Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Vestry was last night

And we had a "thin" quorum. Several people were missing. Particularly, now that Mission Philly is in full swing and Lobsterfest is done for the year it seems that folks are pausing for a breath or two--and perhaps some vacation time. I know that Laura and I capitalized on the breather with our trip to Michigan and Ohio. So, though last night we just made quorum for voting on resolutions, I am fine with people being away from the parish. We need those breaks.

All the same, we tackled some pretty intense and important issues. At the forefront as we move from spring into summer is the fiscal health of the parish. It was only a year ago that we faced a summer's quiet season with a deficit that ran roughly double where we are posting now. As attendance and pledge support dropped off, we experienced an alarming cash-flow emergency in late August that necessitated the calling of an emergency parish meeting in late September.

We would like to avoid that again, believe me...God willing we should pass through this summer well. As long as the parishioners maintain their pledge support and we are able to continue to keep expenses under control. Sounds odd to worry about the financial issues of the Church, when optimally we should be thinking about the "next great adventure" in God's calling us to serve the world...But that is the reality of life. Roofs need to be fixed. Plumbing needs to be maintained. Water and heat and cool and light need to be provided. Port wine needs to be ordered for communion. Checks for outreach grants need to be cut. Newsletters need to be published, and we need staff to manage all that--on top of making sure that the sick are visited, the aged are cared for, the young are taught and everybody else is preserved in a feeling of being in communion with each other and with God. No small feat.

In that vein, we spent a good part of last night's vestry meeting talking about money, or rather our use of it. Jean Evans, our outreach chair and vestry rep, expressed concern about the fact that Trinity has for the past five years at least been reducing the commitment for granting monies to concerns outside the parish bounds. Our ability to extend beyond ourselves has been severely curtailed by the rising costs of the maintenance of the buildings, the support of program and the calling of staff. Now, we face the challenge of bringing our sense of call to serve the world as the Body of Christ in this place to a new level of re-commitment. Jean asked for a doubling of her granting budget, something that at least in principle we could all agree on. The challenge is that along with other challenges we seek to embrace (and I will get to those in a moment), we have to decide to increase our expenses in the budget--and that will incept a new deficit, albeit for a good reason. Our Baptismal Covenant holds us to the promise to promote justice and peace in the world, and to recognize and support the dignity of every human being. We do that with money, resources and time in service. Without a significant monetary commitment from us, though, the parish is failing right now to model that Covenantal expectation to its true potential, at least in my opinion.

Granted, there is always an increasing need for support in a growing parish. Still, I hope we can keep in mind that 1) all things are possible, in God; and 2) that our commitment to life in Christ calls us together up and out of places of individual concern and into corporate/communal and mutual support. We will raise the money to do what we are called on to do...But if we don't get past the tight margins we force ourselves to live under, then things only get done in a piecemeal fashion.

On top of the challenge to embrace a renewed and overdue refreshment of our theology and practice of Outreach, I also engaged the vestry in a discussion that began a couple of months ago about the calling of a clergy associate. We have the opportunity to call someone tomorrow, or next year. The only challenge is going to be funding the position. Clergy are expensive folk to support. In the diocese of Pennsylvania, a newly ordained deacon "costs" over $65K a year. Again, we can all agree that the calling of an assistant rector is important; but in the end we all have to be willing to support that call. It is a risk, but the benefits have already been felt here at Trinity in the past. I hope those blessings will be experienced again in the near future. I am heartened by the honest and frank conversations vestry is having. God willing, they will be able to lead us as a parish to the place where we are able to tender the resources needed to make that call happen, and to sustain it. From what I can see, hear, taste and sense in the parish, the time is right. Fingers crossed and prayers ascending.

The meeting broke up around 10:15. Early for us, and something I hope will become a trend. I want to make sure we stay fresh and able. Late meetings don't really encourage that sort of energy.

I owe Carroll Sheppard a call. We should be getting our report back from her with regard to the mutual ministry review that I and the vestry completed at the beginning of the month. Once Lorrie and Dick have combed through it and prepared it for release, we should have the material in the hands of the parish within a couple of weeks. Again, God willing, that will allow us more material to talk about.

Trinity is ready, I am convinced to start asking of itself just who God is calling it to be. Once we pray that answer together, we will be ready to figure out what next God is calling on us to do!

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