compared to a typical June when the conference receives about $1.05 million or 6.07 percent of the annual budget. He also said year-to-date through June the conference has received 40.5 percent of the budget, compared to the typical 38.6 percent during this time of the year.  He said the year is far better than last year, which was one of the worst since 1999, by just about every financial measure and a better than average year.

Earlier this year Casey-Rutland reported apportionment giving was ahead for the year by almost one percent when compared to year-to-date average receipts for the past five years. He said the conference had received nearly 26 percent of apportionments through April 2004 compared to the five-year average of almost 25 percent.

Conference clergy were asked earlier this month to respond by e-mail to several questions relating to conference finances and what they feel has caused the increase.

The Rev. K. Franklin McKown, pastor of Reeves Memorial United Methodist Church, Orlando, said the answer lies within the economy. He said the economy is better than previous years dating back to 2000 and is optimistic it will continue to improve. McKown also said the church is just starting to recover from decreases in giving suffered during the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.

Despite the improved economy, all is still not well for many due to rising gas prices, according to the Rev. Kent Crow, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Land O' Lakes. He said today's gas prices have some people afraid to give and fearful of the future, but he also acknowledged that people are giving more today than a year ago and the guard is coming down.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Ladner, who served as pastor of Perrine-Peters United Methodist Church in Miami from August 2003 to June 2004, said a key factor in getting members to give is all about attitude.

"I spent a lot of time highlighting apportionment giving as a means of supporting mission activities and outreach activities, and I pointed out that the episcopacy was reducing its overhead," Ladner said. "If the pastor is enthusiastic, not resigned, about apportionments, this has a profound effect on church opinion. I tried to avoid the 'A' word as much as possible, called it 'missional support' and 'conference support' and other things that reflected the uses to which the money was to be put, rather than the means by which the funds were to be collected."

Ladner suggested the conference recognize churches that have been at the 100 percent level of giving for consecutive years and also change the terminology associated with giving to help preserve the current high morale of giving. 

"Previous communication on this issue seems to focus on words like obligation and burden, rather than on building and growing the body of Christ," Ladner said. "I do market research, and I cannot tell you how many voluntary associations have to be convinced of the need to see contributions as a joyful building process, rather than as an odious burden."

Church members may be rebuilding their faith in the conference because of the restructuring changes approved at the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event, such as redistricting and converting the Conference Council on Ministries to the Conference Equipping Network, according to the Rev. Warren Langer, pastor of Sun City Center United Methodist Church, Sun City. He said members observing the conference making efforts to save money creates a new confidence in giving.

The Rev. Dr. Dan Johnson, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Gainesville and president of the Conference Council on Finance and Administration (CF&A), said he is buoyant about the future finances of the conference and is hopeful the current "trend" will continue.

"I see close up that we are being ever more responsible with the dollars we are given," Johnson said. "We are being strategic in putting mission and structure and dollars on the same table.  Great care is given to being the most financially prudent persons we can possibly be.  I believe that message is getting out."

The Rev. Tim Matchel agrees. The associate pastor at Beach United Methodist Church, Jacksonville Beach, said the message may be getting out due to intentional communication from the district and conference level. He said the message before has been that it is extremely important all churches work toward 100 percent giving.

"The upturn in apportionment giving is happening because of the actions taken by the bishop and the cabinet," he said. "They are not asking the churches to give without any evidence of the conference working toward improved stewardship of the apportionment monies given."

Johnson said CF&A takes its responsibility very seriously. He believes
God desires to "honor the conscientious and prudent efforts of persons who are responsible for managing the money God's people give."

"Every effort is being given at the conference level to be as fiscally responsible as we possibly can," Johnson said.

Matchel said there appears to be a new day in the church.

 "The most important thing about a missionary church is not the bureaucratic method by which business is conducted. It is the freedom of the missionaries to do ministry," he said. "I believe that the message sent at this year's annual conference is that the local churches are being better positioned to do ministry. Apportionment giving, I believe, is increasing because we feel revitalized to a certain degree, that the conference isn't just talking change, they are changing."

More change could come in the future. Johnson said he would like to engage the other conference CF&A presidents and treasurers in dialogue in the next quadrennium with the goal of having a major impact on key financial matters of the general church.

"We need to continue to sharpen our focus, as well as our pencils, at the general church level and the dollars will come," he said.


This article relates to Conference Transformation, Finance and Connectionalism.

*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.