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New mission shares formula offers fairness for all churches

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Amid a round of earnest debate and some technical challenges, members of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference Session adopted a 2022 budget and a new formula for determining the mission shares payments that will help fund it.

Following a presentation by Phil Potter, president of the Council of Finance and Administration, some members expressed a desire to change the proposed formula for determining church mission shares, the portion of funds congregations contribute to mission and ministries beyond their local churches. Potter is a lay member from National UMC.

To account for financial circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, this year CFA proposed that the mission share calculation use a three-year average of spending from 2018-2020, rather than just spending from 2020.

“Churches throughout the BWC weathered the pandemic in vastly different ways in 2020,” Potter said. “With federal payroll protection payments and other factors, some congregations maintained their stability, while others faced financial difficulties.”

In past years, the apportionment calculation would have taken the 2020 Mission Share Base and multiplied it by the current Benevolence Factor of 17.55 percent. However, CFA did not believe that this would be a fair approach given the wide disparity of reported expense changes among churches.

The CFA concluded that the 2020 expense statistics were so greatly influenced by the pandemic that they are, by themselves, an inadequate measure for fairly distributing the mission shares for the 2022 budget.

They discerned that “the best solution is to use a three-year average of the expenses that include 2018, 2019, and 2020,” Potter said. “This averaging will provide a stabilizing element to the distribution so that the extremes involved with the 2020 expense changes do not create a list of ‘one-year winners’ and ‘one-year losers.’”

The averaging would only be for the current year, Potter reported.

However, several members expressed concerns that the mission share formula that uses a three-year average would create financial hardships for their congregations. Some, like Lovely Lane UMC and Middletown UMC, might be unable to pay their full apportionments if the three-year average were to be used, the Rev. Debbie Scott and Sherrie Koob told the conference during a debate on the issue. Scott is the pastor at Lovely Lane, and Koob is a lay member from Middletown.

Others, like the Revs. Travis Knoll and Mandy Sayers, expressed concerns about preserving the integrity of the budget by separating the anticipated expenditures from the proposed means of funding the budget. Knoll serves as pastor at Nichols-Bethel UMC in Odenton, and Sayers serves as pastor at Glen Mar UMC in Ellicott City.

During the discussion, a proposal to separate the missional giving formula from the other CFA recommendations was made and voted down. The recommendations of the CFA were approved in their entirety in a vote of 525 in favor and 125 opposed. 

As part of the CFA report, members adopted a 2022 budget of $18,145,697, including a mission share income budget of $13,104,912. “The budget institutes the lower expense spending of $13 million that was implemented during the pandemic spending reductions. This is $1 million less than the 2020 mission share budget,” Potter reported.

One of the highlights of the 2022 budget, Potter said, is that it “supports the payoff of BWC debt by the third quarter of 2022, which will enable further reductions in mission share budgets toward a $12 million in 2024 or 2025.”

The current budget proposal keeps the current benevolence factor at 17.55 percent. The collection rate is planned for 89 percent for 2022, which is slightly up from the 2021 rate of 87.5 percent, but still a bit lower than the traditional budget assumption of 91 percent or higher in prior years.

Mission Shares are the lifeblood of The United Methodist Church. Each year, every congregation pays a portion — a percentage — of the funds they spend on themselves to enable life-transforming ministries beyond the local church. In most cases, about 10 to 11 cents of every dollar put in the collection plate or given online goes to Mission Shares.

In addition, members approved the recommendation on equitable compensation that the base salary for the 2022 Clergy Salary Table be increased 2 percent, or $914, which will make the base salary $46,592, and a 2 percent increase (or $407) in the housing allowance which will make the recommended clergy housing allowance $20,771.

They also voted in favor of approving recommendations from the Conference Board of Pensions, presented by the Rev. Cary James, who noted that the health flex rates for clergy health care will not be changed.

In a more solemn time of reflection and prayer for the creation of significant legacies of ministry and service, nine churches were officially closed. They include: Corkran Memorial UMC in Temple Hills; Youngs UMC in Huntingtown; Solomons UMC in Solomons; Edgewater UMC in Edgewater; Piney Grove UMC in Middle River; Falls UMC in Sparks; Zion UMC in Cumberland; Shaft UMC in Frostburg; and Pleasant Walk UMC in Myersville.