Steve’s Slant

I want to use this space this month to update all of you about the status of the Waldrop bequest.  In particular, and in the spirit of transparency, I want to fill you in on where we are in our discernment process centered on how to steward this gift to maximize its benefit.

And I begin with two pieces of good news.  First, we have received the gift! And, second, by the time we received the funds, the value of the bequest (it was in an IRA) had increased from $65,000 to just over $70,000.  So, praise be!

In May, when it finally appeared certain that we would soon receive these monies, Session appointed a small task force to make a recommendation on how we might best manage this substantial gift. That task force was chaired by Ken Murchison (a member of Session and also on our Administration Ministry Team), and it also included John Laney (chair of our Funds Ministry Team–the group that oversees our endowments), Kay Stockdale (also on Session and a member of both the Administration Ministry Team and our Christian Education Team–please thank her for her service!), Sarah Anne Eller (chair of our Congregational Life Ministry Team), and Barbara Griswold (chair of the Communications Ministry Team.)

After careful deliberation — that is, after some hard and conscientious work for which they deserve our thanks — the task force made the following three recommendations:

1 – That we allocate $7,000 (10% of the total bequest) as a tithe to our Community Engagement Ministry Team for distribution to agencies and ministry partners outside of the church who are serving our neighbors in need.

2 – That we allocate $45,000 to fill the Associate in Ministry position, on a quarter-time basis (i.e., 10 hours per week) for five years.  With a starting salary of $15,000, the bequest monies in this plan would decrease by $3,000 per year, in the belief that by year five the congregation could support and sustain the full cost of the quarter-time position moving forward.

3 – That we allocate $3,000 to a reserve fund for publicity/promotion and $15,000 to a reserve fund for building and custodial needs.

This past Thursday, our Administration Ministry Team (our former budget and finance committee) met to consider these three individual proposals before the recommendation went, in full, to Session for final approval.  The team unanimously endorsed recommendations 1 and 3 but did not reach a consensus on recommendation number 2.  All members supported the idea of filling the Associate in Ministry position, but opinion was divided, mainly, around whether to fill the position on a quarter-time basis for five years or half-time basis for three.

With this information in hand, Session then met this past Sunday in a specially called meeting to consider the Task Force’s original recommendation.  Seven of our nine elders were present for the meeting.  (Two members were out of town.) Their response closely mirrored that of the Administration Team.

Recommendation 1 was met with unanimous support.  A clear majority of Session members favored Recommendation 3 but it did not receive unanimous support.

As for recommendation 2, opinion was divided between two camps.  A slight majority favored a half-time approach for three years, believing we need the additional staff support to help us fulfill the goals of our ministry plan.  The balance of the members favored the original recommendation of a quarter-time approach, spread over five years, in the belief that this is a more sustainable and, thus, more responsible approach.

As for my personal view, I am in the former camp.  Obviously I respect any plan that is rooted in the desire to be financial responsible.

But going all the way back to our two renovation campaigns, we have invested an enormous amount of time, money and effort as a congregation in preparing for our future and in developing our ministry plan.  I believe we are now ready to live into that future and that to get there we must take this step of faith to realize the goals we have set for ourselves.

Had we not made this effort to improve our facilities, and not invested so much time, prayer and thought in developing our plan, I would likely feel differently.  But I believe we’re ready to step out in faith, and that our work and our faith will be rewarded and met by God’s generous provision.  I say this because I believe that’s how faith works: first comes the call to follow, then comes the provision that makes the journey possible.

But because this matter is so important, and because it will have a significant impact on our congregation, I felt that a close Sessional vote was not wise.  On decisions of such consequence I am generally of the view that it’s important for Session to try to get as close to 100% consensus as possible.  In this specific case, I felt that the differences held by our Administrative Team and our Session members about how best to manage these monies are also likely felt by and reflected in the congregation more generally.

Which is why I asked for Session’s approval — which they granted — to appoint a small team to continue our prayerful deliberations around how to steward this gift to ensure we maximize its benefit.  Those members are Sally Broughton (Clerk of Session), Ken Murchison (member of Session and chair of the original task force), Mike Levi (chair of our Administration Ministry Team) and myself.

If you have any thoughts, ideas, comments or concerns about this process, or about how we might best allocate these funds, I invite you to share those with any one of us by phone or email, or in person, or with any member of Session.  Thank you!  God bless you!