Story by Patrick Scriven, Photos by Rev. Dr. William Gibson
DES MOINES, WA — The three United Methodist conferences that comprise the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area have each committed to paying 100% of their General Church apportionments for 2019. The announcement, which comes toward the end of a tumultuous year where giving has slipped significantly across the denomination, was delivered by conference treasurers during the recent Greater Northwest Area Cabinet meeting.
For several years, the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho (OR-ID), and Pacific Northwest (PNW) Conferences have each stretched to honor this commitment to the General Church and our shared ministries, ministries which touch and save lives around the globe. The majority of the conferences in The United Methodist Church’s Western Jurisdiction have also met this commitment on an annual basis.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky welcomed the treasurers’ report while also acknowledging the pain and mixed feelings many are experiencing about the Church. “While I know that many faithful United Methodists across the Greater Northwest Area were hurt by the actions of the 2019 General Conference, it is important that we don’t allow our pain to do harm,” she said. “When Christians hear bad news, there’s always a good word coming. As we prepare for Christmas, I trust that Jesus is being born again in our hearts and in the world, and that he can even transform our Church.”
The decision to fully pay the General Church apportionment involved many conversations and several leadership teams as each conference wrestled with new questions raised by the Special Session of General Conference held last February.
“As I worked with groups in the Alaska and PNW Conferences, we openly discussed the costs and benefits of continuing this practice,” said Alaska and PNW Conference Treasurer Brant Henshaw. “Ultimately, we decided that we would continue for this year in the hope that the denomination would make space for God’s movement as we are experiencing it in our ministry context.”
Apportionment giving from local churches across the area has been mixed as members also continue to wrestle with the serious questions raised by last year’s events. In the PNW Conference, giving hasn’t deviated much from previous years, currently at 81%, down .5% after 11 months. Giving in the Alaska and OR-ID Conferences dropped a few points more with OR-ID reporting in at 65%, down 3.5%, and Alaska at 78%, up 2.75% after 11 months.
To meet 100% of their General Church apportionment, all three conferences will need to rely on reserve funds or investment earnings.
“While giving is down modestly in the Oregon-Idaho Conference this year, we continue to see and hear an interest in being part of a church whose reach extends globally,” offered OR-ID Conference Treasurer Rev. Daniel Wilson-Fey. “There is a deep love for ministry abroad, as evidenced by the continuing tremendous support by our local churches of the United Methodist Committee on Relief and Advance Specials, as well as continuing Volunteers in Mission trips to countries like Kenya. The vote in February did make some people’s feelings toward the denomination more complicated.”
In other work, the Cabinet identified 14 openings in local churches and new ministries that will require some recruitment of gifted individuals. The audit, as it is often referred to, also identified thirteen clergy persons who are planning to retire in the coming year; it is common for this number to grow modestly as the new year begins.
Members from Alaska, OR-ID, and PNW will gather in a shared annual conference the second week of June in Puyallup, Washington. Reports were offered regarding ongoing fundraising to ease the costs of persons traveling from Alaska, and those traveling significant distances in the two other conference.
It was also reported that over $14,000 has been raised for the Safe Harbor Fund, initiated by Bishop Stanovsky earlier this year. These gifts are helping the cabinet to be responsive to requests from LGBTQ+ clergypersons and candidates outside of the Greater Northwest Area endangered by the new provisions, prohibitions, and punishments of the Traditional Plan that come into effect January 1, 2020.
Planning is also underway for a retreat in the Spring of 2020 to gather ethnic leaders together for deep and frank conversations about the denomination and our future together in the Greater Northwest Area. While smaller gatherings have, and will continue to take place, leaders aspire to offer more time for better, relational conversations to occur.
In this period of denominational uncertainty, the Greater Northwest Area Cabinet is committing to reporting out from their meetings, as appropriate, to provide transparency and information that people might be interested in. The Cabinet will meet again in January of 2020, when they will continue conversations about the year ahead, and explore new ministry possibilities taking shape by the Greater Northwest Innovation Vitality Team, in addition to their regular pastoral appointment-related work.
Patrick Scriven serves as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.