Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Eng Ben Rafemoyo: Zimbabwe's Centralized Clergy Salary Payment System, the ‘Common Pool’

Today's post is by Dr. Eng Ben Rafemoyo, Chairman of the Council on Finance and Administration (CONFAD) of the Zimbabwe West Annual Conference (ZWAC). It is the third in a series on missional appointments and models of pastoral payment. See here for the introduction and here for the German model.

The United Methodist Church (UMC) is one of the so-called mainline churches in Zimbabwe, with strong presence in both rural and urban areas across the country. The church employs both clergy and lay workers, and the pastors are on an itinerant appointive system. Salaries (base compensation) for pastors are determined through the use of a grading system that takes into account the individual’s training, qualifications, and years of service. In this, the hope is that some semblance of equity is maintained.

Until ten years ago, the payment of salaries and allowances was the responsibility of the circuit (charge) to which a pastor is appointed. The charge was expected to also care for the pastor’s housing, transport, communication, etc. However, the demographics and economic capacities vary from one charge to the other, with some circuits being financially poor to the extent of failing to meet these basic obligations. This was more common in rural areas than was the case in most urban areas. These disparities would obviously put paid to the achievement of equity and the general wellbeing of some pastors and their families. Given a choice in such circumstances, every pastor preferred to get an appointment a more able urban charge/circuit. With over 68% of the Zimbabwe population being in the rural areas, this is not possible; churches in the rural areas also need pastors.

Though pastoral work is not just a job but a calling, the pastor has responsibilities to provide for his immediate and extended family like any other person. Pastors serving in those impoverished communities would go for several months without a salary and/or allowances, while their counterparts in well-to-do charges would be better looked after. In the past, it was not difficult at huge gatherings, such as Annual Conferences, to identify those serving in impoverished rural circuits by their general presentation as compared to their well-cared-for colleagues.

No doubt, it must have been a daunting task for the Bishop and his cabinet to carry out appointments: Who do you send where? Because of those known disparities, those who were fortunate to receive appointments to serve better-off charges were viewed as being more favored, and of course those that ended up at poorer circuits were considered disliked by the leadership. Of cause these were mere perceptions and not backed by facts. Each change in appointment meant a change in one’s standard of living, either for the better or worse. Pastor’s children had to endure economic and social changes, with new appointments at times disrupting their education when the parents suddenly became unable to pay school fees.

Strategy to Deal with the Challenges
During Annual Conferences, year in and year out the matter of pastors’ salaries (base compensation) and the lack of equity consumed a great deal of time and energy. Being an emotive issue, such discussions would always end up in an antithesis of “Holy Conferencing”.

The Book of Discipline ¶ 624 provides for the following: “Each church or charge has an obligation to pay the base compensation, the benefits adopted by the Annual Conference, and other ministerial support (including housing) adopted by the Charge Conference, to its pastor(s)” No doubt this concept worked somewhat well in the past, but with the increased disparities among the charges in terms of financial capacities, the glaring lack of equity in base compensation and pastors going without salaries for several months could not be allowed to continue.

There was therefore a clarion call for a paradigm shift and the need to think outside the box. The church leadership considered a number of options and ended up settling for the introduction of the “Common Pool” centralized salary payment system for pastors. The benefits were obvious, among them the equitable base compensation and guaranteed salary payment to all pastors on time every month regardless of their geographic location. The pastor is able to focus on his/her calling and mission work instead of focusing on his/her economic challenges.

Like all new concepts and ideas, the resolution took much longer to implement than had been anticipated. Several years went by before there was a shared vision and adequate buy-in by all stakeholders. There was a time some were starting to feel that the resolution was never going to see the light of the day. Some of us were convinced that this was a good idea maybe ahead of its time, and at the right time, a shared vision will materialize. Indeed, this came to pass, and in 2010 the Common Pool was finally implemented successfully. This year marks the ten-year anniversary since the introduction of the Common Pool. No Pastor has gone unpaid since the inception of the Common Pool, we thank God. A total of 332 Pastors are currently benefitting from the new salary payment system. In the past, pastors’ benefits like funeral coverage and medical aid were not guaranteed, as both depended on the financial capacity of each circuit, let alone the pastors’ pension contributions. Now all these benefits are guaranteed as they are catered for through the Common Pool.

