By Jessica Connor
From giving buckets and fall festivals to barbecue dinners and bread covers, United Methodist churches across South Carolina are coming up with unique and sometimes unusual ways to fund their apportionments.
Perhaps their efforts are paying off.
As of Sept. 30, apportionment payments are up compared to this time last year and the year before, with churches paying 52.8 percent. That is 2.5 percent more than the 50.3 percent the S.C. Conference received this time last year and 1.8 percent more than the 51 percent in 2009.
In dollars, the conference has received $9.53 million in apportionments as of Sept. 30, said Conference Treasurer Tony Prestipino. Last year at this time, the conference was at $8.8 million.
That s a pretty big jump, and it s nice to see, Prestipino said. We haven t figured out the exact cause, but we re just thankful we re seeing it.
Prestipino projects the conference will bring in 85 percent of apportionments this year, an increase; churches paid 83 percent in 2009 and 2010.
The increase might be attributed to less need for natural disaster money (2010 books show $625,000 earmarked for Haiti relief, compared to just $5,000 this year). However, Prestipino said a number of factors are also boosting apportionment payments: church cost-cutting, stewardship campaigns, an improving economy and creative apportionment fundraising.
Midland Park UMC, North Charleston, is one church that is trying new ways to pay their apportionments.
Senior pastor the Rev. Len Ripley said Midland Park has already paid 100 percent of their 2011 apportionments “ the first time they have done so in at least 25 years.
Ripley said Midland Park initiated a project spearheaded by late church member Frank Fuller that raised more than $15,000 in five weeks (more than $22,000 total) through a barbecue fundraising dinner and by asking each family to give $400 in addition to their regular giving.
I named the project The Extra Mile, Ripley said. It was exactly that!
Ripley also attempted to put human needs and faces on the line items in his sermons, and he sought advice from Columbia District Superintendent Dr. Tim McClendon about how McClendon was able to achieve 100 percent giving as a pastor and as a DS.
Buckets and festivals
Some churches are relying on events and items to help raise funds.
The Rev. Stephen Gaither, pastor of India Hook UMC, Rock Hill, said his congregation set up a bucket in the narthex labeled, It s Just a Drop in the Bucket. They encourage people to put their pocket change in the bucket to help pay apportionments. While he realizes it takes a lot more than pocket change to be good stewards, it reinforces the giving mentality that helps them meet their 100 percent apportionment goals.
It helps them think about apportionments every Sunday as they come into and out of worship, Gaither said. Every ˜drop comes together to help accomplish the goal of paying 100 percent apportionments. ¦ It reminds the congregation that we all must come together and do our part to enhance the Kingdom of God.
Cattle Creek UMC, Rowesville, hosts a November craft fair to pay their apportionments each year. The Rev. Curtis Felkel said the event helps the 57-member church come together in fellowship and hard work to pay 100 percent of their apportionments, plus make their annual budget.
Through paying our apportionments, we are making disciples for Jesus Christ abroad and locally, Felkel said of their drive to raise the needed funds.
In that same vein, Aldersgate UMC, Sumter, is planning a November food fair and holiday market to pay their apportionments.
We are concerned about not being able to meet our apportionments this year, and we feel that it is our responsibility to make every effort to pay them, said Lynn Boan, Aldersgate program director.
St. James UMC, Spartanburg, holds an annual fall festival with all proceeds going to apportionments. This year, they raised $14,000 through the festival s yard sale, bake sale, barbecue sale, plant sale and more. They sell Tabgha bread covers, plus they hold two Wednesday night meals a month with proceeds going to apportionments.
Many in our congregation realize that as a connectional church, we are part of ministering in lives and places we will never personally visit, said the Rev. Will Malambri. We like knowing that the UMC is present at Epworth Children s Home, in our colleges, at the Bethlehem Center, in disaster areas, in small towns, in urban areas, in countries around the world, and that we can be part of that. ... We want to do our part to help inaugurate the Kingdom of God as a local church and as a larger denomination.
The direct ask
Other churches are raising funds far more simply: by asking directly.
Fosters Chapel UMC, Jonesville, has met apportionments the last 10 years and has surplus money in their general account merely by explaining their plight and doing a direct fundraising appeal.
J.D. Bright, Fosters Chapel lay leader, said they used to be a down-and-out church struggling to pay their bills and never paying their full apportionments. Their finance committee decided to send letters to every household explaining that the church was in financial trouble and asking them to support the church with their tithes, offerings and presence.
A lot of people won t do this because they are afraid they might offend somebody, but we decided we would remind them of the vows they took when they joined the church, not only to the congregation but to God “ to support the church with their presence, tithes, money and prayers, Bright said. If you let them know what s going on and what s needed, they might respond.
They also give members a full financial accounting every two months so everyone knows where every penny is spent, which Bright said makes a huge difference.
Similarly, Allen Chapel UMC, Spartanburg “ facing a dwindling congregation, dying members and rough times because of layoffs and the economy “ decided to divide their church into 10 giving groups. They asked each group to report $100 every fourth Sunday of the month, beginning in February and ending in November with the church anniversary. That would give them $1,000 extra every month so they can pay their apportionments 100 percent.
Annie Crocker said the program has been working fairly well.
We have yet to collect the full $1,000 (each month), but we have reached $971, she said. It is a good way to get the apportionments paid, and there is little financial strain on any of us. Several groups have paid faithfully the full amount and more each month.
Good stewardship at heart of it all
No matter how they are able to make their apportionments, Prestipino said he is encouraged that so many churches have identified connectional giving and good stewardship as a priority.
Prestipino said he particularly appreciates how churches engage in fall festivals and other events, which not only raise funds, but also bring church members together to connect with their community.
I don t want us to miss out on the unity and fellowship that comes with working toward a goal like a successful fall festival, he said. More
than 116 different people contributed to make the fall festival happen, and those days are some of the best we have to build relationships.