Sierra Leone bishop: Overseas support at risk

The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone needs to reduce its reliance on overseas support in case the global denomination splits over the issue of homosexuality, Bishop John K. Yambasu told members of the conference at their annual meeting.

To encourage the conference to provide more financial support for its own work, the bishop said his cabinet has decided that pastors will only receive their full salary if the church they lead pays its full apportionments. Conference delegates also passed a series of resolutions aimed at strengthening the generation of funds locally, including Mission 1010, a fundraising drive that would raise about $13,000 U.S. a month.

Yambasu said during the March 8-12 annual conference meeting that salary and office support for the bishop, including housing funds, have come from the church’s Episcopal Fund. The conference budget is about $1.2 million in U.S. dollars.

Full conference report

The theme of the 2017 Sierra Leone Conference was “The Journey Ahead” with text from Joshua 3:1-17. Resident Bishop John K. Yambasu welcomed clergy and lay delegates to the 137th session of the Sierra Leone Annual Conference, his ninth as bishop.

Dr. Olusimbo Ige, director of global health at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, spoke on “Global Health: Challenges and Opportunities for the African Church.” She said the foundation for health begins in homes, schools and neighborhoods and urged conference members to discover that they had opportunities, strengths, assets, hopes and ideas. 

The bishop said about 95 percent of salaries for the 150 active full-time pastors and evangelists across the conference comes from outside the country. That is mostly through the Sierra Leone Initiative, a partnership with the Susquehanna Conference that has provided salary support for pastors for the past 10 years, and from the United Methodist Church in Germany.

He also noted that the conference must now contribute money to the general church under the central conference apportionment formula, created when General Conference 2016 set a formula for church regions in Africa, Asia and Europe to support the denomination’s global ministries. The money will go into the Episcopal and General Administration Fund.

Sierra Leone’s apportionment for 2017 is $28,382, or $2,365 per month.

The bishop said if local churches don’t pay their full apportionments, a denominational split would be a financial disaster for the conference.

“We may not be able to maintain a bishop at a sustainable and dignified level,” Yambasu said. “Many of our pastors on whom we have invested so much in scholarships for theological training will leave the church and seek for greener pastures because we will not be able to support them.”

He added that most of the viable projects and ministries in the conference would collapse due to lack of funds.

Many churches in Sierra Leone do not pay their full apportionments, and the bishop said local congregations invest more time in fundraising for their own special activities than for annual conference activities. He added that this means some local churches have huge balances in their accounts, while the conference continues to struggle to meet its financial needs.

The bishop’s cabinet has addressed that by informing local congregations, pastors and district superintendents that only pastors who pay their apportionments in full will receive salaries at the end of the month. The cabinet also said congregations will have to pay their apportionments in full to have their pastors and members considered for election as delegates to the central conference, the General Conference and other international meetings. The cabinet also said district superintendents in areas that fail to pay full apportionments for the year will be moved and replaced.

Sierra Leone fundraising plans

At the Sierra Annual Conference, with the theme “The Journey Ahead,” delegates looked to the future funding of ministry by passing a series of resolutions aimed at increasing funds generated locally to support the ministries of the conference.

Those included:

  • Approval of Mission 1010, a fundraising drive that would raise about $13,000 U.S. each month
  • Establishing a business or commercial office of the conference
  • Accepting a bank loan of about $87,000 U.S. to renovate a property bequeathed to the conference, with the hope the property can be used to generate income
  • Establishing a functional and viable development office
  • Investing in, and strengthening, existing health and educational facilities
  • Establishing a United Methodist think-tank of professionals to generate fundraising and development ideas and plans to address future financial challenges.

“We have to snap out of the dependency syndrome. Our conference has a membership of 275,000. We have many natural resources, and we have the human resource it takes to organize and run our own business,” said the Rev. Edwin Momoh, who is leading the Mission 1010 campaign.

That proposal calls for finding 10,000 people who will volunteer to support the church by giving 10,000 Leones (about $1.25 U.S.) each month, which would generate 100 million Leones, or about $13,000 U.S. each month.

Reaction to tying apportionments to salary was mixed.

“It is good to develop stringent actions so that pastors will fundraise for the conference. But tying it down to a pastor’s remuneration will defeat the purpose — pastors will be demoralized if they wake up in the morning and discover they do not have food on their table because they have not been paid,” said a pastor who spoke on condition that his name not be used. “I think some other means of dealing with the matter would be better.”

The Rev. Sahr Fallah of Charles Davies United Methodist Church in Freetown, however, agreed wholeheartedly with the plan.

“The time has come when we must not depend on handouts,” Fallah said. “As a conference, we must learn to be self-reliant. I think pastors who collect money from congregations and do not pay up to the conference should be penalized; their salary must be affected.”

He said the cabinet must enforce what has been proposed.

“But the cabinet position must not be like a barking dog that does not bite. The cabinet must give the position teeth to bite,” Fallah said. “I must emphasize, however, that the bishop needs to remind and encourage pastors to pay their apportionments. We must build our conference. One way I think pastors can encourage their congregations to give is by giving themselves. Church members will not give if we who preach on giving do not give.”

Yambasu asked conference members to consider how congregations could be encouraged to generously support the church financially and how schools and health facilities could be empowered to support the ministries of the conference.

He also asked them to consider how organizations in local churches could be encouraged to contribute more generously in support of the ministries of the conference and how individual members of the conference could be actively involved in the promotion of the ministries of the conference.

“Friends, the intent of this presentation is for us as a conference to position ourselves in the coming four years so that in the event that the denomination splits in 2020, we will be strongly positioned to sustain ourselves. I am very positive that with the highest amount of commitment and intentionality, we will be able to achieve this goal,” Yambasu said.

Yambasu updated the conference about the Commission on a Way Forward, the group charged with developing proposals aimed at keeping the multinational denomination together despite deep differences around homosexuality.

The bishop told the conference members that “while the commission is at work, some groups and congregations in the United States of America are already pre-emptively working towards separation.” He cited the Western Jurisdiction’s election of Bishop Karen Oliveto, a married lesbian, even though current church law bans “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from “being certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”

Members of the Western Jurisdiction, including bishops, have said that Oliveto was elected because she was the best candidate for bishop, not because of her sexual orientation.

Delegates at the West Africa Central Conference, meeting in December 2016 in Côte d’Ivoire, reiterated opposition to LGTBQ clergy. The resolution was approved and will be sent to the Commission on a Way Forward.

The resolution said the delegates “believe that the practice of homosexuality is sinful, like any other practice incompatible with the teaching of Scripture” and cited biblical condemnations of homosexuality.

Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone. News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist News, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests

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