History of Apportionments

posted on April 01

by Rev. Fred Jordan

This article was first published in the April 2023 issue of the First UMC (Salisbury) newsletter, Ecclesia. It is offered here, as will follow up articles, for the edification of others across the Uwharrie District. Rev. Jordan is a retired Elder, former District Superintendent, and adjunct faculty member at Hood Theological Seminary.

Methodism began in Britain and in the American Colonies as an 18th century spiritual renewal movement within the Church of England. The Revolutionary War changed that. Most Episcopal priests either returned to England or moved to Canada after the war. In their absence, Methodist lay preachers could not baptize or celebrate Holy Communion. John Wesley, the father of Methodism, strongly believed in sacramental ministry. He reluctantly approved establishing a Methodist church in America. At Christmas in 1784, Methodist lay preachers met in Baltimore, Maryland, and created the Methodist Episcopal Church.

That Christmas conference identified several joint mission projects. First, there were few educational opportunities on the American frontier. The conference approved establishing a college for young men. They named it Cokesbury in honor of their first bishops: Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury. A second mission involved the newly ordained clergy. Some superannuated (retired) at that conference. These “worn out” preachers had no pension and needed financial support. Thomas Coke soon left America and the burden for raising money fell on Asbury. He referred to himself as a bishop and a beggar.

Over the next two centuries, laity joined the clergy in equal numbers as voting members at all conferences. Circuit riders and camp meetings swelled church membership rolls. Methodists became the dominant American Protestant denomination by mid-1850. Yet in spite of numerical growth, the need for financial support of conference approved ministries remained constant.

The Methodist Episcopal Church and its successor denominations attempted to develop fair and equitable ways for local congregations to support the general church budget. They tried multiple formulas. Some annual conferences based apportionment giving on local church membership. That had a negative impact on evangelism. Another formula was based on each local church’s total budget. That placed an unfair burden on churches engaged in major building projects or significant mission outreach programs.

Fortunately, Methodists excelled at record keeping. Francis Asbury established a nationwide network of class leaders, circuit stewards, book stewards, exhorters, local preachers, circuit riders, and presiding elders. They conducted quarterly meetings, annual conferences, and a quadrennial general conference. Each entity produced detailed statistical reports. The general church kept and published them all. It is these reports that still provide the data for our modern apportionment system.

Each pastor annually submits to the annual conference an account of all local disbursements. These reports are published in the Conference Journal. The amounts are divided into categories such as salaries, operating expense, programs, debt retirement, mission outreach, and apportionments paid. The current apportionment formula for the conference budget is based only on the expenses all churches share in common. These include salaries and benefits, church programs, and basic overhead expenses like utilities. Outreach missions and major building projects are excluded from this formula.

Our conference budget is approved by the elected lay delegates from every pastoral charge and the clergy conference members. For 2023, the Western North Carolina Conference budget is 15.5 million or 10% less than the 2022 budget. Every church, big or small, pays the same decimal formula or percentage of that amount based on its three-year rolling average of core line-item expenses. Every congregation has voice and vote in approving the ministries we do together. Each congregation pays its fair share of the expense. Through the apportionment, we are united both in name and in our common mission to the world.