Many United Methodists know one of the church’s seven apportioned funds — General Administration Fund — pays for the basic costs of General Conference as well as other administrative activities. What they probably don’t know is it also covers a new interactive database that will save annual conferences from some headaches and make everyone’s job a bit easier.
Ezra — a Hebrew name that, appropriately, means “help” — is a web-based interactive database in which each conference or United Methodist agency can enter data and have real-time access to information. This is a huge improvement over the old method, said Scott Brewer, who oversees connectional relations for the General Council on Finance and Administration.
“Currently,” he said, “annual conferences report their official data … including information about people, churches and statistics.” The finance agency compiles and publishes the data in bound journals, a long, arduous process.
“Information takes a great deal of time for pastors, church volunteers and district staffs to compile and report to their conferences (edited/entered by hand and sometimes through paper forms), who then … report the information to GCFA,” Brewer said. “Many conferences use their own database software, which can be costly, or use freeware that is lacking in abilities to synchronize among their users.”
He said one conference was using Microsoft Access, which, while an effective database program, was not linked among its 11 districts. If one pastor moved and notified the district, this information was not known across the system unless reported to the conference itself.
Ezra, on the other hand, is easy to use, customizable and designed specifically for The United Methodist Church. As conferences compile and send their data to the General Council on Finance and Administration, those files are plugged into the system and stored on a database accessible by all users.
Asked about Ezra’s customizability, Brewer offered an example. “Should conferences find that they would like to add data such as shoe size and hair color of its ministers, all they have to do is request that it be added.”
Brenda Vaccaro, journal editor for the East Ohio Annual (regional) Conference, is pleased with Ezra.
“It does everything we need it to do quickly and easily,” she said, “We’ve had great success in building pieces to it that we need.” Vaccaro cited major cost savings in mailings and fewer letters and packages returned due to changed information.
“Now we have all 11 (districts) using the same data, whereas before they weren’t streamed together and were balancing individual databases,” she said. “The support has been awesome, with quick turnaround.” Usually, Vaccaro added, the finance agency fixes a problem within five or 10 minutes.
By using a web-based system synchronized across the denomination, Brewer said, conferences will see enhancement in efficiency and save time and money. “Another achievement will be enhanced accuracy …, as data will only be entered once and can be double-checked immediately.”
More than 35 conferences already use the statistics portion of Ezra. The newly launched all-encompassing Ezra database is now being made available to conferences. To learn more, contact Brewer, firstname.lastname@example.org.
--story by Barbara Dunlap-Berg, internal content editor
Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the General Administration Fund apportionment at 100% which allows the Archives and History agency to maintain United Methodists official documents and historical artifacts.