The Common Pool Funding Structure and Logistics
A 40% levy was introduced on the standard income lines, such as tithing, Sunday offerings, Thanksgiving, and any other undesignated funds. However, the said levy does not apply on designated funds and any such other special fundraising efforts by the charge, such as building funds, among others. Every charge remits the 40% levy on a weekly or monthly basis direct to the Conference Treasury, and the remaining 60%, along with the other designated funds will be used by the circuit to fund its mission work within the charge. On its part, the Conference Treasury Department, in close consultation with the Council on Finance and Administration (CONFAD), will put aside 25 – 30% of the levy towards the Common Pool. Salary payments for all the Pastors are then paid from the Conference Treasury directly into each individual’s bank account, at least by the 25th of every month. Other benefits such as medical aid and funeral coverage are also paid from the Common Pool directly to the service providers.

We are pleased that in spite of the economic challenges we are facing as a country—inflation and erosion of disposable income among others—the levy has sustainably provided capacity to pay salaries and benefits without fail.

The pie chart below illustrates the fact that the 40% levy stands out as the mainstay of the Conference income, accounting for 74% of the total annual income for the year under review.

Coming second as a major income line is the Harvest Thanksgiving at 15%, with the rest of the other smaller income lines accounting for the remaining 11% combined. We are hoping to grow this levy further in order to create capacity to cater for payment of all other allowances, such as transport, communication, office consumables, and the like. Currently this is already happening, where the Conferences pay the said allowances only in cases where the charge has failed to do so due to lack of capacity; we call them “unable circuits.”

If there is one major achievement we are proud of as a church during the last decade, it is without doubt the implementation of the Centralized Clergy Salary Payment System (Common Pool). It has worked for us, and we have no hesitation to recommend the system as a solution to address the many challenges associated with the decentralized obligation to pay the base compensation to pastors.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Recommended Reading: Evangelism, mission from the margins, and life's 2nd acts

UM News Service recently published a piece on Billie Jean Baker, the recipient of a Harry Denman Evangelism Award from the North Texas Conference. Baker has worked with Oak Lawn United Methodist Church and its associated coffeehouse, Union, to strengthen their outreach to homeless individuals. Baker is formerly homeless herself and has survived a host of other challenges in her life, including sexual abuse, being placed in foster care, dropping out of high school, alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution, divorce, chronic illness, and alienation from some of her children.

I love Baker's story because it so well illustrates two important things about God's call to mission:

First, Baker is an excellent example of mission from the margins. Mainstream society might overlook Baker because of the host of challenges in her past, but God did not. God called Baker to important work, work that Baker was able to do not despite her background but because of it. Because she had experienced homelessness herself, she could connect with other homeless individuals in a way that housed people could not. We should not condone society's marginalization of Baker or others, but we should recognize and celebrate the ways in which God is able to work through those on the margins.

Second, Baker is another example of how often God calls people to significant second acts in their lives. Even for Abram, God didn't call until him until he was 75 years old. While there are certainly many biblical, historical, and contemporary examples of God calling the young, there are also many biblical, historical, and contemporary examples of God calling people to new forms of service at later stages of life, service that goes far beyond what their lives up to that point might have suggested. In Wesleyan terms, God's grace is never done with us. And that is good news indeed.

Friday, October 23, 2020

UM & Global Collection: Church Autonomy and the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS)

The previous UM & Global collection looked at the UMC as a global church. The newest collection of UM & Global articles on church autonomy and the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS) looks at the flip side of that coin: churches that were at one point connected to The United Methodist Church or its predecessors but have chosen to become independent, autonomous denominations. Many of these denominations have, however, chosen to remain affiliated with the UMC. Most of these changes came about in the late 1960s and early 1970s through the work of the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS), a General Conference-created body of The Methodist Church. This collection examines this history for the sake of drawing lessons for current mission practice, ecumenical relationships, and global polity conversations in the UMC.

The collection includes essays by Philip Wingeier-Rayo, Robert Harman, David W. Scott, Blair Trygstad Stowe, Daniel Bruno, and Kyle Tau, as well as documents from the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS), including writings by D. T. Niles. As always, discussion questions help connect these writings to pressing contemporary questions for United Methodist leaders, General Conference delegates, and students.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Gabriel Straka and Bishop Harald Rückert: The Salary System for Pastors of the Germany Central Conference

Today’s post is by Superintendent Gabriel Straka of the Commission for Finance and Labor Law of the Germany Central Conference and Bishop Harald Rückert, bishop responsible for the Germany Central Conference. It is the second in a series on missional appointments and pastoral payment models. See here for the series introduction.

