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Grateful for our union benefits

Hands in a circle

In this op-ed, retired pastor Glenn M. Wagner shares from his four decades of pastoral experience significant benefits of the “United” in our UMC.

Retired pastor, Michigan Conference

Conflicts leading to division can be costly. I believe a United Methodist denomination committed to sharing the transformational love of Jesus is worthy of our support. Consider with me some of the significant benefits of our union.

We are a Christian denomination with a global reach. The United States alone has nearly 6.5 million members and over 30,000 congregations. Another 6.5 million United Methodists are part of congregations in Europe, Asia, and Africa. One hundred and forty-four thousand Methodists belong to congregations in Brazil.

I credit the late Rev. Charles Chakour for introducing me to the personal benefits of our connectional ministry. Chakour, an ordained United Methodist pastor, was also for 19 years the chief financial officer for the Northern Illinois Conference, where I served in pastoral ministry from 1979 before transferring to Michigan in 1992.

I remember the way his ministry faithfully reflected the servant love of Jesus. Chakour did far more than pay the bills and balance the budget for the conference. He was also a gifted storyteller and a committed evangelist. On most Sundays and frequently during the week, Chakour traveled across the northern third of Illinois to share the good news of Jesus’ love in church services and many other gatherings of the faithful.

From his unique post, Chakour told the stories of where our connectional offerings and apportionment dollars were making a difference in the real lives of people. He transformed balance sheets into eyewitness reporting on God’s love in action through our shared generosity. For example, he told of an orphan who suffered from polio and abandonment by his birth parents. He then thrived thanks to the medical attention, physical therapy, and loving support he received at a United Methodist children’s home. This home was an annual beneficiary of the connectional conference budget.

Chakour reminded us that when we are faithful in supporting conference apportionments (called Ministry Shares now in Michigan), we are not simply paying bills. We are spreading the love of Jesus and transforming lives more effectively than any person or church can do alone.

After Chakour’s visits, conversations in our church finance committee meetings inevitably changed. I recall pre-Chakour finance committee conversations about postponing or skipping connectional responsibilities when trying to stretch church offerings to cover pressing local church expenses. The church finance team members knew all too well the consequences of failure to pay utilities, staff salaries, and church building maintenance. With a new awareness of the spiritual reach of connectional ministry, finance teams found new ways to share the good news, inspire new giving, and extend effective ministry.

Thanks, in great measure, to Chakour’s influence on churches I served in Northern Illinois and on me during my ministry in Michigan, four decades’ worth of congregations I served were able to pay their apportionments in full. This task was not easy, but it was always a priority. Supporting connectional giving is not just paying another bill; it is part of the vital local and global witness for the love and grace of Jesus.

Thankfully, Charles Chakour has not been the only inspirational witness for connectional giving in my life. For example, in one Michigan United Methodist church I was privileged to serve, a local recipient of our conference Ministry Share dollars was a food ministry hosted by an inner-city United Methodist congregation. This ministry served a nutritious meal five nights a week to a hall full of diverse persons, including women, children, immigrants, the unemployed, the disabled, and the homeless in one of the city’s most economically depressed neighborhoods.

The life-sustaining ministry was staffed by volunteers from over 20 area congregations and a local synagogue. Members of our church volunteered to serve the meal two nights a month. The food ministry changed lives for donors and recipients. The husband-and-wife volunteer directors who prayerfully led the food preparation and service teams gave forty hours in their retirement each week to keep the doors open with hospitality and grace.

One year, our conference budget had to be reduced due to a financial shortage in Ministry Shares. This resulted in a corresponding reduction in distribution to ministry partners. It pained me because it adversely impacted friends who were doing God’s work with the most vulnerable in our community. I resolved to strengthen my commitment to our connectional ministry.

A minority of our United Methodist churches (about 8%) are currently in the process of disaffiliating from our denomination. Wherever you stand personally or as a congregation, if you are wrestling with issues of leaving or staying United Methodist, please consider the following union benefits that will be diminished should you opt for departure.

We share a rich heritage of Methodism from John Wesley. Wesley sought to glorify God in every aspect of his life and invited others to join him. Wesley organized the Methodist movement for connectional ministry and advocated for unity among Methodists.

The local and global witness of our United Methodist Church is blessed by the missionary and leadership development efforts of United Women in Faith and United Methodist Men.

Collectively, United Methodists share a network of 13 United Methodist seminaries that help provide theological education to the majority of our candidates for ordination and most of our licensed local pastors. Connectional dollars provide critical scholarship and operating funds for these ministry-enhancing institutions. Will another denominational affiliation for your church be making a similar investment in training future pastors for your local church?

