Connecting Through Acts of Service
May 24 Connecting Through Acts of Service Acts 1:6-14 * Psalm 68 * 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
Last Saturday (the 16th), I was outside the church weeding, when I noticed a minivan pull up to the Blessing Box. Most folks who stop seem to grab something and go quickly, and I always keep my distance, afraid they might be embarrassed and will not come back if I do anything to make them even more uncomfortable. This woman stayed much longer than most. I could hear the clinking of cans and was sure that she was going to take everything. But after she left, I checked on the box and found that she had actually filled it. I did not recognize her, and of course didn’t get her story, but I am very thankful that in this tough time, someone performed a totally anonymous act of service, spreading kindness without setting any limits to whom might be helped. She came back today (the 23rd), too, to fill it again. Sometimes when times are difficult and uncertain, our shared struggles bring out the best in folks, and serves to increase our connections with others, even those we don’t know.
As people try to cope with the uncertainty of our time, and with many modes of de-stressing (gyms, family get-togethers, vacations, church, etc.) unavailable, unhealthy behaviors are on the rise, such as domestic violence and substance abuse. Liquor stores and cannabis retailers are doing a booming business, and prescriptions for antidepressants have increased almost 20% since March of this year. We all need positive ways to stay emotionally healthy and maintain a sense of purpose in a time when we may no longer be able to do what previously brought meaning to our lives. Finding new ways to help others and continuing to fulfill our commitments to financially support the efforts of our church and denomination and other service organizations will help us to remain hopeful, useful, and faithful.
Our model for service to others of course is Jesus, who came to serve all people in love and compassion, giving himself fully while active on earth right up to giving his life on behalf of the whole world. Our Gospel lesson today gives us insight into Jesus’ belief that he had completed his ministry faithfully and is ready for the final act of service, as he knows he is headed to the cross. John provides Jesus’ own words immediately before our Lord gathered his disciples and headed for the Garden of Gethsemane. Before we read the passage, we should note several important points. First, this is Jesus’ prayer to God, and so we must ask what kind of prayer it is. He doesn’t directly say so, but it seems to be a prayer of thanksgiving. God sent Jesus to this world with a task, and has helped Jesus get to this point, and will see him to the end, and then a new beginning. Jesus knows his death is coming, but also knows that it will give eternal life to all who belong to him. He glorifies God by completing these tasks given to him by God the Father in service to others.
Second, it is a prayer for his disciples, for protection and for unity. He prays that we will be one as he and the Father are one. If nothing else, remember that this is a prayer. That cannot be emphasized enough. It’s not just theology, not just a story, but a relationship shared in prayer, as the Son talks to the Father. Knowing that hardship is coming, Jesus prays, but not for himself. He prays in thankfulness that God has gotten him this far, and that God will be glorified through his own faithfulness and that of God’s children, as we seek to be faithful also. Our relationships with each other, our neighbors, and with God must be saturated with prayer. Certainly, it is good to pray for ourselves, but Jesus reminds us here to always be praying for others.
Our Gospel reading is John 17:1-11:
After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
Jesus has been faithful to the end, and in doing so glorifies God. He has given his life in service to God’s children, teaching them, feeding them, healing them, and providing victory over sin and death. Through his self-sacrifice, he has paved the road to salvation for all who choose to follow him. God in his grace invites us to respond to this glorious gift, and to change our lives accordingly. And so we too as faithful children seek to fulfill the tasks that God has given us, as we seek to share the Gospel in word and deed, loving others as God first loved us. We show God’s love to the world by serving those in need, helping all we can, in Christ’s holy name.
Our goal as God’s children is to glorify Him in all things, beginning with prayer and worship. We also offer up to Him our service to others as prayers that glorify Him. We enjoy those feelings we get when we help others, but we cannot forget that in helping others, we glorify God also. Serving others fulfills the mission we were sent here for. We, like Jesus, seek to fulfill the tasks God has assigned us, and want to leave this world knowing that we have been faithful.
As I have mentioned before, I have been helping to provide lunches through our school district. Most of us are not there because we are seeking to be “heroes”, we started just to keep busy. I for one cannot just sit around, I need to be doing something, moving, working, physically active. This is something many folks are not able to do right now, but it is something that boosts my emotional health. Seeing a kid smile and wave from their car as they pick up a meal makes my heart soar. We are not just providing food but hope and connection. As an organization, it helps to build good relationships with our community, as they see us out there trying to help. We are not just feeding kids, we are providing meals to anyone who needs it, even adults without kids. We are providing hope to those who are struggling right now. It may not be the finest cuisine available, but the sense of connection and service provided makes it a blessing for all involved. It gives us who serve hope too and a brief sense of normalcy as we seek to support and encourage each other.
We may not get to meet those we serve by providing a Blessing Box, but we still reap the rewards of knowing that we are serving others, perhaps those who for whatever reason are unwilling to go to the Food Bank. Perhaps all we are able to do right now is to write a check to support our church or other organizations, but that is a tremendous help for our chosen causes and can be a boost to our emotional health. Many folks right now are just fighting to survive and may not be able to help their own families let alone help others. They need our help. Our tithes and offerings given to the church not only help us to pay the bills, but to join together with other churches in providing global relief for hurting people. In doing so, we not only connect with others but with God, and connect to our God-given tasks and callings. In acts of service we find hope and connection as we provide hope and connection to others.
Here is an article explaining where our apportionment dollars go:
A Primer on United Methodist Apportionments by David W. Scott May 21, 2019
Today, we’re going to take a look at apportionments, the system by which The United Methodist Church funds many of its joint ministries.
