By HOLLY McCRAY
The 2015 Oklahoma Conference budget proposal includes both $1 million in new funding to reach new people AND an Apportionment reduction of almost 8 percent.
That’s an impressive achievement.
It’s the result of focused, collaborative work by groups to realign Conference finances for the Church’s overarching mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.
Since 2008, "we’ve asked every church to examine its priorities, to be engaged in this mission. The Conference has to do the same thing," said Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.
"We know we need to do a better job of discipling people," said Judy Benson of Frederick, who chairs the Conference corporate board. That unique entity brings administrative and programming ministries together at one table.
"The desire is that things need to happen to move us along to where God wants us to be," Benson said.
To accomplish that, committees put top priority on the Conference’s Strategic Plan of reaching new people, younger people, and more diverse people. They prayed and planned, struggled and dreamed across the months.
If delegates at Annual Conference in late May approve the proposed budget:
• A "New People, New Places" fund will provide grants for specific projects that make and grow new disciples. The initial amount ($700,000 in 2015) will increase incrementally over four years.
Any church or Conference ministry may apply.
The Annual Conference Council (ACC) will administer the process.
Conference Lay Leader Chuck Stewart of Stilwell said, "What I like about this is it creates opportunity for churches and other groups to pursue ministries in ways they’ve never thought of before. It creates opportunities for people that may have been left out in the past."
Dianne Peters of Oklahoma City chairs the Leadership Development Ministry Team. She said "New People, New Places" embodies the Conference "really stepping up for the rural churches. This is a much more compassionate approach than some other annual conferences are taking."
Benson said, "I’ve seen what a little bit of money can do for a group. You’ve got to have the idea, the heart, and the plan. This will help those who are really serious about reaching new people. A Sunday School group could apply; men’s and women’s groups could."
"It’s important to try new things to grow for Christ," said Linda Harker of Norman, who chairs the Board of Ordained Ministry.
• An additional $300,000 will go to the Department of Congregational Development to help fund new church plants, re-starts, and revitalizations.
"In places and ways that seemed scarcely imaginable, faith communities were birthed" in our Methodist heritage, wrote Chuck Nordean, director of Clergy and Congregational Development. "We will be as bold and creative as those who have gone before us."
• Redirection of funds will mean smaller budgets for some ministries. These decisions were thorny, leaders said.
Major reductions in Apportionment dollars will impact Oklahoma City University, Campus Ministries, and Circle of Care. The administrative work of the Treasurer’s Office will see a similar dollar decline.
"It’s painful," said Sam Powers of Piedmont, ACC co-chairperson. "We desperately want to see Christ in all of these ministries. We have to continue to have conversations."
Enid District Superintendent Donna Dodson said, "We’ve made a hard decision to open up to new ministries, [not] stagnate."
In approving a 7.73 percent decrease in the Apportionment, leaders clearly listened to repeated requests by churches to lower it.
The total proposed budget, almost $15.4 million, marks the second year of reduction in the Apportionment request to churches. It also is a significant decrease from $16.6 million budgeted for this year.
Leaders expressed hope that monies remaining within congregations especially enable vibrant local ministries that pursue the Church’s mission of making disciples.
The lower Apportionment total is also the result of ongoing reductions in the Active Clergy Health Fund. And changes proposed for the Retired Clergy Health Fund would cause a major decrease in that Apportionment item. That was the subject of a previous Contact story.
The Commission on Finance & Administration will present the budget at Annual Conference on the morning of May 29. It has been affirmed by the ACC, the corporate board, and other groups.
"These big issues: that’s why we’re a connectional system," Benson said at a spring meeting of the corporate board. "I trust the talented and God-inspired people sitting around this table."
She later said, "I want to give my sincere thanks for this difficult work, the tough discussions that have gone on this year, for this great vision of new people and new places.
"When we started talking about this, about people having to give up money, oh my! The way that’s been carried out has just been superb."
Retiree health care explained
Conference benefits officers will discuss the retiree health care changes at meetings on May 19 at Tulsa-Asbury Church and on May 20 at OKC-St. Luke’s. Sessions will be 1-3 p.m.
More info on ‘New People, New Places’
Craig Stinson, director of Connectional Ministries, describes this grant process in a YouTube video. The Pre-Conference Workbook is another resource. Link to these at www.okumc.org/annual_conference.
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