Submitted by the Rev. Dr. C. Dennis Shaw
Statistician, Mountain Sky Conference, UMC
Greetings to you in the name of the Risen Christ! This past Great Sunday we focused our time in community worship on singing hymns, listening to anthems, scripture, work of the people and prayer that reminded us that death does not have the final word.
He is Risen, he is Risen indeed!
We are Easter People!
However, we might also be peculiar people. In the King James Version of Deuteronomy 14: 2 – God’s Holy People are called peculiar. It does require peculiar people to confess that their hearts are strangely warmed.
Last June, at Annual Conference in Ogden, our persistently creating and recreating God, in an echo of Isaiah 43: 19 did a new thing in the creation of the Mountain Sky Conference. There were joyful tears in this long hoped for, but long deferred, vision. Many there felt their hearts strangely warmed. But as we left Ogden, we knew the work was beginning. The work to bring disparate locations, viewpoints, theology, and – yes – tribes together was approved in June; it did not end then or there. This new thing will require much work and faith.
(This chart shows where 2019 Mission Shares would be spent if they came in as originally planned. Over two-thirds of our spending goes for staff and the General and Jurisdictional Church. “Other” on the chart is for Retiree Health Care and business and administrative expenses for the Conference.)
Our cabinet recently wrote: “We in the Mountain Sky Conference are striving to live in God’s grace and abundance as we lead a re-energized peaceful and compassionate movement to claim the life-changing love of Jesus Christ for ALL people.” Movements happen when we are bold and courageous.
How did we do in 2018?
Reporting how we did financially as a new conference in 2018 requires us to boldly and courageously commit to that visionary life-changing work we helped midwife into new life in Ogden.
The aggregate losses for the new Mountain Sky Conference were $366,075 or a shortfall of about 6 percent. If there is “good news” from this economic news, it is that both conferences held reserves allowing this shortfall to be dealt with adequately. Those reserves will continue to be tested in 2019 and beyond.
What do we expect in 2019?
Your Council on Finance and Administration recently made two decisions. First, we are going to pay our General and Jurisdictional Apportionment for the next six months at a level below 100%. We are doing this because of the losses we absorbed in 2018 and our giving to the General Church and Jurisdiction needs to be consistent with what we receive in Mission Shares. At this time we expect a shortfall in budgeted Mission Shares for 2019. We have heard some voices, a minority currently, but voices that must be listened to, encouraging us to stop sending to the General Church our portion of the General Church Apportionment. Bishop Grant Hagiya of California-Pacific Conference suggested recently that a nuanced view of General and Jurisdictional Apportionments is required here rather than to simply stop all General Church obligations. For example, are we really prepared to stop sending in resources for the funding of our own Bishop? Are we really prepared to stop supporting Black Colleges? How about Africa University?
(This chart shows how much we are asked to send in 2019 to the eight General and Jurisdictional Funds we support with our budget.)
We got to this place in our shared history from vision born of faith.
Many of us chose to create this new thing, this new Mountain Sky Conference, because we wanted to better engage our world, live our faith and values, and help churches learn how they might, whatever their phase of life, make an impact: locally and globally. We believe our faith can have a transforming effect on the world.
We believe this is our call. And we ask: Is this call less or more urgent now?
We are reminded of Mordecai speaking to the Jewish Queen Esther in the book of Esther, which we will paraphrase: ‘Who knows? Perhaps you were born for just such a time as this.’ Perhaps we are here in this place for just such a time as this.
We have a “red letter” mandate to “bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to recover sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”
In June, 2018, the votes were taken and we began to do this new thing called the Mountain Sky Conference. Our initial journey got off to a rough start financially. We learned some things on that journey. Then we experienced General Conference 2019 with uncertain implications for our travels to embrace this new conference focused on disciple making.
We now face a moment of decision – to turn back or continue to move forward boldly and courageously. We have conferred. We have prayed. Ultimately, we asked one another: “Does the world now need our witness and service less or more?”
And so, at least for now, this new conference needs to push on ahead. Push on ahead when much of the rest of the world says pull back.
We believe pushing on is the brave and courageous Easter thing to do.