Overview of the Salary System (by Gabriel Straka)
For the pastors of the Germany Central Conference of The United Methodist Church (the EmK—Evangelisch-methodistische Kirche), there is a uniform salary and pension system. Salary and pensions are regulated in the Book of Discipline of the EmK (the VLO – Verfassung, Lehre, und Ordnung der EmK) under Articles 911 and 912, as well as in special regulatory texts (VI.281 and VI.282).

In this system, all charges pay a levy to the three annual conferences, with which the conferences finance all costs of supra-regional work, including salary and pension costs. Pastors are therefore not paid by the local congregation but by the annual conference.

The salary of the pastors of the EmK in Germany consists of the basic salary, a rent-free parsonage or apartment, and, if necessary, a child supplement. The amount of the basic salary is determined annually by the Commission for Finance and Labor Law of the Central Conference, in which the three annual conferences work together, and agreed upon by the Central Conference Executive Committee. Since the annual conferences are financially autonomous, they can decide on deviations from the common pay scale, which they do in practice.

The basic salary increases over the course of the years of service. At the start of service, it is 88% of the amount reached after 21 years of service.  This means that pastors in Germany earn almost the same amount. The salary is paid regardless of the size or financial strength of the local congregation.

In addition to the basic salary, a Christmas allowance and, if necessary, a heating allowance are paid for all employees. There are also certain services for which an allowance is paid. Here, too, these allowances are borne by the annual conferences.

The pastor’s entire salary and also the value of the rent-free parsonage or apartment is taxed. Salaries and pensions are administered via a central accounting office for the whole of Germany.

Retired pastors receive a pension payment from the Church, the amount of which is also based on the current salary scale.

Advantages of the System (by Bishop Harald Rückert)
We experience the following advantages through our salary system:

• When it comes to new assignments for pastors, the question of salary plays no role, as our salary scale shows that everyone earns the same regardless of the location in which they are supposed to serve.

• Small congregations that face financial difficulties still have the chance to receive a pastor to help them start a new missionary endeavor. The cabinet can set missionary priorities regardless of salary issues.

• The system strengthens the idea that pastors are sent to a certain place by the church, or rather, the bishop.

• This means that pastors are more independent of the internal dynamics of their congregations, as they are not paid directly by them. This can make it easier for them to act as helpful counterparts to the congregation or to individual groups in the congregation, if necessary. They are at the same time always representatives of the whole Church.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Darryl W. Stephens: Considering the Dissolution of the UMC

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Darryl W. Stephens. Dr. Stephens is director of United Methodist studies at Lancaster Theological Seminary and a clergy member of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference. The post first appeared on the author's personal website, Ethics Considered. It is republished here with permission.

dis·so·lu·tion /ˌdisəˈlo͞oSH(ə)n/ noun. 1. the closing down or dismissal of an assembly, partnership, or official body.

In a previous post, I explored the possibility that General Conference might not ever meet again. I am not the first to raise this possibility. Indeed, more than a few other church leaders and scholars have called for the dissolution of The United Methodist Church (UMC). However, my discussion dissolution of the denomination differs in an important way from previous proposals: rather than construct and prescribe future connectional relationships through protocols and agreements, I believe new relationships can emerge organically if we allow them.

The possibility of new beginnings requires an end to what was. There are many reasons for the divisions currently tearing the UMC apart, not the least of which have to do with a white, US, imperialistic mindset. The denominational structure has become an obstacle to our ecclesiology, a hinderance rather than an enabler of connectional relationships.

I am not the first or the only one to reach this conclusion or something similar. In March 2017, Professor Mark Teasdale recommended “dissolving United Methodism as a denomination”—but he lost our ecclesiology by proposing every congregation become independent. More recently, Professor Tom Frank also advocated for terminating “a global denomination with common governance” in favor of “mov[ing] authority for ministry closer to where it is practiced”—albeit through a US denominational structure. My consideration of dissolution differs from Teasedale’s congregationalism and Frank’s US-denominationalism by suggesting the annual conference, “the basic body of the Church,” be the largest institutional entity.

