I am reminded of a Lenten prayer by Jane V. Doull as I write for this edition. I share excerpts below:
Restless, searching God: You call us into the wilderness, as you called the Hebrew people. As you called Jesus. Help us to be true to that call. Enable us to resist the easy answers and quick solutions that promise a false happiness. Deliver us from the temptation of putting comfort, security, and control before your will and your way.
God of the wilderness: We ask you to guide our church through this sometimes barren land. We ask your wisdom in times of testing and conflict. Deliver us from the temptation of a pat-answer faith, sheltered from the vicissitudes of life. Open us to trusting each other sufficiently that we might truly speak what we mean and feel.
The last few weeks have felt like journeying in the wilderness as we have worked on budget preparations for 2016. The Stewardship & Finance and Personnel Committees have been working hard to find a path toward a right size ministry within the Conference. Many of you know that the Southeast Conference has adopted deficit budgets for many of the past years. But the resources that have made up that difference and sustained the Conference are no longer there and we must face up to the realities that confront this ministry.
I shared with the staff in the February staff meeting that there are only three ways to address the budget deficit—find more income, reduce expenses, reduce staff. I know the realities of local churches and the challenges they face to balance budgets and continue vital ministry. Several churches have had to cut their contribution to Our Churches Wider Mission, the basic support offering that sustains the ministries of the Conference. We also tithe or pledge 10% of that amount to the national setting of the United Church of Christ to support those ministries. The more income piece is not feasible for this Conference though we would welcome additional giving if that is possible for any local churches. I am grateful that some churches have increased their giving and other are working toward a true tithe.
The Board of Directors will be looking at the budget at their meeting this month. With such a small operation, there are not many options. Unfortunately the elimination of the executive administrator position was a result of those limited options. (Please see this article honoring Gerri Ryons-Hudson’s ministry.) More cuts will be necessary as we need to find an additional $20,000 in additional income or savings to have a 2016 balanced budget. The Board will be communicating directly with churches and leaders after their meeting.
This kind of situation is not affecting only the Southeast Conference. The other 37 Conferences of the United Church of Christ are having similar conversations as we all seek ways to adapt to the reality of a changing culture of giving and relational attitudes toward organizations. It may feel like a wilderness experience right now but we recall that the people of God had to find their way through the challenges of perceived lack of abundance and leadership challenges. But God is good and provided all that was needed so that the Children of Israel could claim their place in God’s great, compassionate, and merciful plan for all of creation. Can we doubt that the same is in store for our little corner of the world?