First, let’s admit that there are some pretty significant concerns on the radar of the United Methodist Church right now. Some would say these changes that came out of General Conference 2016 would hardly cause a blip on that radar by comparison. Yet for those involved in local church finances and property stewardship, these are changes that will be significant.

One of these is mainly directed toward the trustees, but it certainly could have an impact on finance committees, especially in churches that have not been vigilant in maintaining adequate coverage levels. Thanks to passage of petition 60158 (Adequate Insurance Coverage), ¶ 2533.2 in The 2016 Book of Discipline will now read as follows:

The board of trustees shall annually compare the existence and adequacy of the church’s insurance coverage to an insurance schedule annually published by the General Council on Finance and Administration. The purpose of this review is to ensure that the church, its properties, and its personnel are properly protected against risks. The board shall include in its report to the charge conference (¶ 2550.7) the results of its review and recommendations needed to timely bring the church into compliance with the published schedule.

For churches that have realized the importance of keeping their coverage up-to-date, this should not be traumatic, and the annual published schedule should make it easier to gauge whether church property is under- or over-insured.

The second change comes on a subject that has been a source of debate in churches for years; and up to this point, the Book of Discipline has not offered direction on either side of the debate. What was this controversial question?

“Should pastors have access to the records of the giving of members?”

The General Conference adopted Petition 60640 (Financial Accountability) as it was presented, which adds to the responsibility of local church pastors as described in ¶ 340.2.c.(2)(c), which will now read:

(c) To provide leadership for the funding ministry of the congregation. To ensure membership care including compliance with charitable giving documentation requirements and to provide appropriate pastoral care, the pastor, in cooperation with the financial secretary, shall have access to and responsibility for professional stewardship of congregational giving records.

Professionals in the field of fundraising and stewardship have been saying for years that pastors should have this access. In fact, Bonnie Marden, who wrote this petition, is one of those professionals; and she included the following rationale:

Giving is part of our membership covenant with God and the Church, which deserves careful stewardship by pastors and financial secretaries. Pastoral leadership for member care, congregational vitality, and mission capacity improves significantly when congregations include the pastor in stewardship of donor relationships and share knowledge about congregational resources.”

As you read the new wording, it is important to note that pastors are given both “access to and responsibility for professional stewardship of congregational giving records.” There were many who have made the argument that by the way our United Methodist Church has defined the role of the pastor, the responsibility was already there, without the access to carry out that responsibility.

…the pastor, in cooperation with the financial secretary, shall have access to and responsibility for professional stewardship of congregational giving records.”

This new clarity around the pastor’s role in knowing members’ giving comes with the words “in cooperation with the financial secretary.” It will be important for those who hold that office to prepare for this new mandate that will be present in the 2016 Book of Discipline.

But I would urge that in living into this new reality, that grace might be what guides us, and not law. The wise and compassionate thing might not be for a church pastor to demand the giving records on January 2, 2017. A better way forward might be conversations that lead to the best method for being informed about giving while maintaining the trust of all involved. How that happens needs to be worked out in every unique local church situation.

In all of this, let grace and love be your guides.

Hmmm. That might be good advice for dealing with everything that has popped up on the radar since General Conference 2016.