Our Michigan Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, composed of leading pastors and laity, provides an essential service of discernment through extensive testing, interviewing, background checks, and in-person examination of ministry candidates prior to their ordination. This tested process of determining fitness for ministry helps prevent unsuitable applicants from being entrusted with leadership responsibilities in the church. The Board of Ordained Ministry also awards grants to qualifying pastoral applicants of up to $1,500 every four years to assist with costs for continuing education experiences to enhance ministry.

Thanks to Ministry Share dollars, superintendents provide important leadership for pastoral ministry. Our connectional system of pastoral appointments allows for smooth pastoral leadership change so congregational leaders can focus their time and attention on important local ministry concerns. Other conference staff members help coordinate our connectional church resources for important ministries like planting new churches, offering local church leadership training, and resourcing local churches for children and youth ministries.

Our denomination maintains a vital connection with 107 affiliated schools, colleges, and universities, including 11 historic black colleges and universities. In Michigan, both Adrian and Albion are United Methodist-affiliated colleges. In Michigan, we also provide important support for eight Wesley Foundation campus ministries. These schools and campus ministries are vital in growing leadership for our Michigan United Methodist churches.

The Michigan Conference has six affiliated Christian camps that provide meaningful Christian camping and retreat experiences. Many of our pastors first experienced a life-changing call to serve Christ while attending church camp. In addition, our camps provide faith-enhancing experiences in Christian community for children, youth, adults, and families. Learn more about Michigan Area United Methodist Camping, Lake Louise Camp, and Camp Michigamme.

Cokesbury and Abingdon Press, the retail and publishing arms of our United Methodist Publishing House, make available for purchase outstanding material for Bible studies, small groups, church ministries, and Christian education for all ages.

The Michigan Conference, through our EngageMI program, has partnered with life-changing affiliated missionaries and ministries in Michigan and around the world. Read some of these mission stories and pause to thank God in prayer for these amazing ministries of faithfulness.

The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society maintains an important presence in Washington, D.C., and at the United Nations headquarters in New York. It advocates on behalf of God’s people in these places of national and international decision making, and it keeps us connected and informed for our local witness on issues relating to poverty, climate, health, peace, and civil and human rights. Our Ministry Shares support this work.

The health and welfare ministries of The United Methodist Church serve more than 32 million people in 1,555 locations across the United States and provide more than $2 billion in charity care annually. These health and welfare ministries include 52 United Methodist hospitals and other health care facilities, 152 ministries for older adults, 16 ministries for persons with disabilities, and 63 organizations providing children, youth, and family services.

UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, is a global blessing. It is continuously engaged on our behalf in providing effective ministries of relief in places of disaster around the world, including support in Michigan following recent tornadoes and flooding. Early in my ministry in Northern Illinois, we had the privilege of hosting Rev. Harry Haines while he spoke at area congregations about UMCOR. From 1966-1983, Haines was the director of UMCOR following his service as a missionary for 21 years in China and Malaysia. Haines was continually traveling the world on behalf of UMCOR, coordinating disaster response at the point of need and then traveling to share the needs to supporting churches. My enduring memory of his visit was that Haines traveled with only a small overnight bag and wore the same clothes for his three-day stay with us. When asked about his lack of wardrobe, Haines replied, “People we help often have no homes, even fewer clothes, and don’t know where their next meals will come from. How can I be worried about having more clothes than I need?” Harry Haines’ brief stay in our home inspired my continuing commitment to UMCOR’s life-saving ministry.

Wespath, the United Methodist pension program, is one of the largest faith-based pension funds in the world. Wespath manages over 24 billion dollars in retirement and health care funds on behalf of over 100,000 current and retired United Methodist clergy and lay employees. Because the funds are invested in keeping with United Methodist Social Principles, the church is giving financial witness to Christian priorities while providing for health and retirement needs.

The United Methodist Foundation of Michigan is another excellent resource available to United Methodists due to our denominational affiliation. Their staff helped our family with college tuition financial advice, assisted our congregations with setting up and managing ministry-enhancing endowments, and helped a church weather the financial crisis of a failed boiler in midwinter. Talented and gifted staff teach seminars on church finances at churchwide events.

When considering the valuable benefits of belonging to the worldwide connectional United Methodist ministry for Jesus, we should also remember the sacrament of baptism. Each of the baptisms I have been privileged to officiate has taken place in the company of others from the faith community. Baptism is not intended to be a solitary experience. Baptism is being welcomed into the greater body of Christ and an affirmation of God’s amazing love and grace for all. A great blessing of baptism is that the covenant community we are all a part of is not just the size of a nuclear family, a local church, or a fledgling start-up offshoot organization but an established worldwide movement of God’s love in Jesus. We are better witnesses for Christ’s love serving in covenant promise together than we will ever be apart.

Last Updated on December 8, 2023

The Michigan Conference