Friday, May 2, 2008

Financial Futures

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:19-21, NRSV

As it has in quadrennia past, the final day of General Conference approves the general church budget. Throughout the Conference, delegates toed the line to limit requests for additional funding outside the set bottom line of $642 million dollars for the 2009-2012 quadrennium. This represents a 4.8% increase of the previous quadrennium’s general church budget. And, the General Conference overwhelmingly approved the budget without debate.

However, there is cause for great concern about what these funds can actually do to meet the proposed goals of the four areas of focus and other disciplinary responsibilities of the general boards, agencies and commissions. In particular, the tremendous amount of duplicity and multiplicity of funding provided to continue non-collaborative efforts at the general church level is an area left unaddressed by the call to collaboration. Yet another study to consider the organizational structure of the church is not being advocated here; however, it would seem to make sense in the spirit of collaboration to do away with maintaining separate human resources, publishing, communications, marketing, financial and travel services, to name a few. Consolidating these support services would eliminate redundant funding, maximize buying and spending power and provide consistency for the general church. Millions of dollars each year could be redirected to programmatic emphases if these support services were streamlined.

Another example of this duplicity would be the newly created Global Health Initiative to be lodged with the General Commission on Communication, which is not a program agency but an administrative agency. Unless true collaboration is maintained with the program agency already charged with this work on behalf of the church (General Board of Global Ministries), the church will operate two large and separate budgets for Global Health. This does not make sense, yet it went unchecked by the delegates to the 2008 General Conference. If tradition holds, GCOC and GBGM will work independently and often at cross-purposes according to their own interpretations and understandings of the direction of their “collaborative” work, and the church will be much less effective than had it kept this programmatic responsibility with GBGM. In four years, the church will be able to discern the wisdom of its ways.

With $642 million dollars to spend in a quadrennium for general church ministry and mission, the institution of The United Methodist Church, through its general boards, agencies and commissions, ought to be able to accomplish significant work that can personify hope around the world. Unfortunately, a significant portion of this money goes to maintain a system and structure that sustains compartmentalized operations to protect individual agendas and shrug true transparency and accountability. What is needed for authentic collaboration is trust and integrity that holds the best interests of the church, its mission and ministry at heart instead of 13 silos of duplicity, hording and ineffectiveness.

This is indeed a future worth hoping for.

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