UNY begins the FACT process
Over the summer, leaders from around the Upper New York Conference began laying the foundation for the Conference's participation in the Financial Advisory Consulting Team or FACT process.
In short, the FACT process offers guidance and expertise from the General Church to Conference leaders, and gathers both General Church and Conference leaders to think, share, pray and discern steps toward greater generosity in funding the ministries we share with all United Methodist people.
UNY leaders took part in hour-long interviews with experts from general agencies including: the General Board of Discipleship, the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits and the General Commission on Finance and Administration to prepare for the FACT process.
Though they are only a first step, the interviews themselves provided great insight into where the Upper New York Conference is now and where it is being called to be. Some of the key findings included:
- Transparency and understanding of financials have improved, but more is needed.
- Ministry Share giving is well below desired levels.
- The bishop’s leadership is strong; the Conference's work is good – but stronger links between them and both clergy and laity are desired.
- The New Faith Communities initiative is good and gaining traction.
- There is a generally favorable view of the proposed new Conference Center.
- It’s important to build more trust across the Conference; the impact of the merger is ongoing.
- Strong leadership is now in place, but has not always been.
On Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014, Conference leadership took the next step by participating in the first of two day-long gatherings with the General Church experts.
“It was a good day,” said Bishop Mark J. Webb. “Leaders from all over our Conference gathered to explore concerns with a financial implication, but the spirit was not one of despair, it was one of hope.”
After a review of the interview findings, the gathered leaders looked at in-depth demographic research done by the FACT experts to support the process. They explored both the trends in local churches and the population as a whole. They were also able to see where the Upper New York Conference is in relation to other conferences.
“I think the FACT process will be good for us because it brings perspectives and expertise to help us move forward,” said Scott Johnson, Conference lay leader. “Everyone's experiences are valid, but the challenge is that our individual experience may not match the experiences of others across the Conference. When we look at a data-based picture of our collective financial health, we learn that everything isn't as we thought it was.”
With a solid understanding of where the Upper New York Conference currently stands, the gathered leaders moved into small groups for the bulk of the day’s work. Each small group worked to identify three to five dilemmas with financial implications in assuring Conference vitality.
Johnson share about his experience with the small groups, “One thing I love about Upper New York as a Conference is our willingness to be honest. Individuals shared some challenging stories about experiences with relationships across the Conference, and our model of Church. Of course, all of the stories weren't bad, but only by naming and facing these realities can we move forward. FACT can help us do that.”
When the time for small group discussion had come to an end the group gathered as a whole to share what they identified as dilemmas, and put them into six categories:
- Vision, mission, and faith
- Leadership (local church, District, Conference, and beyond)
- Data and decision Support
- Communication (clarity, follow-through, and understanding at all levels)
- Paradigm shift
“While the FACT process is financial in its approach, its scope is broad,” said the Rev. Stephen Cady II, associate pastor at Asbury First UMC in Rochester and a participant in the Sept. 13 gathering. “The idea is to admit that there are things that as a Conference we have not been doing well, and to begin to find ways of addressing them. I was impressed by the honesty of the people gathered and of the Conference leadership’s willingness to hear grievances. If we are a people who believe in moving onward toward perfection, then we have to take a hard look at where we are now and try to find a better way together. I’m hopeful that, by God’s grace, the FACT process will be another step toward that better way.”
The FACT experts will spend the coming months researching and preparing potential strategies to address the dilemmas that surfaced. These strategies will be shared at the next FACT process meeting on Nov. 22.
“This process is our United Methodist connection at its best,” Bishop Webb said. “Our sisters and brothers from the general agencies are calling upon their vast knowledge of what has worked in other conferences and at all levels of the Church to help us draw a road map to our future. If one thing has already become clear, it is that our future is indeed very bright. God has great plans for us!”