Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology 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 Sierra Leone Annual Conference held its annual meeting a month ago. At the meeting, Bishop John Yambasu declared he wants churches in Sierra Leone to pay their apportionments so that the annual conference is less dependent on American (and German) money. You can read three slightly different versions of this story, all from Phileas Jusu, from the West African Writers blog, from UMNS, and from the Annual Conference report.
Annual conferences which are part of the Central Conferences, like Sierra Leone, are being asked to contribute to global apportionments for the first time this quadrennium. Bishop Yambasu mentioned this new factor in the church's finances, but the majority of apportionment dollars will stay in the Sierra Leone Annual Conference and support its work. Yambasu stressed the importance of this money for the annual conference as well as its global obligations.
This story is significant for several reasons:
1. Yambasu explicitly tied his instructions to a possible split in the UMC.
As the first line of the UMNS story reads, "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."
First, it's significant to see a bishop being this blunt about the possible future of the denomination in an annual conference meeting.
Second, while it's easy to read the debate over homosexuality as a US-centric issue and identify the ways in which Americans are strategizing for a possible post-split future, it is important to remember that Americans are not the only ones doing so. Planning by those outside the US means that Americans will not control all of the outcomes, should a split occur.
2. Yambasu means business about collecting apportionments.
Current annual conference policy stipulates "only pastors who pay their apportionments in full shall receive salaries at the end of the month. Further, only congregations who pay their apportionments in full will have their pastors and members considered for election as delegates to Central, General and other international conferences ... Bishop’s cabinet has also agreed that district superintendents who fail to pay full apportionments for the year will be moved and replaced" (from the West African Writers piece). Yambasu intends to start enforcing this policy and has already withheld salaries from November and December of last year for pastors who did not collect and turn over apportionments.
While not paying pastors and firing district superintendents might seem severe penalties to United Methodists used to their regular incomes, these consequences are clear signs that Yambasu is very serious about collecting apportionments and will use whatever leverage he has to do so. This shift is not about beginning to think about starting to collect apportionments. This shift is about producing immediate results.
3. Sierra Leone isn't the only annual conference outside the US moving away from dependency.
As this blog has previously noted, the Liberia Annual Conference is also taking steps to achieve financial independence, and that was before General Conference 2016. The savvy leaders of the UMC in West Africa know that greater financial self-sufficiency increases their leverage in negotiations regarding the future of the UMC. Furthermore, whatever comes with regard to the future of the UMC, it will increase their self-determination and further their ministry.