Center Lines - June 2009

 Our annual conference concluded its penultimate (next to the last) session on Saturday, June 6.  It was a year of looking back over our 158 year history and looking ahead to the two new conferences of which we will be a part next year.  As always at annual conference there were moments of celebration and joy and there were moments of frustration and angst. 

Celebrations and joys fire us up and excite us about new possibilities.  Frustrations and angsts can leave us despondent about the future, so much so that we might overlook new insights and new learnings.  In these brief thoughts below my focus is an area of our life that we may have passed over too quickly in Scranton or that we did not fully grasp.  The area is finance.  A  fuller understanding of our conference’s finances can turn frustration and angst into- if not celebration and joy- then at least hopeful promise for what lies ahead.

Over the past decade or so, and particularly the most recent four to five, the conference Ministry Plan (budget) has significantly changed the ministries it funds.  The Council on Finance & Administration (CFA) and the Ministry Tables, like us in our personal lives, have been caught in a squeeze between rapidly rising costs and less-rapidly rising income (i.e. Ministry Shares).  So that monies would be in place for items that have no other funding sources, CFA and the Ministry Tables have had to recommend that other items be reduced or eliminated.

At annual conference sessions we have had long and difficult discussions about these recommendations.  Even though the conference body accepted and enacted the proposed Ministry Plan each year, it was still difficult to no longer be able to directly support ministries like youth programming, scholarships, Christian Education and others in past Ministry Plans.

A piece often lost in these discussions is that the Ministry Tables- and many times the individual ministries themselves- have found creative, innovative ways to keep the programs going.  For example, “Youth Ministry” is a $0 item in the 2010 Ministry Plan.  Yet because of the annual Youth Service Fund (YSF) fund-raisers, donations and prudent use of funds previously raised for a paid conference youth co-ordinator (which proved insufficient for that task), the Conference Youth Council has ample money for its work.  It is generous in using that money for scholarships to help youth from local churches across the conference participate in events.

The Conference Scholarship Committee is alert for scholarships which United Methodist-related schools set aside for United Methodists.  The Committee maximizes its use of investment income, scholarship donations from local churches and an annual conference-wide special offering.  These steps ensure that young people whose local churches cannot provide full support still receive helpful scholarships and grants.

Ministry Tables work with our paid staff to provide quality programs and training.  For example, Resource Center Coordinator Diane Alexander leads workshops on Christian Education teaching techniques, Sunday School organization and the like.  Many Ministry Tables and their program ministries sponsor seminars, workshops and events that are supported by participant fees and/or gift sponsorships.  Although no Ministry Plan moneys are used, hundreds of people participate in programs such as Lay Speaking Schools, Laity Training Days, Voices of Faith with Walter Brueggeman, Scriptural Foundation Series, an Interfaith Sharing Experience with Christian, Jewish and Muslim participation and Emmaus & Chrysalis Walks.  Fall 2009 plans include self-supported Voices of Faith: Barbara Brown Taylor, a Prayer 101 Trainer Program and others.

Some groups, like the United Methodist Men, carry on vital ministries using funds already on deposit.  Some, like Campus Ministries of Northeast Pennsylvania, continue their vital missions with funding from several sources, among them a direct appeal to local churches authorized by the annual conference.  While Sky Lake receives Ministry Plan money for its camping and retreat programs, it also raises 75% of its budget through camper fees and donations.

Local churches provide direct support for agencies like the Children’s Home of Wyoming Conference, United Methodist Homes Chaplaincy program and Wyoming Seminary.  Local churches and members also respond to special appeals for causes like Volunteer In Mission scholarships from the Dorothy Earl Craft Fair, Social Justice Network ministries and the Haiti Partnership and Friends of Zimbabwe from the “Great 50 Days Offering.”

These are examples of ways in which our annual conference, our churches and our members support missions and ministries above and beyond the Ministry Plan.  Sometimes we become frustrated because we appear to be doing so little.  Sometimes we become so “lost in the trees” it is helpful to back up and look at “the forest.”

The 2008 Ministry Plan was about $2.4 million.  In her report to the recent session in Scranton, Conference Treasurer Kristin Mahoney illustrated that in 2008 for Ministry Shares, insurances & pension, district parsonage expenses and special offerings, the churches across the conference actually contributed a total of $5.1 million!

There’s more.  As of May 31, our 2009 Ministry Share receipts were up over those in 2008.  And at our just-completed session, conference churches and members responded generously to the special offerings, some surpassing 2008:
$  1,688:    Thursday evening Memorial Service offering to support publication of a new Wyoming Conference history.
$  2,554:    Special offering to support the Central Conference Pension Initiative.
$39,400:    The Great 50 Days.
$  2,236:    Saturday evening Master’s Call offering to support our ministerial students.
$  2000+:    Dorothy Earl craft sale proceeds exceeded.

In addition, local churches donated 1450 health kits for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).  UMCOR values each kit at $12, for a total donation of $17,400!

As Christians we live in a “creative tension” with money.  We tell ourselves that faith, mission and ministry are about more than money. And so they are.  At the same time, they are about money and how we use this resource which God has entrusted to us.  I wish that we could, and would, do more.  Yet I celebrate what we are doing and I am grateful for the generous legacies and spirits we will bring to the new conferences in 2010.

In Christ,

By: Reverend Mark Marino On 6/17/2009
Topics: Center Lines