BY HOLLY MCCRAY
Apportionment giving fell by $1.6 million (3.2 percent) in the Oklahoma Conference in 2016, compared to the previous year.
Churches sent forward $13,292,544 in Apportionment contributions last year, according to Treasurer Norma Quinn, for our shared work in the conference, jurisdiction, and denomination.
That amount fulfilled 89.3 percent of the overall budget, which was $14,882,701 for those three levels of ministry.
Bishop Jimmy Nunn said, "We thank you for sending over $13 million to the Oklahoma Conference. That represents sacrifice. It’s also an expression of compassion, and it signifies our hope in Jesus Christ.
"Every dollar that’s given by any person is a dollar that we seek to invest in the Kingdom in order to make a lasting impact."
A total of 364 churches paid 100 percent of their Apportionment assessments.
Rev. Dr. Quinn saw firsthand how strongly churches "felt that desire to participate fully in the ministry" of stewardship. "I literally had churches calling to see if they could walk their checks in the last day" in January to accept funds at Conference headquarters for the 2016 tally. Several did, and they were not nearby churches, she said.
Among the eight districts, Green Country repeated with the highest percentage of Apportionment giving: 97.5 percent. The Wichitas District increased its total by 3 percentage points over the previous year.
However, an overall decline in contributions continues to be evident.
In 2015, Apportionment giving was $14,227,210, or 92.5 percent, toward a budget of $15,374,713, lower than the previous year.
Annual Conference delegates voted to lower the budget again in 2016 and 2017. Find the figures on pages 239-240 of the 2016 Oklahoma Conference Journal.
"The final results for 2016 have presented a picture of challenging times," said Quinn. "Thank you to all the churches that paid 100 percent of their Apportionments in 2016. Thank you also to those churches that tried their best to reach that goal."
Neither treasurer nor bishop identified any single reason for the decline in revenue.
Bishop Nunn described how even the number of Sundays in a year can affect giving outcomes. In 2016, there were 52 Sundays; this year will have 53.
Quinn said, "I think it’s episodic, not symptomatic."
"It’s so important to tell our story. You forget the human story is behind the Apportionments; you just see that figure. Some Apportionments pay out better because people can relate to their story. (But) when you talk about equitable comp or health benefits and pensions …"
So she gave context for the equitable compensation fund, which assists qualifying churches with pastoral support. "How many people have accepted Christ because the Conference was able to help with a pastor’s salary?" Quinn asked.
By mid-February, about a dozen churches already had fully paid their Apportionment assessments, she said.
"God is in all of it, and that’s what I’m banking on."
Eufaula United Methodist Church achieved 100 percent ($28,475) last year after that long-time practice was disrupted a few years ago.
"It upset folks that we didn’t get them all paid," said Pastor Mike Brannon. "These aren’t bills. They represent ministry."
The congregation also is committed to build a new facility on 10 acres. Such a project can challenge any church’s financial planning. A successful capital campaign was held last year.
Then, "as people began to give for the building, Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes," said Rev. Brannon. "The offering also started to get bigger."
The worship bulletin always includes a Call to Stewardship, with scripture that the congregation reads aloud. The verse changes every month.
The pastor also said he attends every stewardship training offered by the Oklahoma United Methodist Foundation.
As contributions "steamrolled," Eufaula celebrated.
"I crowed every time I got the chance, and they responded," Brannon said. "Once you taste the victory, you don’t want to go backward."
When she began her new appointment in June at Wewoka-First UMC, Pastor Marie Faubion said, she began proclaiming "we’re all in ministry beyond just what we do here at the church."
She talked about Apportionments a lot — to committees, to Sunday School classes, in her sermons — although "not like I was blowing a trumpet."
"As the months were rolling by, I kept praying about it and asking people to pray about it. I didn’t know anybody was paying attention to me. I didn’t know if some were aware that all of the Apportionments hadn’t been paid (in past years)."
People were listening. A major contribution late in the year lifted Wewoka to 100 percent in Apportionment giving ($15,496).
"I guess the Lord just led everybody that direction," Rev. Faubion said.
She looked forward to calling the church to celebrate when a commendation letter and certificate from the bishop arrives.
Chapel Hill UMC
Southeast of Clinton, rural Chapel Hill UMC again fully paid Apportionments ($1,744). It’s become their habit recently, according to Pastor Wendie Jencks-Wilson.
The church’s lay delegate to Annual Conference has helped make giving personal for the congregation.
The delegate brought back "passionate understanding" from those meetings, Rev. Wilson said, after presentations on Pearl’s Hope, part of the Circle of Care; the Africa University Choir; and more.
"The money we give in a bigger picture can seem kind of small, but from a small-church perspective, it’s big. There hadn’t always been a clear understanding of all of the elements of the Apportionment and why it was good and helpful," Wilson said.
Now people understand "it wasn’t just an obligation but a gift to be able to help so many others. We can make a difference even as small as we are."
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