Envisioning the dissolution of the UMC is not a call for ecclesial anarchy or the end of connectional relationships. Rather, this path forward can maintain the essence of what our clergy and laity recognize as the United Methodist way of being church. I am in agreement with Bishop Bob Farr, who declared, “It is time to find a way for The United Methodist Church to separate.” He suggested, along the lines of what I am discussing, “convert[ing] all [annual] conferences into affiliated autonomous conferences.” Likewise, Amy Valdez Barker, former top executive of the Connectional Table, argued for “a connection based on relationships” centered in the local congregation and annual conference. “General Conference is not a system that allows for conflicts to be resolved through relationships and, therefore, it needs to change,” she asserted.

Despite differences in strategy, each of these leaders recognizes the importance of subsidiarity—allowing decision-making to occur at a more local level of authority. We need to deal with divisive issues locally, face-to-face, and among those who live side-by-side. The denominational level is no longer (if it ever was) an effective place for deliberation, discernment, and decision-making.

Dissolution is not the same as schism or restructure. Dividing up the denominational spoils among competing caucuses through a negotiated “Protocol” would exacerbate United Methodist divisions, focusing on money and property rather than mission. Jeremy Smith described the differences in an informative post, “What does it mean to Dissolve The United Methodist Church?” Restructuring the denomination into affinity conferences through the Connectional Conference Plan, Bard-Jones Plan, or a similar negotiated arrangement would also fail us ecclesiologically, enshrining our differences over homosexuality into the very structure of our church. Furthermore, both schism and restructuring for the sake of US ecclesial politics would leave in place the inequities of central conference structures.

Dissolution of the UMC is not a last-ditch effort to “save” this denomination or to orchestrate its demise. Instead of euthanasia by Protocol, dissolution pulls the plug on artificial life support and allows a natural death. In doing so, we may find that the UMC, like the late Terri Schiavo, had ceased meaningful functioning and any chance of resuscitation long before we allowed death to occur. No hopeful covenant for unity can change the fact that church law, for nearly 50 years, has categorically denied the first principle of unity, that “we are all children of God.” Resurrection cannot occur prior to death. We must allow this denomination to die in order to experience rebirth as a Church.

Dissolution is an intentional means of allowing new relationships to form while being true to our ecclesiology. Getting back to basics by centering our connectionalism in the annual conference can renew United Methodism. Removing the denominational overlay could actually help foster more genuine connection between individuals, congregations, and conferences. We would have to give up the imperialistic features of our global connection and our ambition to become a “worldwide” denomination. Rather than relying on structural ties, annual conferences and congregations would have to do the hard work of building new relationships—this time truly recognizing our equal dignity and equality as children of God.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Recommended Viewing: Mission Beyond COVID-19 Webinar on COVID-19 and the Health of Communities

Video of the fifth and final episode of Global Ministries' monthly webinar series, "Mission Beyond COVID-19," which examines aspects of mission theology in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, is now available online. This webinar occurred last week, with Dr. David W. Scott facilitating a conversation with Tatenda Mujeni of Global Ministries, Dr. Tendai Manyeza of Kissy United Methodist Hospital, and Dr. Katelin Hansen of United Methodist Church & Community Development for All People on "COVID-19 and the Health of Communities." The video is just over a half hour.

Viewers who find this discussion interesting may also be interested in the upcoming All People Conference, Oct. 24-26, hosted by United Methodist Church & Community Development for All People of Columbus, OH. The theme of this year's conference is "Abundant Health for All." The conference will feature keynote speakers and workshops on topics related to health and asset-based approaches to mission and ministry. UM & Global blogmaster David Scott will present and host a discussion in a plenary session on Monday, Oct. 26. The conference can be attended virtually or in person. A paid registration is required for either option.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Pastoral Payment and Missional Appointments

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Mission Theologian at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

The Methodist tradition is distinct among streams of Protestantism in practicing ministerial appointment. Appointment means that bishops (in the UMC; other titles apply in other Methodist bodies), in consultation with others (the cabinet, ministers, and congregations), assign ministers to serve congregations. Both ministers and congregations get input in that process, but the ultimate decision of which ministers serve which churches is up to the bishop and her cabinet.

