Bishops roll back wages in sign of sacrifice


By Linda Green
United Methodist News Service

BETHESDA, Md. — United Methodist bishops are taking a pay cut.

In a sign of solidarity with people and churches struggling in the global economic crisis, the 50 active bishops from the United States voted to forgo a pay raise for 2010 and instead roll back their salaries to 2008 levels. Their annual pay would drop from $125,658 to $120,942 beginning Jan. 1.

“The current global crisis has … gifted us with a sense of urgency and an opportunity to lead courageously,” the bishops said in a call to action at their spring meeting.

The bishops said they did not know if their action would have a snowball effect because other salaries, including those of top church executives, are related to the bishops’ wages. The United Methodist Council of Finance and Administration will address the bishops’ action during its May 13-15 meeting in Nashville.

The bishops said, however, they had a personal obligation to be leaders in sacrificial giving in response to the financial crisis. This moment in history, the bishops said, “demands bold, courageous, transformative action.”

Western North Carolina Bishop Larry Goodpaster, a Mississippi native and the council’s president-designate, said the call to action is a way to name the urgency of the moment, an urgency that “calls us not to panic, not to fear, but for confident action into the future.”

Mississippi Conference Bishop Hope Morgan Ward said the action was tied the mission of the denomination.

The Council of Bishops meeting strongly focused around the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ and the transformation of the world and the four foci — spiritual leadership, new congregations, ministry with the poor and global health — and our commitment to the strength of those missions continues with much energy,” she said. “We believe resources flow toward mission engagement. We did offer up the rollback of our salaries as a part of stewardship toward those missions.”

California-Pacific Bishop Mary Ann Swenson (below right), a Jackson, Miss., native, said the salary rollback shows “we really are participating in sacrificial giving and going beyond to go back to a level from a year ago.”

Some regional and local church leaders have already taken similar salary cuts to help with budget deficits and to keep ministries going, several bishops said.

In another effort to save money, the Council of Bishops voted to shorten their semi-annual meeting by a day, from five to four days, beginning with the November meeting.

Among the financial challenges facing the church, the bishops discovered the 2008 General Conference was $1.5 million over budget and that the projected shortfall for the 2012 conference, the church’s top legislative assembly, would be more than $3 million. The bishops will begin working with the Commission on General Conference and the United Methodist Council on Finance and Administration to redesign the next General Conference.

The United Methodist Church approved a $75 million Global Health initiative and an additional $25 million challenge goal during the 2008 General Conference to help end malaria. The bishops committed to helping the church reach its goal by 2012. Every bishop, active and retired, will make a voluntary contribution to the initiative. The bishops also committed to help the Central Conference Pension Initiative raise the remaining $5 million of the pension initiative’s $20 million goal to support pension programs for retired pastors and surviving spouses in Africa, the Philippines and Europe.

In spite of the crisis facing the church and denomination, the bishops said this is a “kairos moment in time” and they have not lost their heart of passion to be servant leaders for the church.