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.
Over the past two months, I have done a series of posts on the amount of US financial support for central conferences, central conference internal giving, and the impact of American money on the future of The United Methodist Church as a global denomination. It has been my main intention to provide facts and context for the difficult conversations that are taking place about the future of the UMC as an international body.
One area I did not explore in that series was the money that European United Methodists – primarily those from Germany, Switzerland, and Norway – give to mission and other ministries in other central conferences. Yet those figures are relatively easy to gather, so this post will do that, along with suggesting some comparisons between various funding figures and what these funding relationships mean for discussions of the future of the denomination.
First, to the amount given by Europeans. I’ll look at each of the three European mission boards, starting with Connexio, the mission board of Swiss United Methodists. Connexio has a useful annual report which details how much it spends in various geographic areas. In 2018, that amounted to 921,156 Swiss Francs in Eastern Europe and 407,756 CHF in Africa, mostly in the DRC. The total is thus 1,328,912 CHF, which converts to about $1,360,000 USD in 2018 to the central conferences. It should be noted that Connexio also gives to the UMC’s Cambodia mission and mission work in other countries not part of the UMC central conferences.
Germany’s EmK Weltmission has a project list for each of the countries in which it works, with 2019 commitments of support for each project. It is not entirely clear whether these figures represent firm commitments or fundraising goals; nevertheless, they provide an indicator of support in lieu of an easily-procured financial statement. For work in Eastern Europe, Weltmission has committed 58,000 Euros in 2019. For work in Africa, it has committed €603,900. Thus, the total to UMC central conferences is €661,900, or about $740,000 USD. As with Connexio, Weltmission supports additional mission work in countries other than the UMC central conferences.
Norway’s Misjonsselskap has work in four countries: Liberia, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, and Lithuania. According to the yearly audit submitted to this year’s Annual Conference, Misjonsselskapet spent 10,852,086 Norwegian Kroner on projects in 2018, about 80% of which was underwritten by government support. That works out to about $1,220,000 USD. The report does not make clear the division between Lithuania and the three African countries, but it is clear from Misjonsskelskapet’s website that the vast majority of the support goes to Africa.
Adding the three totals together, one gets about $3,320,000 USD yearly in support for the central conferences from the three European United Methodist mission societies. As both the Germany and Norwegian mission agency sites make clear, individuals and congregations give additional funds directly to partners in the central conferences, but this $3.3 million is the total through the mission boards.
On the one hand, this $3 .3 million is less than a tenth of the approximately $40 million that flows from the US-dominated boards, agencies, and apportionment funds.
On the other hand, this $3.3 million yearly is over ten times as much as the WCA fund for “threatened global ministries” in the central conferences.
The comparison with the WCA fund is particularly informative. Certainly, the official WCA fund does not represent all giving by WCA-affiliated individuals and congregations, which is undoubtedly much larger. Neither do the European figures, as noted. Even if we attribute 5% of US direct congregational and individual giving to the central conferences to WCA-related individuals (who make up about 1-2% of membership, so this is a very generous estimate), total WCA giving (which might then be $2.3 million) would still likely be less than half of what is given by European United Methodists by mission societies, individuals, and congregations (which might be as high as $6 million, assuming individual and congregational giving equals non-government supported mission society giving, as in the US).
My point here is not that Europeans should get more influence in the denomination than the WCA because they give more to the central conferences. I think it is dangerous to directly equate money with voice in shaping the church. Such an approach privileges the rich at the expense of the poor, and thus this principle would serve African United Methodists poorly, although they certainly have voices worth listening to.
The conclusion I would like to draw instead is the difficulty in re-creating or simply patching the existing on-going financial relationships that currently exist through The United Methodist Church. The WCA’s offer to save endangered central conference ministries may sound great, but it is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of money funneled through official channels, certainly from the US, but even from Europe. Moreover, there is no indication that the WCA’s fund will include $300,000 every year. All descriptions thus far have made this fund seem like a one-time collection.
It is clear that financial relationships in The United Methodist Church will need to change both as a result of the internal tensions that will reshape the entire church and as a result of changing membership demographics. But to do so in a way that avoids harm as much as possible, we as a denomination must be willing to discuss those changes in a clear-eyed way based upon realistic assessment of the size of the financial commitments that are at risk. To do anything else would be dishonest and a disservice to the poorest and most vulnerable with whom we are in mission.