*By Dr. Larry R. Hygh, Jr.
"The saints that have gone before us worked in the church and this is an opportunity for us to give back," says the Rev. Robin Mathews-Johnson, pastor of Watsonville First United Methodist Church (UMC). Watsonville First UMC is giving more than a tithe (tenth) from the $1.5 million in proceeds they received from the sale of property the church owned. "The gift has been received by us from the work of the former leaders, and now we're passing it on," says Mathews-Johnson.
The total gift to the California-Nevada Conference is $200,000, with $100,000 benefiting Africa University and the Annual Conference Session offering celebrating the school's 25th anniversary (to take place during opening worship on Wednesday, June 21), and the other $100,000 for mission and ministry in the California-Nevada Conference.
The church's Leadership Circle asked Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño for suggestions for the tithe for the annual conference priorities, and approved her prayerful suggestions. Mathews-Johnson says, "We are hoping to support the future by this gift."
Of the $100,000 going to the Africa University offering, $87,000 will be used towards efforts the university has launched to raise funds for scholarships, the building of new dorms and other facilities, and to begin new programs and strengthen existing programs, and $13,000 to complete the building of the sanctuary in the Zimunya East Circuit in Mutare District (a church supported by Africa University through the office of the chaplain). Of the $100,000 that will remain in the California-Nevada Conference, $50,000 will go to the strategic work of the annual conference under the leadership of the Core Team working on the denomination's four areas of focus, and $50,000 to help the annual conference do its part to address the immigration crisis in the United States.
In 2014, the California-Nevada Conference moved from an apportionment to a tithing system. Churches are asked to tithe on 10 percent of their operating income.
Mathews-Johnson says, "To me, the tithe should be to the church, and other gifts go on top of that (other nonprofits, etc.)." She added, "We are a connectional church, and they're (California-Nevada Conference) our church."
Conference treasurer and director of administration, Diane Knudsen, says, "It's extraordinary and it does make a big difference in the life of our annual conference." She added, "I appreciate the spirit in which this church is giving, and it is the spirit we hoped to cultivate when moving to a tithe formula."
The $1.5 million came from the sale of the property of the former Freedom Community Methodist Church, which was started by Watsonville First UMC as a new church start in 1958. The church operated for 40 years and the membership dwindled and they merged with Watsonville First in 1998. Watsonville first became caretakers of Freedom Community and rented the property to an alternative high school that received money from the state in 2014 to build their own building.
In 2016, the church sold the property and placed 100 percent of the proceeds in the United Methodist Foundation setting aside $100,000 for church maintenance, and tithing $200,000 to the California-Nevada Conference. They also have an endowment. Mathews-Johnson says, "Everything is God's, it's God's money, it's God's church…There are so many ways you can use your money."
Watsonville First UMC has served the community from the banks of the Pajaro River since 1852.
Some of the church's programs, outreach, and partnerships include: community service volunteers with youth in local schools, AmeriCorps, Girl Scouts, back pack project, Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous and Al-Anon, a food bank, SOUPER Bowl of Caring, United Methodist Women (UMW), and Reconciling Ministries to name a few. They have also given to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), UMC special offerings, and supported UM missionary Josh Van in Malaysia.
Mathews-Johnson says they are looking for an opportunity for their church to deepen their relationship with Africa University. She also says they are inspired by the ministry of San Francisco's Glide Memorial UMC and the outreach from that church into their community. "We're a small church, but we are mighty."
Mathews-Johnson suggests the following stewardship resources for local churches: