1956 Budget to the Next Level

The Brotherhood fought hard in 1956 for a much-needed reform/innovation: The General Budget administered by The General Board.  Combining the various financial requirements (appeals) in one budgetary instrument to effect accountability and efficiency made a lot of sense.  While the policy may not have achieved all that was intended relative to episcopal oversight, it briefly reined in some systemic abuses.  There are major flaws to this approach which now call for revision.  We need to decentralize the budget.

For over a decade we waved the banner of a “zero based budget.” The concept is going nowhere as we have created sacred cows in the budget.  Moreover, the older thinking about “everyone getting something” is unsustainable in the current funding environment.  People want to support those projects that are most important to them.  The support of a “general” budget is anathema in a post denominational era.  The church can no longer provide major funding to subsidiary instutions beyond the strategic control of the central body.

Failure to decentralize will bring doom to both some of our important initiatives as well as the basic structure of the denomination. The General Budget should focus on the core administrative needs of the denomination with a different approach to the support of various ministries.  Ultimately, we must decide on the mission on which we can concentrate and adequately fund.  Most of our benevolence and ancillary groups can generate their own funding stream and relieve some responsibility from the General Budget.

Our most compelling projects, such as education, SADA, components and various district initiatives have the capacity to engage in major fundraising beyond the central denominational budget.  Most, in fact, do raise significant sums beyond the annual allocations.  If they did/do not, their mission and existence rightly come under scrutiny.

We need to retain the 25% reduction to the General Budget for the remainder of the 2020-2024 Quadrennium.  The proposed budget should reflect the same.  Two areas which should have funds restored to the 2016-2020 levels are the educational institutions in Districts 14-20 and the ecumenical relations section.  The impact of the reduction in school allocations has been far more negative among our global institutions.  Realistically, we cannot maintain leadership and influence in the ecumenical community if we are not going to take seriously the financial support of those entities to which we belong.  We cannot assert our “greatness” and cry broke at the same time.  We should Represent.

Another perspective to be addressed in the next post is Double Dipping.

Immediate Action – Authorizing Motions

Those who have held virtual annual conferences can attest to a universal lesson:  Virtual Meetings Require More Extensive and Efficient Preparation than In Person Business Sessions.  Although discussions may drag at a slower pace in virtual meetings, the business agenda often moves at lightning speed.  Matters that were deferred to “overnight” consideration in former times needed to be resolved in hours as the clock governing the meeting ticked away.  This will be even more important in a shortened, segregated or hybrid (if we develop a genuine one) session of the 51st Session of the General Conference.

Fewer sessions mean WE MUST ADJUST THE WAY WE DO BUSINESS, not just try to do the same old things in a way that compromises justice and democracy in an abbreviated process.  There are two important steps we should pursue immediately:  activation of key committees and open discussion on the most controversial matters in more transparent forums.

Two of the more important committees for an efficient general conference are The Rules Committee and The Revisions Committee.  We cannot wait until days before an Orlando gathering to convene these committees.  The 51st Session will require a totally fresh look at how we govern our meeting. If these committees do not organize and begin work before the end of January, we will be exposed to political abuse and administrative inadequacies.  There will be no time to wade through a mountain of legislation, and virtual (or safe distanced) meetings of these committees will require time for research and deliberation.  Even our process of “readings” requires review.


  1. The Council of Bishops should agree to convene the Rules Committee and the Revisions Committee to form a “temporary organization.”
  2. Those committees should begin their work with an eye to the modified meeting before us.  Their results should be open and public.  We do not need secret results revealed at the last minute to discourage reflection and amendment.  Can’t we reason together?
  3. The Council of Bishops (President of the Council) should “officially” convene these committees at the time indicated by Discipline.  The committees could then pass motions to adopt and authorize the work done in the preceding months.
  4. Conduct thorough discussions of key legislation and business so we can have limited debate and a definitive, quick vote in the general conference session.
  5. There is no reason why we cannot have personal general conference guides (produced by various parties) that will help us to know the candidates and issues in plenty of time to pray, reflect and ask Holy Spirit guidance on an official, final vote.

If the Council of Bishops, with the political will of the broader church, does not allow such bold, innovative action, we are heading for unnecessary trouble in July.  Anyone woke?

Dollar over Safety/Regressive over Progressive Leadership

Out of respect for the General Conference Commission, I will not give the details of sanctioned GC 2021 session plans before a formal release of information. It is a creative, safety sensitive, in-person plan. It satisfies legal concerns I expressed in July 2020 about convening the meeting in a convention setting with an in-person quorum.

I pray everyone who wants to show up in Florida in July 2021 will do so in safety. With the proposed plan every delegate from any place will have a seat at a table.

What about those who will not feel safe in a crowd come July? What about those who fail to satisfy visa requirements that may prevail in July?

