GC2016: What can churchgoers do together?

Hannah Foust, as a United Methodist sixth-grader in Indiana, saw a video about the desperate need for clean water in Burkina Faso and knew God was calling her to help.

“When I first learned about Burkina Faso, I instantly felt a responsibility to help the children there, like I was their older sister,” she told General Conference delegates.

She set out to raise funds for clean water wells, and inspired other United Methodists to join the effort. Two years later, Foust and those she’s inspired have raised funds for 16 water wells. 

LEARN MORE ABOUT WELLS

To learn more about Hannah Foust’s Burkina Faso Well Project, go to revGO.org.

The website revGO is a collaborative project among United Methodist ministries engaging young people in mission.

Foust, now 14, credits her United Methodist upbringing — and the United Methodist connection — with helping to make the work possible.

Throughout the morning, the delegates heard news that might surprise some: United Methodists together are doing great things that bring God’s reign into the world.

Both the Connectional Table, which coordinates the work of church agencies, and the General Council on Finance and Administration, the denomination’s finance agency, gave reports that highlighted the good United Methodists do when they work and give as a global body.

The Rev. Amy Valdez Barker, the top executive of the Connectional Table, described Faust as the embodiment of the Four Areas of Ministry Focus the denomination has embraced since the 2008 General Conference.

Foust is a principled Christian leader engaged in ministry with the poor and deeply concerned about global health. She also is creating new places for new people to connect with Christ “as she tells others how Christ has used her to transform the world,” Valdez Barker said.

Valdez Barker offered other examples of discipleship. She also emphasized the collaborative engagement of the Connectional Table and other church leadership bodies during the past four years. This includes work on more globally relevant Social Principles and more globally applicable Book of Discipline that are expected to come before the 2020 General Conference.

Valdez Barker also spoke of the Connectional Table’s work with general agencies to direct resources and provide tools to foster vitality among local churches. The percentage of “highly vital” U.S. congregations grew from 15 percent in 2010 to 23 percent in 2014.

Although many local churches still struggle, about 30 percent of U.S. United Methodist churches are growing in worship attendance. The United Methodist Church has about 12.3 million members worldwide.

Growth in giving; lower budget

Moses Kumar, the top executive of the General Council on Finance and Administration, also reported good news in church giving.

In 2015, a record 26 U.S. conferences paid full apportionments to support the general church — the highest number in the 16 years that the church has kept digital records. United Methodists gave more than $130.6 million to general church funds, nearly 92 percent of the requested apportionments. 

Kumar, in a later press conference, noted that last year, his own local church paid 100 percent of its requested apportionments for the first time in years. About 2 percent (2 cents of every dollar) of local church giving supports general church ministries.

Nevertheless, his agency and the Connectional Table have jointly asked delegates to approve a lower budget of $599 million for general church funds in 2017-20.

“In a nutshell, we wanted to make sure the budget reflects what’s happening in the local church,” Kumar said. Local churches and annual conferences told GCFA they are reducing their budgets. Despite 100 percent giving and despite increased resources, they said, “we want to save for the future.”

Kumar also told delegates his agency is proposing that central conferences (church regions in Africa, Asia and Europe) have a set formula to support the denomination’s global ministries.

United Methodists in central conferences have long financially supported the work of bishops. In the past four years, central conferences have given $3.8 million to the Episcopal Fund, Kumar said. Under the formula, the requested giving would go up to $5.1 million and support both bishops and the General Administration Fund (which supports General Conference, the Judicial Council and the finance agency).

European United Methodists actually would be asked to give less than they currently contribute under the formula. However, some European church leaders plan to continue voluntarily to give $2.9 million.

Challenges ahead

Nordic and Baltic Area Bishop Christian Alsted, the incoming chair of the Connectional Table, said the church still has work to do in living into its global nature.

He said that changing the church culture is not just a U.S. problem but also a challenge for United Methodists all over the world.

“What we are trying to do is something no other denomination is doing,” Alsted said. “We are trying to be a worldwide church that is also democratic.”

He and other Connectional Table leaders are hopeful for the future of the church.

So is Foust, the teen well builder.

“Can you imagine the miracles we could achieve, if we just worked together?” she said. “I guarantee, we’d feed much more than 5,000 people.”

Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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