I know that, at first glance, all seems to be going really well at Plymouth: we have a beautiful facility, three Sunday services, ample clergy and program staff, a great music program, dramatic outreach into the community, our denomination, and the wider world. (Can you believe our folks gave over $9,000 to the UCC Christmas Fund and over $15,000 to Neighbor to Neighbor?) And together we are doing great things! Thank you for that commitment!
Having been in both a Budget & Finance meeting and a Nominating Committee meeting yesterday afternoon and evening, I am aware that we need to make our mission and ministry at Plymouth more sustainable.
To make up the $88,000 gap between pledges and budget requests for 2019, we are freezing all programmatic spending at 2018 actual levels and rolling back other expenditures on things like staff computers. Payroll is our biggest expense (in part because we have a newer building and hard-working trustees that result in low facility costs), and we reduced the cost-of-living adjustment for staff; no merit or range increases were included this year. We also took some designated funds out of reserves to help pay for the new bookkeeper, and we are going to recommend at the Congregational Meeting in January that we fold the overage from our Capital Campaign to help fund the 2019 budget.
We have a situation at Plymouth where some folks seem to think that “other people” will fund the budget and take leadership positions or that staff will get things done. The problem is that we often do! Our current lay leaders, volunteers, and staff make it look like everything is just fine. We may seem to glide gracefully on calm surface of Plymouth’s waters, but scores of little webbed duck feet are paddling like fury just to keep us where we are. And that is not sustainable.
I see some utterly exhausted volunteers. Why? Because too many folks are doing little besides keeping a pew warm on Sunday morning. We need every person at Plymouth to help pull together so that we aren’t burning our volunteers out.
In order to get things done, we are professionalizing things that volunteers used to do at Plymouth, like providing childcare. Sometimes that makes sense, like recognizing the need to hire a half-time bookkeeper. The rub comes when we have to pay our staff. And if we aren’t doing the work or paying for someone else to do it, it isn’t sustainable.
As I looked around our Budget & Finance Committee last night, I saw some of our most engaged lay leaders – people who offer their time and their expertise willingly to Plymouth. And you might think these folks would say, “I’ve done my bit through my hours of service…let someone else pledge.” But that isn’t how it works out. The people in that room are some of the most generous financial givers as well.
Why are the people who give of their time often the people who also pledge most generously? I think the answer is deceptively simple. It’s faithfulness and commitment. Madison Avenue would have a hard time selling that concept to consumers, but the church is not trying to sell anything…we’re trying to change lives and bring in the kingdom of God.
One of our members has a nickname for me. She always greets me with “How’s it going, Coach?” And that’s often how I think of my role at Plymouth. You all are the players who comprise the team. And sometimes coaches tell players things they’d rather not hear…that’s part of the job. And I hope you will hear this in that spirit…as words from a coach whose job is to encourage the team. Some of our members need to get off the bench and get into the game. We need you to play with the rest of the team by generously offering your money and your time and expertise. Take a leap of faith and stretch yourself!
This church is the greatest team in the league, and if you team members want to keep it that way, you need to step up your game. It’s not up to the coach…it’s up to you. With God’s help, we can make Plymouth more sustainable, but you, as part of this amazing congregation, are going to have to make some changes if that is going to happen.
We can do this together, but it means making some tough choices and even some sacrifices on the part of every one of our members. So, let’s get in the game and do it!
The Rev. Hal Chorpenning has been Plymouth's senior minister since 2002. Before that, he was associate conference minister with the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. A grant from the Lilly Endowment enabled him to study Celtic Christianity in the UK and Ireland. Prior to ordained ministry, Hal had a business in corporate communications. Read more about Hal.
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