To dismiss a VOLUNTARY virtual option is wrong at this juncture. The masses need to say so. The current plan is less than acceptable as

  1. It ignores the safety of ALL our constituency. The experts can tell us what is unsafe, but each person will weigh personal risks and advice to determine “their” reasonable security. We look forward to hearing our Health Commission’s response to the approved strategy.
  2. Technological aversions should not disenfranchise delegates or leave bishops and general officers without options. Bishops and general officers are required to appear. Why must delegates at personal risk forfeit their seat when we have the tools available to include them? I would like to think they are wise, experienced AMEs whose gifts make them an asset in our quadrennial meeting.
  3. There is no such thing as a safety bubble from your door to the door of the meeting site. We may take all of the known precautions at the hotels and convention center. We cannot travel without risk, and there is no guarantee the bubble will not be breached amid so many secular temptations.
  4. Are we disciplined enough to follow the COVID rules? Watching our gatherings, we see the masks resting beneath the nose. The good intentioned opening arms for hugs; extending hands for a shake; gobbling chicken and rolling on the floor in laughter in response to the latest joke. Will will come out of 15 months of separation with the requisite discipline?
  5. Leadership seems not to be keeping up with the times and not getting some fresh, progressive ideas. Using the “old” clickers; thinking that just because we don’t stream that our meetings are private and secure; glossing over important matters; rushing critical decisions with insufficient information; and shutting our loyal members out of sessions that once were public, are clear indications of addressable problems.

Clearly, money is important. The current plan will get a bunch of folks to Orlando, staying in hotels and eating Food & Beverage satisfying meals. Is it so important that we overlook the importance of both health and participation by many committed disciples?

Most Districts, if not all, have prepaid for the rooms. I am sure the paid reservations will be used by delegates, alternate delegates or observers. Those funds are already in the bank. You have that money already.

The offering is pre-paid in most instances. There are those faithful who will buy a ticket to the breakfast or dinner and let you send the meal to feed the hungry or sponsor an attendee.

Put the money facts on the table? Let the people tell you how we can/will respond, as we always have. Stop living in a former decade when we first used remote voting devices. Step into the virtual age with a voluntary, virtual option. That would be a true “Hybrid” meeting, not the approved “Segregated” we now expect.

Virtual, Yes! Anarchy, No!

I am elated at the overwhelming response of bishops, and persons at every level, to the notion of a virtual General Conference.  I argued for the same months ago.  I am concerned, though, that the move toward a virtual meeting will become the occasion for the abrogation of rights through the creation of rules by unauthorized and unethical individuals.  We cannot brazenly disregard the laws of the church…even in a pandemic.

Critics of a virtual General Conference raised some months ago, two primary concerns:

  1. A virtual general conference is illegal because the Discipline requires that it meet in a specific kind of facility (therefore only “in person”).  A convention hall type building is always to be used, and the General Conference is not to be held in large athletic arenas. (Discipline, page 260, Kindle Locations 5917-5919).
  2. Overseas delegates should not be dealt with differently than anyone else.

With that in mind, we should should demand of the process that

  • A physical majority of delegates gather in a convention hall to establish a quorum and to adopt rules for the convention.
  • The Rules must include authorization for virtual participation of ANY delegate regardless to the annual conference they represent.
  • All sessions must be projected through a digital format for both delegates “in the room” and those who participate remotely.  ALL delegates should be watching through a device, so there is no less advantage to remote participants.
  • All voting must be done through the same application, whether the person is on location or remote.
  • All Committees must have digital/remote access for members.

In upcoming posts, I will suggest a few rules we should bend to make a “hybrid” general conference a greater success.  Nonetheless, I am afraid when we “overreach” choosing laws we keep and those we circumvent.  One of the great critiques we face is the way those who preside (clergy and lay) “rule” with bias rather than reason and without regard to the will of the body.

Let’s charge up those tablets and get ready for the 51st Session!

The Curse of Assessments

Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  (1 Corinthians 9:7, ESV)

Mandatory assessments are a part of our AME administrative culture.  While many administrators may see this approach as a blessing for consistent, sustainable funding, in actuality, it is a curse?  Assessing authority is misunderstood, overused and undermines the foundation of healthy stewardship and wise program development.  It creates a temptation for those may be blinded by greed or the  opportunity for personal enrichment.  When poor, connectional habits become poor, local congregational practice, we see rancor among the rank and file and a root cause for the exodus.

