A Solid Financial Foundation for Mission
By Roland Fernandes*
Partners in God’s mission seek to hear God’s voice, to discover the signs of the moving of the Spirit through the world today, and to bear witness to God’s activity—overarching past, present, and future—in every local setting.
—Theology of Mission: God’s Prior Presence,
Our Current Response section
I was born and grew up in Calcutta, in the eastern part of India, where I lived my first 25 years. Calcutta has a rich history, culture, and art, and all are very dear to me still, but it is also a city that struggles with poverty. I studied finance and accounting in college, and I’m a chartered accountant professionally, the British equivalent of a US Certified Public Accountant. My first job was as the chief auditor for the Methodist Church in India. I hadn’t been exposed to Methodism before then. I learned a lot about the Methodist church there, its polity, finances, global connections, and a lot more.
Roland Fernandes addresses the board of directors of Global Ministries at the Atlanta headquarters, October 2016. PHOTO: KATHLEEN BARRY/UMNS
As part of that work, I connected quite a bit with the General Board of Global Ministries. But never did I think that I would end up working in the United States for this agency. Reaching the 20-year mark with Global Ministries, I am amazed at the incredible changes I have witnessed over this time, in this organization that I believe in deeply and for which I have worked passionately. In between the sense of loss and letting go in one place (New York) and the hope and enthusiasm in another (Atlanta), lies the deep sense that all this change is Spirit driven. Without the presence of God’s Spirit, all of this change could not have happened in such a short period of time. Often, in the midst of overwhelming situations and challenges, we try to dig deep within ourselves to find the solutions—“what can I do to fix this?”—until we are forced to realize that letting go so God can assist us might perhaps be the better road!
Support for Programmatic Work
Today, I serve as the general treasurer and chief operating officer of Global Ministries. The role of finance and administration is to provide support for the programmatic work of the agency so that we can accomplish our goals. This support infrastructure enables the various programs to work effectively and also ensures that program evaluation and accountability occur so that all our constituents can see the effectiveness and impact of the ministries they support.
While it is important to realize that this is a critical function for the work of the agency, in my mind, it is similar to the work a hinge does to hold up a door. It is not the central work of the agency. Staff members working in this area need to be comfortable playing a role behind the scenes.
We are called to be good stewards of the resources placed in our hands. For me this means treating them as I would treat my own personal resources. I am thankful that the leadership at Global Ministries has evolved to encourage and support full accountability and transparency in what we do with our resources. And I think we have done a fairly good job at how we have managed them.
One rather significant example is the building project in Atlanta—we’ve accomplished a lot with the resources available to us. God’s leading hand in this is very evident to me as the right connections to the right people have shown up at the right times to make the move happen.
As we are called to be good managers of the resources we have, I believe that as the agencies of the general church share services, especially in the areas of finance and administration, they demonstrate better stewardship while freeing up additional resources to undertake meaningful programs that impact the global church. The concept of shared services has been discussed and debated for many years. Most of the restructuring plans submitted to the various general conferences over the last decade have included a move toward shared services for the church’s general agencies.
(Left to right) Roland Fernandes, director Andreas Staempfli, representing Central and Southern Europe, Thomas Kemper, and director Katie B. Dawson from Iowa confer about a worship service for the board of directors at Grace United Methodist Church. PHOTO: KATHLEEN BARY/UMNS
My own thought is that shared services should be embraced by leaders who truly care about the church. This reflects our commitment to good stewardship and shows the agencies have evolved enough to comfortably let go of functions or roles they once controlled, each one in its own way, without somehow diminishing the importance or the identities of our agencies.
At a time when the world is conflicted between those who are pushing for and thriving on divisiveness and separateness on one side, and those who are striving for unity and recognizing our connectedness on the other, we need to be looking at all ways possible to work together. Historically, Global Ministries was perhaps the least likely to participate in shared services because for decades, Global Ministries was the only agency that worked internationally. International presence requires a variety of processes and controls that are not needed for agencies working only within the United States. But the work of all the general agencies has changed significantly over time, and today, more have global outreach programs. Over this last quadrennium, Global Ministries has worked with the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) to share services in the areas of human resources, payroll processing, benefits, and financial systems, among others.
In the area of financial systems, we are transitioning to a new platform to align Global Ministries’ operations with the system used by all the other general church agencies. This was a huge challenge, both in its technical requirements and for the retraining of our staff, but the ideal here is to bring all the agencies in line, resulting in overall financial resource savings and more effective churchwide reporting. We continue to explore areas of shared services, not just with GCFA, but with other agencies as well, searching to better utilize resources and function more effectively.
Generally, anything good comes with some degree of sacrifice or letting go of the present for a better future. It remains my hope that we will continue to make impactful strides around the world by working together as agencies and as the whole church.
*Roland Fernandes is a layperson serving Global Ministries as its general treasurer and chief operating officer. He has been instrumental in coordinating the moving parts of the transition from New York to Atlanta.
Copyright New World Outlook magazine, Winter 2017 issue. Used by permission. Email the New World Outlook editor for more information.