Generosity knows no bounds in unified Kentucky Conference

November 03, 2021
By Alan Wild
Yes, the numbers are over 25 years, since the uniting of the old Louisville Conference and the Kentucky Annual Conference – but even allowing for that, the figures are pretty staggering:
Nearly $200 million given to Our Mission Covenant, $1.8 million donated to the Annual Conference Mission Offering, more than $500,000 each after the devastating natural disasters of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Haiti earthquake in 2010.

“There are generous United Methodists across Kentucky,” said Rev. David Garvin, the Conference’s Treasurer. “All those amounts and more are examples of our coming together to show the love of Christ in significant ways.”

“Not many single givers could do these things on their own,” Garvin said. “Also, very few churches could make these impacts by themselves. But when we come together, it is amazing what God can accomplish through our collective efforts.”

The Conference is celebrating 25 years since the Uniting Conference that was held in Lexington on Aug. 18-21, 1996.

Conference Controller Heather DuVall also reflected on the generosity of the laity and clergy across the Conference, saying it’s “neat to see the small churches when they give the little bit that they can.” She has seen checks ranging from tens of thousands of dollars to 27 cents: The latter once was sent in by a tiny church that carefully calculated its apportionment.

“They were faithful. They sent in their money,” said DuVall, adding, “I think it’s amazing the way our churches come together when a request is put out for a need, and they give.”

Generosity is more than just pulling out the checkbook or depositing a few bills in the collection plate on Sunday morning. Conference clergy and laity teams periodically have traveled to hard-hit areas to help with cleanup and rebuilding, including the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina and North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew.

“The theology of this is not just about pocketbooks, but in giving and sharing all of the gifts that have been shared with us,” Garvin said.

That’s a theme that Bishop Leonard Fairley has touched on, as well. citing James 1:17 – “Every good and perfect gift is from above” – Fairley noted that “God-sized dreams require both holy imagination and holy sight, seeing and looking through the eyes of a grace bestowed upon us by an extravagantly gracious and generous God. It was out of the deep desire of the Almighty Creator and gift-giver that 25-plus years ago, the vision was born among United Methodists in Kentucky to do an amazing thing by becoming one Annual Conference.”

Fairley added that God’s extravagant generosity “has continued to shine in the countless ministries, missions, and passionate spiritual disciples made by the Conference.”

A connectional denomination such as the United Methodist Church does indeed have some significant advantages when it comes to generosity. Rev. William Moore, the Conference’s Director of Connectional Ministries, said generosity often has a hidden impact that we never get to see.

“We donate to a college Wesley foundation that helps a student grow in faith,” Moore said. “That student then applies and works for one of our camps, where they share their faith with a student who then discovers a call to ministry and becomes a pastor. It is incredible to recognize the ripple effect of generosity.”

What about the theological underpinnings of all types of generosity? Rev. Dr. John Hatton, the Heartland District Superintendent, has closely studied the teachings of the Wesley brothers, John and Charles.

“Part of the heart of Methodism is holiness,” Hatton said. “And it’s holiness of heart and life and also social holiness. We believe in sanctification, and as part of that, we use this term called ‘perfected in love.’”

It’s difficult to define, he added, but “when we respond to God’s love and grace, we open ourselves to that sanctifying experience; we begin to love more fully God and other people.” That means that as our faith matures, so does our love for our neighbor, allowing us to experience holiness in our hearts.

“It changes our behavior,” Hatton said. “John Wesley would use the term ‘tempers’ – our tempers are changed.” We start looking at the world with a heart of Christ and feel Christ’s compassion for the world and its people, Hatton said.

“I think the Holy Spirit empowers us as the church to not only be about the Great Commission, but also to live out the realities of the Kingdom that Jesus has introduced already, which has not fully come to fruition till the day of Jesus’s return.”

That’s the theological foundation of Wesleyan generosity, Hatton said. Part of holy living is making a difference in the lives of people “who need a touch of Jesus, maybe just to be cared for in a personal way.” Generosity is more than giving money; if we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are committing ourselves “to show the compassion and love of Jesus with people who may not know Christ.”

Service and generosity then foster a job and sense of being that is more than just financial: It’s a lifestyle that’s formed by the generosity of God, who sent Jesus – the ultimate gift. We can learn a lot from the care and generosity of Jesus’s ministry, and we are called to emulate that generosity, Hatton said.

That kind of generosity plays out across hundreds of churches large and small across the Conference. Rev. Dr. John Kalz and Rev. Dr. Loletuth Flener Kalz, Co-Lead Pastors of Madisonville First UMC since 2018, make generosity a priority. Madisonville is faithful in giving apportionments and missional work both locally with such programs as a backpack-blessings ministry and globally with mission trips to Guatemala.

“I guess if we think about generosity, it’s made me think about Christ and how being generous is what Christ wants,” John Kalz said, adding that “we were blown away last year in the midst of the pandemic the way people were so generous.”

Loletuth Kalz, a third-generation minister in the Conference, recalls attending the 1996 Uniting Conference as an 11-year-old. Although she doesn’t recall a lot of specifics, she does have vivid memories of the celebratory atmosphere and how full Rupp Arena seemed.

“I think that was one of my first memories of how big the church was,” she said.

Garvin finds it a personal joy in his role as Conference Treasurer to see all the time, talents and treasure turned into Kingdom-building events. “Togetherness and unity in God’s Spirit create a generosity that wouldn’t be possible if we were all doing our own version of the Kingdom.”

As Bishop Fairley put it: “It is right to give praise and thanks to God for the generosity we have received, but that we press forward in the knowledge that the same God who has brought us this far continues to journey with us.”

Some of the numbers for the unified Kentucky Annual Conference since the Uniting Conference in 1996 (from the Conference’s Administrative Services Team):
  • Our Mission Covenant (apportionments), 1996-2020: $199,821,280
  • Annual Conference Mission Offering, 1996-2020: $1,839,082 (which includes $120,150 for Imagine No Malaria and $227,400 for Red Bird)
  • Hurricane Katrina relief: $583,034
  • Haiti earthquake relief: $527,565
  • Kentucky disaster relief since 2004: $444,537