Many posts could follow on this general topic.  Let me offer in a summary manner:

Assessments would be less oppressive if we:

  • Recognize limitations on when a mandatory “assessment” may be used
  • Make clear who has assessing authority
  • Make the assessing process inclusive of greater participation by those who are assessed
  • Provide thorough explanations/education on the necessity/validity of the assessments
  • Make assessments fairly apportioned

At present, many congregations are over-assessed because their past strength is not their present reality. There is often a lack of empathy by those who collect/receive assessments.  “Give until it hurts,” is a sad, regressive statement that suggests abuse more than charity.  But the greatest argument against the abuse of assessing authority is:  it robs the people of their blessing!

God loves the cheerful giver!  Not the fearful giver trying to avoid Ministerial Efficiency or be elected to an office.  Not the Pharisee trying to impress.  Not the politician climbing the ladder rather than carrying the cross.

Some believe AMEs will not give without being assessed.  This is not true!  We are generous, responsive Christians when we are informed and trust the cause for which we are called upon to contribute.  We need a culture shift! We resist when we are told to “check your brain and your wallet at the door.”

Have We Done Due Diligence? – Have We Done Our Job?

There has been much celebration and a few tears attached to the 2020-2021 Interim Budget.  More joy would flow, and drier eyes prevail, if there were more transparency in the presentation. With less than a week’s notice, and below 30 hours for review, our highest administrative body considered a $10 million budget without the customary peephole for the general AME public.  Even pre-pandemic, we increasingly ponder some of our most important decisions behind closed doors (and I do not mean the Council of Bishops). In the Board session, we heard a few questions.  We received incomplete answers.  It makes one wonder if we have done due diligence.

With a bit less pressure, and a little more time, some critical questions could have improved the outcome.  How many of these queries can the rank and file of the General Board answer, or even the Commission on Statistics and Finance?  The 25% reduction passed!  It’s done.  The masses will enjoy their loaf of bread and a parade, while a few kneel before an untouched vault.  Consider:

  1. How was the reduction amount of 25% reached? What makes 25% correct?  Do we have data from around the church that projects a 25% shortfall?


  1. Were schools, departmental and component heads consulted on the impact of a 25% reduction? Where is a written report on effect? What criteria was applied to the diverse budget to make the reductions equitable and strategic, not mostly the same?


  1. Has anyone done an analysis of our demographic and the capacity to give? Where is “our” research? Are we making just an emotional guess?


  1. How is the current crisis greater than the Great Recession for our membership? Where is the data?


  1. Was there an analysis of the impact of a 25% reduction on the development of Districts 14-20?


  1. How is the cash reserve GOAL calculated? How much is enough?


  1. Why does the Interim Budget not include a single dollar of contribution from the Reserve Funds? How much is in the Reserve/Endowment Reserve Fund (carryover from previous years)?  How much more emergency do we need to access at least “some” of the reserve funds?


  1. The PPP loan the CFO received. How much?  Why was Statistics & Finance seemingly not a part of the application process (at least informed)? Exactly when will the determination be made on the use of the funds?  Will Statistics & Finance participate in the decision?


  1. How much carry over of “Contingency” from 2016-2020? Why were none of these funds used to fill the gap?


  1. What are the cash assets managed by AME, Inc.? What are the net earnings, to date, of the AME Future Fund?


Did the Council of Bishops, General Board or The Commission on Statistics Finance exercise due diligence “before” the vote? Did they do their job?  Did they do it well?

A Compensation Reduction?

A 25% reduction in the compensation of bishops in Districts 1-13 and all active General Officers would be a wrong strategic move. It will signal to the Church that presiding elders, pastors and other servants of the Church should have their compensation diminished regardless to the financial position of the institution.

Not every bishop or general officer is wealthy. Not every district and general office has access to available finances that will fill the gap. Will the great AME Family support a cut before we know the impact of the pandemic? Will we act on data supported facts or emotion driven conjecture? Will we get vital statistics for informed action at the General Board?

Important Business

Important Business

Jeffrey N. Leath, 128th Bishop


No one wants to hold a General Conference where the life and health of people are at risk.  We should be sensitive also to those who accommodate our gathering such as hotel and convention center workers.  Changes to a “quadrennial” meeting entail different responsibilities than a modified mere annual session.  The General Conference controls several critical functions for which there are no emergency provisions.  Holding at least a partial meeting as soon as possible, including virtual participation, is of great importance for life after the pandemic.

One proposal for consideration is the convening of the General Conference to address the immediate concerns of Budget and Personnel with a recess to a later date for the deliberations on legislation and other business of the General Conference.  We need to pass a budget.  We need to retire persons who are scheduled to retire, as we elect persons to fill those positions.  We need to assign the bishops so we can go forward in this time of uncertainty and crisis with the surety of what the leadership looks like for the near future.

It may be hard to imagine, but most of our pieces are not as complex as we are made to believe.  There are three foremost components to begin the organization of our business:  The Rules Committee, The Credentials Committee and The Episcopal Committee.  With proper advance preparations, all these elements can be put in place with either a limited number of people meeting in person, or through virtual interaction.

