Good Day to you Church!
It is wet and I-C-Y out there today! I had a close encounter with a tractor on the road this morning on my way into the church office. I was coming down a hill on my way to a stop sign when I realized that braking wasn’t slowing the car down at all. I could see the scenario playing out in front of me– of being hit by a tractor as I careened into the intersection in front of me. At the last minute, however, my tires found enough friction on the road to bring me to a stop and the John Deere peacefully passed by in front of me. Phew!! That was a close one. All that to say– be careful out there today!
If you weren’t able to make it to our congregational meeting last Sunday, I thought I’d take this chance to catch you up on the latest news.
As many of you already know, our church has been struggling with financial difficulties for quite some time now. There simply hasn’t been enough money coming in to cover all the costs of what has to be sent out. This is why, 3 or 4 years ago, the church made some major changes: the pastor’s hours and salary were reduced to half time, the office administrator’s position was reduced to 1/4 time, and other cost saving measures were taken. All of these changes helped with lowering the deficit budget, but they did not eliminate the financial strain entirely– much in part due to the fact that we live in a huge, old (beautiful) building.
Then, the pandemic hit. The economic impact of Covid-19 has been harsh for our church. Our pledged giving was down significantly in 2020, and we lost rental income, building use income, and fundraising opportunities. Looking into 2021, as we continue into the second year’s effects of the pandemic, our financial situation gets even tighter. Session is projecting a $84,000 deficit for 2021, depending on how long the pandemic lasts.
This is a serious issue, I know. Give yourself a minute to catch your breath.
That’s the hard news. The good news is that there is definitely enough money socked away in our assets to survive this year, and likely another year or so beyond that (depending on how much principal we have access to tapping). *This is something Cynthia Coleman is looking into.
This means we’ve got some time to listen in– to hear and understand what God might be calling us to in our next chapter, and then, to figure out how to financially make that a reality.
Thankfully, there’s more good news. One of the other pieces ofgood news is that I have done this sort of work before. Both of the congregations I worked for in Rochester were dealing with these same issues, and I spent gobs of time learning how to engage in this process– of determining what God might be calling us to as we lean into this particular financial situation.
You’re probably going to think I’m nuts for saying this, but the position we find ourselves in right now is one of the most exciting opportunities our congregation will ever encounter to grow in our faith, knit the bonds of our congregation tighter, and learn to trust God.
I’ve seen first-hand what this opportunity can yield in the lives of two different churches– when the process is done well. I won’t kid you. The work we have to do in the coming months is hard work. But if we can practice living into the beliefs we hold dear to our hearts– about having faith and trust in a God who is making all things new, this may turn out to be one of the most rewarding faith experiences you will ever encounter in your lifetime. (I kid you not.)
Starting this Tuesday, a core group of church members and I will begin this work. In the beginning, this visioning team will do a lot of the “heavy lifting,” but that does not mean that the rest of you are off the hook. It’s going to take all of us engaging in this process together– talking together, listening together, and praying and meditating– to come out the other end in a healthy, revitalized way (assuming that God is calling us to remain as a living, breathing entity).
Recognizing that all of us need to take part in this process of growth and change, I’m going to give all of us a little homework to do this week.
The first request I have might be challenging for some of us, but that is ok. It is ok to do hard things. For the next 6 months, I am asking that each of us pray daily for our church body. Feel free to pray for our congregation in whatever way you feel led (it might not hurt for a couple of us to ask God for a winning lottery ticket, for instance), but in addition to your own prayers, I need to ask you to start praying a particular prayer:
“God, put us where you want us, and show us what to do.”
This prayer is important because it puts us in a posture of both openness and awareness to God’s leading. Yes, it is necessary that we work towards “fixing” our financial problem, but our most important job in the coming year is to discern what God is calling us to be, and to do. If we do this most essential task well– of learning to hear and to follow God’s beckoning– I can tell you that the important financial decisions will flow naturally out of the other work.
Praying for our church must become one of our daily spiritual habits. I’m serious about that. We’re all going to have to step up our prayer life. (Remember I said that this is going to be hard work? Daily prayer is hard work.)
The second request I have of you, is that you read the following article. It’s a short piece written about South Presbyteryian Church and their call-seeking journey. After four years of deliberation, prayer, and discussion by members regarding their grim financial situation, in 2014 they opted to gain financial stability (and freedom) by selling their building.
God may, or may not, be calling us to a similar situation– that is something that we will have to discern together-– but I wanted for you to see an example of how special and invigorating this process can be.
OK, that’s all for now, dear Hearts.
“God, put us where you want us, and show us what to do.”
p.s. I almost forgot to mention! We will be celebrating communion together this coming Sunday. So, on Sunday morning, pull out a bit of juice (or coffee, or whatever you have on hand) and some bread (or a cracker or, truly…whatever you have), and we will remember and celebrate Jesus together.