By Jessica Connor
It’s crunch time.
That’s the word from Tony Prestipino, treasurer of the S.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church. As of Sept. 30, apportionment payments averaged 50.4 percent conference-wide, with some districts as high as 67 percent (Columbia) and others as low as 37.9 percent (Florence).
That translates to $8.8 million received of the $17.5 million total conference budget for 2010. (October figures were not available as of the Advocate’s press time.)
At this time in the conference year, 75 percent of the budget should be in hand. But this year, like last year and most prior, it’s not. Prestipino likened the slack in receivables to the retail holiday season – most of the money comes in at Christmastime.
But that’s not healthy from a financial standpoint, he said.
“The time is now,” Prestipino said, expressing hope that churches will pay their apportionments and fund the various items the conference has committed to support.
The treasurer’s office is projecting this year’s total will mimic last year: that 83 percent of apportionments will be paid.
And if the conference doesn’t get from 50 percent to 83 percent by Dec. 31?
“Let’s not even say that,” said the Rev. Ed McDowell, chair of the Council on Finance and Administration.
“I am a proverbial optimist and think churches will step up to the plate,” McDowell said. “It is going to rise. I’m not sure about how much, but it is going to rise, just based on the numbers and the optimism I have and CF&A has.”
McDowell cited the connection that links United Methodists and prompts people to give.
“They give because we are United Methodists, and United Methodists are persons who are generally yoked together, and in being so yoked together, that connectedness brings a real sort of faith and responsibility,” McDowell said. “Folks give primarily because they sense and feel a real commitment to Christ and to the things that our apportioned dollars emphasize within the local church.”
Prestipino agrees, saying that even in tough times like these, churches know they have a responsibility to support the conference and the general church. Apportionments not only support conference and district administration and efforts of the General Church, but also ministries such as United Methodist colleges and retirement homes, camps and retreats, advance special ministries like Killingsworth and Alston Wilkes, and new or struggling churches who need support.
The Rev. Rusty Taylor, conference director of congregational development, said everything the church is able to do in developing new congregations or helping existing congregations is based on its ability to fund different projects.
If the church receives funding through people paying apportionments, then there will be projects the church can support. If not, he said, “We’re not able to help those churches who really want to step up and do more for the Kingdom.”
“The command of the Gospel is to go into all the world. That means we’re always reaching out beyond ourselves,” Taylor said. “If everyone would tithe, we wouldn’t even need a discussion about finances.”
Dr. George Ashford, pastor of the new church-start Journey, in Columbia, said his church’s first apportionment bill is ready to send, paid in full, in spite of financial hardship impacting its members.
“That’s the way we do business,” he told the crowd at the Summit on the Black Church in September. “When much is given, much is required.”
But clearly, not all churches are able to pay 100 percent of apportionments.
McDowell said all churches know they need to pay, that it’s the Lord’s money, but sometimes things happen in the life of the church that prevents this.
“They don’t give because they are really strapped, they are up against the wall,” he said.
“They will give as much as they can, but sometimes there’s a need in the local church or a roof that needs to be replaced or the church has fallen into disrepair. It’s not out of anything else than the struggles and downswing. I don’t think there’s a church that doesn’t want to pay.”
Taylor said churches don’t pay in full for two main reasons: they simply have not received the funding from their offerings, or they don’t really understand the meaning of the UMC connection.
Connectional giving underscores the theme of connectionalism: “Together we can do more,” said the Rev. Tim McClendon, Columbia district superintendent.
Speaking at the October district clergy meeting, McClendon encouraged his pastors to keep connectional giving a priority, that it is the denomination’s way of being and doing church in action.
“Just like USC and Clemson in football, we can win three quarters of a football game, but if we lose the fourth quarter, we’re sunk,” he told the crowd. “After all, we don’t want to forget the guest of honor at His own birthday party (Jesus)!”