The basic idea behind apportionments is that local congregations pool a portion of the money they collect to accomplish things that are either beyond their ability to do as individual congregations (run a seminary, for instance) or that can be done more effectively or efficiently together (develop resources on preventing harassment and abuse). Apportionments allow the church to produce goods and services funded by all for the benefit of all – collective goods.
Local congregations are requested to pay a certain dollar amount in apportionments that is determined by their annual conference. That amount is determined on the one hand by the budget of the annual conference, including the amount the remit to the general church, and on the other hand by the budget of the congregation and possibly its membership size (this varies by annual conference). Larger congregations with larger budgets are asked to pay more, on the principle that those with greater ability should contribute more.
Apportionments are often referred to as “church taxes.” This label comes from the fact that the government is the prime example of an organization that collects money from many individuals to produce goods that cannot be produced by any individual yet are for the benefit of all individuals.
Yet it’s worth pointing out that governments are not the only such organizations. Subscriptions services like Netflix do the same thing. No one family can produce “Orange Is the New Black” or “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” but by collecting money from all of their subscribers, Netflix as a whole is able to produce these collective goods. Moreover, Netflix determines the fees it charges, just as the government determines the tax rate. Thus, apportionments could just as fairly be called “United Methodist subscription fees” as they could “church taxes.”
The system of apportionments evolved in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Prior to apportionments, boards, agencies, and other collective ministries relied upon direct fundraising. The evolution of apportionments was driven by three overlapping desires: Boards and agencies wanted a more reliable source of income than the varying amounts they collected in fundraising. Local churches wanted a simpler approach to giving that the multiple appeals with which they were bombarded. And General Conference wanted more control over the boards and agencies. The apportionment system achieved all of these goals simultaneously.
As it stands today, the apportionment system in The United Methodist Church has several levels that reflect the broader polity levels of the church: In the US, there are apportionments paid that go to support the work of the district, the annual conference, the jurisdiction, and the general church.
Despite the frequent focus on general church apportionments in the UMC, the majority of apportionments actually go to the annual conference. For every dollar United Methodists in the US give to the church, only $0.02 goes to general church apportionments, whereas $0.07 goes to district, annual conference, and jurisdictional apportionments, mostly to the annual conference.
Within general church apportionments, there are seven different funds:
- The World Service Fund, which pays for the work of those general boards and agencies funded through apportionments, the work of the Connectional Table, and special ministries such as the Central Conferences Theological Education Fund. Just over half of general church apportionments go to the World Service Fund.
- The Episcopal Fund, which pays for episcopal salaries, housing, and travel costs for all bishops throughout the world. About 1/6 of general church apportionments go to the Episcopal Fund.
- The Ministerial Education Fund, which supports the work of the 13 official United Methodist seminaries in the US. About 1/8 of general church apportionments go to the Ministerial Education Fund.
- The Black College Fund, which supports the work of the 11 historically black colleges and universities in the US affiliated with the UMC. About 7 percent of general church apportionments go to the Black College Fund.
- The General Administration Fund, which supports the work of the General Council on Finance and Administration and the General Commission on Archives and History, covers the costs associated with planning and holding General Conference, and covers the costs of the work of the Judicial Council. About 6 percent of general church apportionments go to the General Administration Fund.
- The Interdenominational Cooperation Fund, which supports the work of the Office of Christian Unity and Interreligious Cooperation. Less than 2 precent of general church apportionments go to the Interdenominational Cooperation Fund.
- The Africa University Fund, which supports the work of Africa University. Less than 2% of general church apportionments go to the Africa University Fund.
Giving from churches in the United States supplies the vast majority of general church apportionment funds – over 90 perecent. Churches in Europe have long given voluntarily to support some general church funds. General Conference 2016 approved the collection of apportionments from churches in all the Central Conferences to support the Episcopal Fund and the General Administration Fund. European churches continue to pay at a level in excess of that requested of them.
Currently, the system of apportionments is facing two major developments that could significantly curtail the amount of money collected through the apportionments system. First, the GCFA board of directors has proposed a significant cut in the amount of general church apportionments requested from US churches. Last August they proposed an 18% reduction. Since annual conferences and not local congregations determine how apportionments are collected, annual conferences will ultimately determine how much of that reduction is passed on to local churches. Again, general church apportionments are only a quarter of the total apportionments collected.
The Connectional Table has worked with the GCFA board of directors to determine how that 18% overall reduction for general church apportionments would translate to various specific funds. The CT controls the World Service Fund, Ministerial Education Fund, Black College Fund, Interdenominational Cooperation Fund, and Africa University Fund. GCFA controls the Episcopal Fund and the General Administration Fund. A full report of the CT’s recommendations can be found here.
The recommended budget from GCFA and CT needs to be approved by General Conference 2020 before it can go into effect. It is possible the GC would increase general church apportionments from the level proposed, but significant reductions are likely.
The other factor which will likely impact apportionment giving at all levels – district, annual conference, jurisdiction, and general church – is the conflict over the Traditional Plan and the uncertainty about the future of the denomination. Some local congregations are withholding all apportionments in protest of the Traditional Plan’s passage. Some annual conferences are working out system to pay only portions of the general church apportionments. Moreover, a division of the church, which seems increasingly likely, will reduce the amount of apportionments further.
David W. Scott
UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott serves as 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. This post is republished with permission from UM & Global, the collaborative blog of United Methodist Professors of Mission.