By United Methodist News Service, …
The United Methodist Church’s finance agency announced today, Sept. 27, that it recommends general agencies, annual (regional) conferences and local churches withhold funding from the East Africa Annual Conference until further notice.
In addition, the board of the General Council on Finance and Administration approved filing a formal complaint against Bishop Daniel Wandabula, who has led the East Africa Conference since 2006. The complaint, to be filed with his College of Bishops, deals with concerns about his use and accountability of funds for various ministries in that conference.
Other responses — including possible legal actions in secular court — are also under consideration by the board, said agency officials and a statement from the finance agency.
It was not immediately known how much money the finance agency’s recommendation would affect.
“The actions of GCFA reflect our fiduciary responsibility for the whole church as we work to protect, defend and strengthen the trust our United Methodist people have in their churches, conferences, agencies and projects,” said Indiana Area Bishop Michael Coyner, president of the finance agency’s board, in the statement. “We take these actions in concert with other entities within the church to assure the funds are being used for the work for which they were intended.”
Bishop Wandabula was not immediately available for comment on the finance agency’s actions.
The General Council on Finance and Administration’s board made its decision after the report of its Committee on Audit and Review. That committee is charged with making sure that general church funds, including money given to Advance specials, has gone to the purposes donors intend. It does not audit the use of gifts from individual local churches and annual conferences.
The committee, after consultation with representatives of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, told the finance agency that the East Africa Annual Conference has failed for several years to provide complete and accurate financial audits of general church funds it has received.
Until the East Africa Conference can provide satisfactory explanations of how those funds were spent, funding from general church entities will not be forwarded to that annual conference or related organizations, the finance agency’s statement said.
The East Africa Conference includes Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the new nation of South Sudan. The conference office is in Kampala, Uganda.
Wandabula was re-elected for life on Aug. 17 when the Africa Central Conference met in Nairobi, Kenya. Unlike in the United States, the Africa Central Conference bishops are not elected for life at their first election.
Moses Kumar, top executive and treasurer of the General Council on Finance and Administration, said his agency’s actions “are being taken to help all of our members feel confident that faithful ministries will continue to be funded properly and can be supported by the church.”
The General Council on Finance and Administration’s decision comes after multiple concerns were raised across the denomination about the East Africa Annual Conference’s use of funds. Many questions specifically center on the administration of Bishop Wandabula.
After three audits in 18 months, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries on Aug. 8 accepted a recommendation from its audit committee to suspend all funds indefinitely to the East Africa Conference.
Bishop Peter Weaver, chair of the audit committee since 2009, told United Methodist News Service that regional auditors found “unsatisfactory accounting practices.”
The denomination’s mission agency had previously suspended funds in September 2011 to the Humble School in Mukono, Uganda, after a routine four-day, on-site audit of funds managed by the East Africa Conference.
Case heading to Judicial Council
The Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court, will take up other questions about the conference’s use of funds when it next meets Oct. 24-27 in the Chicago area.
The Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference has asked the Judicial Council to rule whether funds given to the East Africa Conference were used in accordance with the intent of the donors as required by Paragraph 258.4 of the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book.
The Western Pennsylvania Conference’s former Pittsburgh East District raised about $90,000 for churches, wells and maize mills in Uganda before the district was dissolved in 2005. One church building was never completed, the maize mill did not work and the well was dug where there was no United Methodist presence, district leaders charge.
The district sent the funds directly to Bishop Wandabula, a district superintendent and project coordinator at the time.
Bishop Wandabula earlier told UMNS that $86,888 from the East Pittsburgh District and $19,994 from the Africa Church Growth and Development funds were used to “pay part of the Namboole United Methodist Church land, pay attorney expenses, pay the land surveyors, land transfer fees, seal, architectural drawings, a maize mill and bore hole. All these investments were accounted for.”
The Western Pennsylvania Conference also has asked the Judicial Council to rule on whether money members had designated for Isaac Sebit, a pastor in South Sudan, ever reached the pastor.
The petition also requests the Judicial Council to review whether a complaint against Bishop Wandabula filed by Nancy Denardo, a member of the Western Pennsylvania Conference, was properly handled.
*Information for this story is based on a General Council on Finance and Administration news release by Sharon Dean and reporting by the Rev. J. Richard Peck and Heather Hahn.