We have reported earlier on how the United Methodist Church’s Western Jurisdiction, home to less than three percent of the world’s United Methodists, has long enjoyed a notable level of denominational influence and leadership that is way out of proportion to its tiny numbers.
We have noted how this imbalance is especially seen in the UMC Council of Bishops, which from time to time takes divided votes on very important matters for the life of our denomination.
The most updated statistics available from the denomination’s General Council on Finance and Administration are the 2012 clergy and lay membership statistics, which were recently released after being used for calculating each annual conference’s share of delegates to the 2016 General Conference.
These new statistics show a worsening of the proportionate imbalances we noted earlier.
|Region||Lay+Clergy Combined Membership||Number of Bishops||Members per Bishop|
|USA – Western Jurisdiction||343,894||5||68,778.80|
|USA – North Central||1,279,976||9||142,219.56|
|USA – Northeastern||1,266,098||9||140,677.56|
|USA – South Central||1,715,834||10||171,583.40|
|USA – Southeastern||2,829,689||13||217,668.39|
|Africa Central Conference||750,609||5||150,121.80|
|Congo Central Conference||2,600,987||4||650,246.75|
|West Africa Central Conference||1,510,831||4||377,707.75|
|(note: Europe includes three distinct central conferences)|
Proportionate to combined clergy and lay membership, the Western Jurisdiction enjoys over twice as many bishops as either the North Central or Northeastern Jurisdictions, over twice as many bishops as the (southeastern) Africa Central Conference, two-and-a-half times as many bishops as the South Central Jurisdiction, over three times as many bishops as the Southeastern Jurisdiction, five-and-a-half times as many bishops as the West Africa Central Conference, and nine-and-a-half times as many bishops as the Congo Central Conference.
Should the United Methodist Council of Bishops be structured to treat the values and concerns of predominantly white and wealthier Americans in the Western Jurisdiction as nearly ten times more valuable than Congolese United Methodists?
The imbalanced lack of UMC bishops in Africa is actually likely even worse, since the church has experienced overall rapid growth in the region but quite a number of African annual conferences have not officially updated their membership statistics in years.
We have also noted some important nuances for understanding the proportionally high number of bishops in Europe and the Philippines.
The 2012 General Conference approved the 2013-2016 spending plan for the Episcopal Fund. It projected an average four-year cost (compensation plus professional expenses) of $1,250,000 for each U.S. bishop, while projecting each non-U.S. bishop to cost $750,000 (40 percent less). The document noted that the 2011 base salary for U.S. bishops was $133,215 with projected increases each subsequent year, in addition to free episcopal housing plus a $10,000 annual grant towards purchase or maintenance of an episcopal residence, along with other benefits. This same plan also reported that the 2011 base salary of African and Filipino bishops was $65,500. (It is worth noting that at last November’s Council of Bishops meeting it was reported that some bishops take a voluntary salary reduction, with the reduced amount being redirected to fund various denominational ministries.)
Funding for bishops in overseas central conferences as well as in the Western Jurisdiction is subsidized by apportionments from United Methodist offering plates in the other four U.S. jurisdictions. However, central conferences have recently begun stepping up to the plate to pay for more of the cost of their own (less costly) bishops. Meanwhile, the Western Jurisdiction, as noted earlier, has long enjoyed getting away with paying far less than its assigned fair share, dropping the ball for the rest of the United States to cover even more of the costs of the Western Jurisdiction’s over-supply of bishops (in addition to paying the full cost of our own bishops), not to mention the West being the only U.S. jurisdiction contributing nothing for central conference bishops.