By Jessica Brodie
Apportionment payments are almost exactly where they were last year, leaving S.C. Conference financial leaders optimistic they could meet their goal or close to it when the books close Jan. 14.
As of Nov. 17, S.C. United Methodist churches had paid 67.1 percent of their apportionments, up 0.1 percent from that date last year. That 67.1 percent equals $11.6 million of 2014’s $17.33 million budget.
“We’re trending right where we need to trend,” said Tony Prestipino, S.C. Conference treasurer. “We’re doing pretty good at the moment, and I think we’ll have no problem being where we were last year and crossing into the 90s.”
Last year, S.C. UMCs paid 89.72 percent of apportionments for 2013—the best numbers since 2002 and almost 3 percent higher than the 87.02 percent paid in 2012.
This year, S.C. Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston and the Conference Council on Finance and Administration have set a 96 percent goal, and Prestipino told the Advocate in late September that he expects to see at least 90 percent.
“I’m feeling good about this,” Prestipino said Nov. 18, noting the districts are performing very well overall.
The Columbia District is leading with 76.9 percent paid as of Oct. 31, followed by Walterboro at 70.2 percent and Greenville at 63.1 percent.
“If you look at (the numbers) by district, we’re doing really well, and almost all our districts are up compared to last year,” Prestipino said.
CF&A Chair the Rev. David Surrett said he agrees that apportionment payments are coming along “quite well.”
“I continue to be very hopeful that we will not only meet but exceed last year’s apportionment record,” Surrett said. “Laity have responded to Bishop Holston’s openness and availability through the road shows. I also believe we are continuing to build trust with congregations and their leadership that the Council is committed to be very transparent in our spending and financial practices. We have attempted to trim costs wherever possible and to utilize resources as efficiently as possible.”
Surrett said that if there are areas in the conference budget where CF&A understands spending is not controlled as well as possible, then they seek to be supportive but firm with those cost centers/ministry programs. He said they believe growing the local church in membership, attendance and vitality will bring great benefits for the overall financial health of the Annual Conference.
“Strong churches mean a strong conference,” Surrett said. “Local churches are the heart of our ministry.”
Surrett said he continues to be dedicated to increasing financial reserves so the conference can probably meet unexpected emergencies, shifts in the economy or hurricanes without negatively impacting ministry impact in South Carolina.
“Our budget is quite large, and as good stewards, the Council and I believe we need to have proper and available emergency reserves,” he added.
A new way of looking at apportionments
Financial leaders also lifted up 20 UMCs that have contributed far more to apportionments this year than they did last year at this time—including Bethel UMC, Charleston (which jumped from 40 percent this time last year to 90 percent), Midland Park UMC, North Charleston (25.32 percent to 87.68 percent), Travelers Rest UMC, Travelers Rest (11.21 percent to 83.33 percent) and Reidville Road UMC, Moore (12.93 percent to 83.37 percent). Some of these churches have changed the timing of their payments (throughout the year instead of all at the end), while others have gained a new understanding about the importance of apportionments, which prompted the increase. Apportionments fund programs and agencies across S.C., from campus ministries to clergy development and new church starts.
St. John’s UMC, Fort Mill, is one of those churches, seeing a 58.33 percent increase in payments between this time last year (25 percent) and now (83.33 percent).
The Rev. Karen Radcliffe, St. John’s pastor, said part of their increase is timing their payments to anticipate the lull they sometimes see in mid-year giving, but part is because her congregation seems to have a new awareness and approach to thinking about apportionments as part of the church’s overall mission to the world and community.
“It’s not something that ‘big brother’ takes us from us,” Radcliffe said. “We’re looking at it not as a tax, but as a ministry opportunity.”
At charge conference, Radcliffe said, they discussed a real world example of apportionment dollars at work: two people are graduating from seminary this year who were students at nearby Winthrop University and received their call through Winthrop’s Wesley Foundation, which is supported by apportionments. Now those two students will be appointed to serve churches in the S.C. Conference.
“It’s like the Christian songwriter back in the 70s, Sandi Patty, who wrote a Christmas song on the gift that keeps on giving,” Radcliffe explained.
Apportionment payments are due to the conference no later than Jan. 14. To view month-by-month apportionments performance by your district, visit www.umcsc.org/home/administrative-services or call 803-786-9486.