Gethsemane is approaching a significant financial crisis as I write this. We have been using the Trust Fund for years to supplement our annual income. When I came here at the end of 2002 the Trust held around $350,000. At the end of each year, we would take the income of the Trust, usually about $40,000, and transfer it into our checking account. That money would generally make up any shortfall in
pledge and plate offerings. (For those who don’t know, a pledge is the annual amount you commit to give to the church; it is supplemented with extra funds put in the offering to equal “pledge and plate”income.)
Since the Great Recession of 2008, this has not been the case. The principal of the Trust declined to $300,000, and our pledges (and plate) also declined and have not caught up again, even with our increasing attendance. Last year saw the lowest pledge amount in this century at just under $82,000. As a result, we’ll be removing $60,000 from the Trust this year. This has brought the amount in the
Trust fund to less than $200,000. To be clear, we need about $180,000 to operate the church at a basic minimum. We have cut the budget to the degree that further reductions will substantially impact what we can do as a parish.
At our current rate of withdrawal, we have three years before the Trust is empty. At that point, Gethsemane will no longer be able to support a priest.
There is no simple solution. Realistically, we know everyone can’t double their pledge for next year. Certainly Kresha and I can’t do that, but we can increase our pledge. Kresha’s salary has gone up a bit each year and we take that into account as we determine what we’ll give. I’d seriously ask all of you to consider prayerfully whether you can do the same. It would be good to get our pledging back into six
figures, where it last was in 2011.
We will need to do more than simply increase pledging. There are ways forward, and the vestry will be discussing these in the next few months. Anticipate an exciting and challenging discussion of this issue at the annual parish meeting in January.
Here are some ideas I’ve been considering to increase the overall financial picture of the church. Please add your ideas to the mix:
* Continue to develop our role as a venue that supports and sponsors divergent Christ-centered thinking. This has been one of the central aspects of our attraction to the faculty and students in our congregation. We are hosting another challenging reconciliation event in the spring, an opportunity to discuss the many issues around same sex unions and marriage. Such an event is only one way we can talk about being a reconciling community.
*We have ideas around focusing on the arts, using our trip to Israel next summer, and continuing as a vibrant aspect of the Marion community as our city and Grant County struggle to become more diverse and prosperous.
* We’ve got a group that’s going to look into getting grants to support some ideas along these lines. As Kresha and I are in the Middle East next summer, we will be excited to see stronger lay leadership grow and help broaden our approach both to ministry and fundraising. We hope to tie this in with the Lilly Grant.
*Build on the ministries to the neighborhood we already have. A new business is moving into the old car dealership behind us. What would happen if our whole block became more attractive and presented an opening avenue into Marion?
It’s always the case that we’re under some financial pressure, perhaps now more than ever. Still, we need to proceed with our lives together, confident that we have a guaranteed future in Christ, even if we cannot see exactly what that is.