By Brant Mills
As of December 31, 2023 there were 214 TAC congregations from rural, suburban and urban settings who paid their apportionments in full. Four of the nine districts paid 100% of their apportionments. See the full list. The Texas Annual Conference thanks you for your faithfulness and your stewardship.
As report day was wrapping up this year, it was apparent that a few churches in the new Northwest District wouldn’t quite be able to make it across the finish line to pay all of their apportionments. But having freshly merged with the former West District, they had added the benefit of the West’s shared partnership program to the Northwest’s already strong track record of faithfulness in connectional giving.
Rev. Kip Gilts, the District Superintendent of the new Northwest District, was once one of the pastors in the West District and says he knew well of the culture of connectional support that existed. “Every year that I served as pastor of A&M UMC, either I would call, or my lay leader would call and ask what the needs were. I cannot recall a single year that we did not respond at some level to buoy a fellow UMC, and it was one of the easiest ‘yes’s’ that I would receive from my leaders. I cannot recall a time when the same church needed to be supported two years in a row.”
The day after report day, having identified seven churches that weren’t quite going to meet their goals, Rev. Gilts sent out an appeal from the district office asking others to help. It read in part:
“We have an opportunity to Strengthen the Connection. If your congregation or you as a pastor are willing and able to participate in today’s “Strengthening the Connection” effort, please email me the amount you and/or your congregation will commit to giving this month.”
Dr. Don House, Lay Leader at A&M UMC in College Station, saw the appeal go out and stepped up to help. He acknowledged the history of the district and spoke about the historical commitment going back even further to the old Bryan District. House said that covenant was established within the district to uphold the commitment for churches to raise funds to cover deficits when necessary.
“When some churches couldn’t make it, there was a call to raise the monies to make up that deficit. What we saw as a result of that culture – after many years, a church didn’t want to fail. When a church didn’t make their apportionments, it was very unlikely that they would fail again because they wouldn’t want other churches to pay for them,” House noted. “Our connection is critically important and is unique to the United Methodist Church. Other denominations don’t have such a strong connection as we do, and that enables ministry all over the world and mission at every level of the church.”
One of the respondents to the district appeal was St. Matthew UMC in Jacksonville. Gilts described St. Matthew as a new faith community that is not yet chartered, but it is full of United Methodists. “When they heard of the need and the appeal they quickly met. It’s a small membership church so the pastor was thinking they would only be able to support in a minimal way.” Their pastor, Rev. Bonnie Osteen initially thought they could maybe get together $500 to help out. “I was delighted and surprised that they determined to give $5,000 toward helping other churches become fully participating partners!” Gilts said.
After hearing about their generosity, others decided they could give even more than they already had. Rev. Vickie Simons at Somerville UMC credits the leadership of Rev. Gilts for initiating the appeal and was initially inspired to make a modest contribution to be a part of the effort. But after hearing about the commitment of St. Matthew, she said she felt compelled to increase her own contribution, and knows of others who did the same. “Here’s a church that’s so committed, their gift ended up rallying the community!”
Step Griffin, a member of the Conference Leadership Team and a member at Fairwood UMC in Tyler agreed, saying “the response from St. Matthew was phenomenal. That was a faith response that showed the love and the connection within our conference and our district!”
Griffin said our current context led to many realizing that with fewer opportunities for large churches to help out, she feels like the response was a grassroots response. “People said ‘ok our brothers and sisters are struggling right now during this time and we just need to come together and give what we can.’ I saw there were some large donations, but there were a lot of us that just gave what we had – small amounts. But every little drop in that bucket helped.”
The churches that were offered support were grateful as well. Rev. Adam Muckleroy expressed gratitude for those who stepped up following the appeal. His church, Canton First UMC, was one of the churches that needed a little help. As one of the few UMC churches remaining in his county he said their ministry is important to their community as an expression of United Methodist ministry. Despite their dedication and efforts, they found themselves approximately $2000 short on their apportionments. Following the appeal, they were offered a gift to pay off their apportionments in full.
Overall, seven churches needed some assistance. Within hours, all but two of those churches were sponsored and their apportionments were paid in full. By the next morning, Gilts felt confident in sponsoring the remaining two churches as commitments continued to be made.
“It is a powerful thing to send an email to the pastor of a church who has been doing all they can to bounce back (after two plus years of the COVID-19 pandemic and our denominational turmoil) with the email titled PAID IN FULL.” Gilts said. “I get to share with them that through the generosity of fellow United Methodists in the district who gladly claim their role as co-laborers, their outstanding balance on all 2023 apportionments have been paid.”
“This is kingdom investment,” he continued. “That I have witnessed having a tremendous return on investment with an encouraged church, a spirit of generosity, and a strengthened sense of connectionalism… The level of generosity and that sense of connectionalism made a desire a reality as the New Northwest District begins its tenure in the Texas Annual Conference as a 100% district, with all 65 churches PAID IN FULL.”