This appointive approach contrasts with a call system, which is employed by most Protestants with a primarily congregational polity (such as Baptists, UCCs, and Presbyterians), in which a congregational committee puts out a job posting for a minister, screens applicants, and ultimately decides whom to hire. There are modified call systems, such as those used by the Lutherans and Episcopalians, in which bishops help connect churches looking for ministers and ministers looking for churches. Nevertheless, in these modified call systems, congregations still make the final decisions about who to hire as a minister.

There are good and bad aspects of all these systems of matching pastors and congregations. One of the positives often touted about the Methodist appointment system is that it allows for a more “missional” approach to deploying ministers. In the words of the Indiana Conference:

“We believe that missional appointments will be strategic in attempts to match the characteristics of the congregation and community with the gifts and strengths of the pastor to maximize our fruitfulness in the transforming work of reaching people with the Gospel and leading them to become and live as disciples of Jesus. We will expect to be very intentional to pair our brightest and best pastors with churches that have demonstrated a high degree of readiness to make disciples.”

To ensure that pastoral gifts and ministry contexts match, the Book of Discipline (¶ 427) states, “Appointments shall take into account the unique needs of a charge, the community context, and also the gifts and evidence of God’s grace of a particular pastor.” The goal is for the church and ministry context to which a pastor is appointed to fit “with gifts, evidence of God’s grace, professional experience and expectations, and the family needs of the pastor” (BOD ¶ 428.5.a).

In the United States, there is one important criterion in pastoral appointments that is not explicitly spelled out on this list: finances. The BOD mentions the “financial condition” of a church as a sub-point on a list of relevant information about congregations (¶ 427.1.a), but that underscores the role of congregational finances in the appointive process.

In the United States, United Methodist clergy are predominantly paid by the congregation they serve. Health insurance, pensions, and other benefits are usually pooled through the annual conference or denomination, but take-home pay comes from the congregation. Most annual conferences have equitable compensation funds that can supplement the amount a congregation pays so that clergy are still paid the conference minimum salary. Equitable compensation funds, though, tend to be used in limited situations rather than as a main means of funding pastoral payrolls in US annual conferences.

Thus, because pastors are paid by congregations and because not all congregations can afford to pay their pastor the same amount, the cabinets of US annual conferences must take finances into consideration when making appointments. In general, pastors are not given pay cuts when they are assigned to new congregations. Thus, pastors are only assigned to congregations that can pay them as much or more than their last congregation.

This creates a career ladder system within the US apportionment system that introduces a variety of considerations other than missional fit when making apportionments. Cabinets must consider pastors’ previous salaries, churches’ ability to pay, and where pastors could go in future appointments. Pastors have a financial incentive to seek appointment to better-paying churches, since that will impact their income potentially for the rest of their careers. This also puts pastors in competition with one another, since the number of high-paying churches in any given annual conference is limited.

These additional factors limit cabinets’ abilities to make appointments based on purely missional reasons. If there is a church and ministry context that would fit very well with a particular pastor’s ministry skills, but that congregation can only pay the minimum salary, and the pastor currently makes more than minimum, it is highly unlikely that she/he would be appointed to that church, regardless of how well her/his gifts fit the missional opportunities present.

Moreover, while one of the benefits of the appointive system is that it ensures women and racial and ethnic minorities are given appointments, the congregational payment system can lead to compounding systemic discrimination against women and minorities in their income. If white men are given better churches early in their career, whether that is because of unconscious bias by congregations or cabinets, gendered assumptions about the need for men to be primary breadwinners, or because some churches “just aren’t ready for a woman/minority pastor,” that is a financial leg up that will continue to boost that white man’s earnings above those of his female and minority colleagues for the rest of his career.

Thus, the two main benefits of the appointive system—missional fit and ensuring the rights of women and minorities—are undermined by the congregational payment system used in the US church.

The congregational payment system, however, is not required. Nowhere is it prescribed in the Book of Discipline, nor is it the only option under US law. Indeed, several branches of United Methodism outside the United States have adopted a different system, in which the annual conference, episcopal area, or central conference pays all pastors out of a central pool of money. This centralized approach to paying pastors has the potential to overcome the problems outlined above with a congregational system of payment.

In the coming weeks, UM & Global will profile two examples of centralized systems of paying pastors: those used in Germany and in Zimbabwe. These two examples, which will be written up by the people running those systems, are offered up as model for the US church to learn from and to potentially consider for their own adoption.