The potluck provides: A message on connectional giving

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October 31, 2019

New England Conference: 

You never know what dishes you’ll find at a United Methodist "potluck," but whatever’s on the table, you know it will be enough to provide for everyone. Each person brings what they can and shares with all who come ... even the late guest who arrives empty handed. There is always enough to go around. The potluck works. And it’s something we celebrate as part of our Wesleyan heritage. 
 
As children, the bounty may have seemed like a miracle to us. As grownups, we know that providing for all sometimes means we wait and let others go before us or we adjust our portions so that there will be something for those who come after. 
 
The potluck works when we are good stewards of God's gifts – when we share what we have with a generous heart and accept what is shared with a sense of responsibility. When we do, we enjoy and rejoice in the bounty amid a spirit of unconditional love. 
 
The potluck doesn’t fulfill its promise to provide when we heap food on own plates and deny as undeserving those who struggled to bring a small offering or simply could not bring anything at all. 
 
Earlier this year, we, the Conference Council on Finance and Administration (CCFA) recognized the frustration and anger many United Methodists in our Conference felt after a contentious 2019 General Conference. 
 
We brought a motion to our Annual Conference that would limit our payment to the World Service Fund (our connectional share to the General Church) to only what our churches submitted to the NEAC for Fund 1 and not use Conference reserve funds. 
 
In other words, if a church does not contribute to the potluck, we are not going to the pantry (our reserves) to fill the empty casserole dish and make up the shortfall. 
 
Our action is not a refusal to pay our Conference apportionments nor is it an invitation to stop paying mission shares. It was never intended to be an excuse for those churches that are not doing their share. The covenant we made as members in the New England Conference to share in resourcing vital ministries remains intact. 
 
As members together in the body of Christ, we need each other – and our common ministry and mission need the gifts that God has given us to share. 
 
Together we have laid out a banquet that feeds:
 
campers whose lives are transformed when they spend a week in the outdoors; 
young adults who realize their calling to ministry through serving on a camp staff or take a spiritual pilgrimage to Taize; 
the family who receives documents to live without fear through the legal services of Justice For Our Neighbors; 
the laity who are called to lead but need training and certification to do so with confidence; 
the new church start in an impoverished community; the community that needs resources to address the growing opioid crisis; 
those who are standing up for justice in our communities and churches; 
those of us who need to learn about our prejudices and have our hearts transformed; 
those who are in need of advocacy and support; 
the student looking for Christian community on a college campus; 
the candidate who is seeking to follow Christ's call to licensed or ordained ministry; 
the clergy who are seeking continuing education and spiritual nurture; 
those hungry for community; those thirsty for love; 
those working on our behalf for change in the world and in The UMC.
 
Unfortunately, we have fewer resources than ever before to fulfill our shared responsibilities. Our September receipts show our Conference mission shares are down $278, 643 from the amount received at the same time last year. This means that we will not be able to fulfill all the missional obligations that we have covenanted to support this year. 

Some have chosen to feed themselves first, rather than contribute to the body. Others are withholding their gifts because they don't want to support members of the body with whom they disagree. 
 
When we withhold our gifts, the whole body suffers. We all go hungry. As part of the body, we are all fed by the generosity of others around the connection and we all are responsible for ensuring that those in need are fed in turn. 
 
In 2018, over $100,000 in World Service dollars came back to New England in the form of grants for our Latino ministry, youth ministry, and several local church discipleship initiatives. 
 
Just this month, Boston University School of Theology, in partnership with NEAC, received a $10,000 grant from the General Church for the housing of a new intentional community for seminarians. 
 
By withholding World Service Funds, we limit mission and ministry with people we have built relationships with right here in New England as well as those to whom we are connected in life-saving mission across the globe. We have invited these people to our table, but we’re leaving it bare.
 
CCFA is responsible for the receipt of mission shares and stewarding the budget that you approved at Annual Conference. We are committed to ensuring that the budget and mission share expectations are sustainable, and have made every effort to reduce spending and to manage our assets well. 
 
The decision to reduce the number of districts from nine to seven in 2020 will realize significant savings in 2021. In the meantime, we are making every effort to limit spending while making sure each ministry we’ve committed to has what is needed. 
 
We have agreed not to use reserves to pay more than what local churches submit for World Service, but we may have to use those funds for New England Conference Missions and Ministry Support. 
 
This will not be necessary if each church does its part for our collective mission. If we work together, we can meet the needs of the body.
 
Echoing the words of John Wesley, we are asking everyone to give all you can. Remember, as partners in ministry, as diners at the potluck table, we share in what is given – both the bounty and the scarcity. 
 
We are in this together. When we give generously from the abundance of good gifts God has given us, everyone can come to the table and be fed. The potluck works. 
 
We're having a potluck and you are invited! We pray that you will bring what you have and take what you need so that all may feast at God's banquet of abundant mercy and grace. 

Yours in Christ,
New England Conference Council on Finance and Administration