Each of these three necessary groups is made up of less than 80 persons (The Episcopal Committee is the largest).  We can convene; adopt rules to validate our process; and accomplish these minimum tasks of the General Conference in less that three days with live/virtual sessions of three to five hours per day (perhaps a little longer for the election).

The Program Committee can produce a virtual friendly, limited agenda.  Statistics and Finance can propose a quadrennial budget, the Episcopal Committee can do its work.  We may not have all the answers to the details now, but through formal and informal discussions WE can refine the concept with the end of implementing something that is fair and effective.

As I reviewed the comments on my last post (not to mention offline conversations), I learned from what others said, and I noted ideas that convinced me of the value of broader discussions.  On a forum such as this, we should begin to put on the table some of the nuances which must be considered for new, better ways of doing business.  Whether members are just dabbling for entertainment or engaging for progress, this is a site about the General Conference.

This site is not a prayer line.  This is not the site for a virtual vigil during our critical times.  There are other places for that.  I thank God for those other places!  When the storm is over, the ship of Zion needs to be seaworthy.  Let’s use this time in drydock for assessing damage, making repairs and modifying the vessel which will take us ahead in the future and make us the tip of the spear.

None of this discussion precludes the tasks of the Council of Bishops, General Conference Commission or any other official entity of the Church.

God, forgive us of our sins!  God, reform our ways!  God, save the church!

An Apology

2020 AMEC GenCon Member Discussion Forum

AMEs around the World

A Word of Apology


A few of my colleagues have suggested that I misrepresented their collective view on “virtual participation” in the General Conference or other connectional meetings.  I sincerely apologize for my misunderstanding and any distortion of the discussions among the Bishops and the meeting of the General Conference Commission.  Now that we have a better understanding, I will look forward to conversations in the near future.  I also pray the deliberations will lead to studies and draft implementation plans for virtual presence for our global gatherings as we wrestle with this pandemic.

The Virtual Option

Although the original vision for this blog is the discussion of legislative proposals, the current pandemic as called us to looked a some new church related issues.  To keep the discussion off of a totally public forum, I am privately engage through the blog.

This is the original post on Facebook.

The Rejection of Virtual Gatherings

Jeffrey N. Leath, 128th Bishop

The Council of Bishops and the General Conference Commission have summarily rejected the notion of a connectional virtual, computer-generated gathering.  The Council of Bishops and the General Conference Commission not only went beyond expressed displeasure with the concept, they also refused to research the issue and the efficiency of holding and conducting virtual meetings.  The failure to even study the possibilities is the most disappointing of their actions.  Is there due diligence for these uncharted times when we ignore options?

All of us have concerns about virtual gathering these days (Zoom, Go to Meeting, and private platforms).  Security. Equal access of all members of the deliberative body.  Mixed participation (some onsite while others are virtual).  The list goes on.  Complexity and novelty is no excuse for disregarding feasibility.

Here is the reality.  The world is already different.  If we do not at least think about new ways of doing business, we will be caught behind the curve in expensive, antiquated processes.  The current social order is a warning bell.  Why are we dreaming and waiting for the return of the “good old days?”

We understand the health interests for our members.  There is special concern for the most vulnerable.  We are also sympathetic to the need for fairness for our international institution.  However, there may be more equity in a virtual gathering than we duplicitously deny.

Where is the fairness of representatives from Districts 14-20 having to spend over $2,000 just to get to a point of entry where they will get the same travel allowance as American representatives to meetings like the General Board?  Where is the justice in observers traveling to any connectional meeting having access by auto, bus, or airplane with unrestricted movement, while persons outside the United States are burdened with the costs (and often the disappointment) of securing visas and forced air travel.

We can maintain our integrity with digital presence, that is, online face-to-face meetings, just as easily as in-person.  Better stewardship of fiscal resources and creative strategies may open new horizons of excellent service.  Can’t we look at it and give it a try?

We are wasting precious time and opportunity.  The Connectional Lay Organization is already using a virtual format for their Executive Board.  Why are we still riding the conference call pony while other institutions, as noble as ours, have jetted into the video age?

By implementation on a smaller scale NOW in anticipation of the inevitable, The Council of Bishops, General Board and Commissions should engage in virtual meetings NOW.  We can learn the technology; iron out the wrinkles, secure the systems; and assess the benefits and the liabilities.

During World War II, international travel among civilians was severely limited, and even during war, the General Conference met.  What if there is no international travel in the summer of 2021?  Will we still postpone the General Conference because of disease and travel restrictions, no matter the extent?

Perhaps, The People need to say to the Leaders, Let’s live in the technological present and consider ALL our options for doing God’s work through our Zion!    Do justice, Love mercy, walk humbly!