Monday, August 30, 2010

Fulfilling the Vision Postponed

I have only just returned from a long Vestry meeting at which the feasibility report for Fulfilling the Vision prepared by the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) was presented. Glenn Holliman, representing ECF, walked the vestry through the 76-page report. Based on that report and presentation, the Vestry has decided to postpone any capital campaign, probably for at least six months or so.

Holloman made clear that there was much support for projects involving St. Paul’s physical plant, but that there was a general consensus that the program part of the proposed initiative should be financed through the annual budget. Even some of the improvements to the building were controversial, particularly the air conditioning of the church, a new sound system, and changes to the undercroft. In any case, it was made clear that the church could not now raise anything near the $1.8 million in the Fulfilling the Vision proposal, both because of concerns about the proposed projects and because of the unfavorable economic climate.

The consensus on the Vestry was that no definitive decision about a capital campaign could be made immediately, but it was recognized that, if the Vestry did not move forward immediately, the campaign would have to be postponed. A statement to the effect that the proposal for a capital campaign will have to be revisited is to be drawn up and presented to parishioners.

The ECF report did not include an executive summary, and it may be up to the Vestry to draft one for the parish. In any case, the ECF report will be made available to parishioners in various forms and will presumably be posted on the parish Web site soon.

I will probably have more to say about tonight’s meeting later, but it is worth noting that the Vestry handled what was no doubt seen by many as bad news with equanimity and maturity. By the time the church undertakes its next capital campaign—I have no doubt that it will eventually—it is to be hoped that there is a greater consensus about what is to be done with the funds raised. The Vestry has a good deal of work to do between now and then.

Meanwhile, the church needs to run a successful stewardship campaign. If the programmatic elements originally proposed for Fulfilling the Vision are ever to be implemented, they will have to be incorporated into the operating budget and financed through increased annual giving.

I hope that the leaders at St. Paul’s will work diligently to build consensus around components of a revised capital campaign, one targeted to physical plant rehabilitation and improvement. It is to be hoped that such a campaign is one that most parishioners can get behind.

Important Vestry Meeting Tonight

St. Paul’s’ Vestry meets tonight at 7 PM in the conference room. Two matters feature prominently on the agenda: the feasibility report on Fulfilling the Vision from the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF), and preparations for the initiation of the Refuge service set to begin next month.

Indications are that the feasibility report will be something less than a glowing endorsement of the Fulfilling the Vision project, but I, along with most members of the Vestry, have not yet seen it. A presentation will be given by ECF’s Glenn Holloman, whom many parishioners met when he was interviewing people at the church.

It should be an interesting meeting. I will have more to say about it tonight or tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is St. Paul’s Growing?

Apparently not.

The figure below is from the Web site of The Episcopal Church. (You can generate graphs for St. Paul’s or for other parishes from here. Click on the figure for a larger view.)

The figure shows three measures of parish size over time. I should hasten to add that none of these measures, and probably no combination of them, measures parish health. (For a provocative essay on measuring parish health, see “Measuring productivity in the church.”)

Of the measures shown here, “Worship Attendance,” usually labeled “Average Sunday Attendance” (ASA) is usually cited as the best indication of the effective size of a parish measured in numbers of people. Church “members” who never show up may be indifferent, alienated, relocated, or dead. Who knows? ASA is both more meaningful and more obvious than many other measures, even to those not actually counting heads or poring over statistics. Income measures, on the other hand, reflect the health of the community as much as they do the size or health of the parish.

So what of St. Paul’s? Anyone who has been around for a decade or more will probably say that St. Paul’s is shrinking. From the chart, it is clear that ASA in the recent past peaked in 1999, was stable for two more years, and then began a steady, if not completely monotonic, decline. The ASA for 2009 (not shown on the chart) was 317, down 3 from the year before. Between 2003 and 2009, ASA varied within the range of 316 ±25. I suspect that the figures I am using do not account for the Saturday evening service, but anyone who has been going to that service knows that it is attracting fewer worshipers than it used to.

Interesting though these facts are, they become more significant in light of Lou’s recent message about adding staff. (See “A Response to the Latest Plea for Fulfilling the Vision.”) The size of the staff at St. Paul’s has been growing and is as big as it has been in two decades. At other times we have been without an associate rector, without a youth director, missing other key staff members, or getting by with temporary replacements. We had more people attending services then.

What’s wrong with this picture? In fact, what’s wrong with St. Paul’s? Do we really expect that a $1.8 million fund drive will fix it? I don’t.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Response to the Latest Plea for Fulfilling the Vision

I have just received The Messenger for September. It includes a half-page essay by Lou concerning Fulfilling the Vision:
As of this writing, we are awaiting the results of the Feasibility Study conducted by the Episcopal Church Foundation. We are grateful for everyone who participated via interview, focus group, or survey questionnaire. Everyone’s views are important, and all will be taken into account. A representative of the Episcopal Church Foundation will report to the Vestry and Capital Campaign Committee on August 30. Based on the results and recommendations of the study, your parish leadership will make decisions concerning whether and when to proceed with the capital campaign, and, assuming we have a campaign, the financial goal, the components of the campaign, and the priorities for funding.

Preliminary feedback indicates that while many parishioners support much of the “brick and mortar” proposals to maintain or enhance our church property, some have questioned the need for the other components relating to pastoral care, outreach, mission, and ministry. I urge everyone to consider that the proposed capital campaign has been developed to make our Vision and Mission as expressed in Vision 15 a reality. All of the proposed projects are interrelated, and all designed to grow the Kingdom of God and do more of Christ’s work, through St. Paul’s. If we put all of our energy and money into enhancing the building, we forget that the Church is the people, not the building. And we run the risk of ultimately having a beautiful but empty building.

Some have also questioned why some of the components, particularly the one for children, youth, young adults, and families have funding for staff. While it is true that staff funding is normally provided through the annual operating budget, this is a chicken/egg dilemma. It is a principle of congregational development that churches need to hire staff in order to grow, and that increased giving should follow. So the rational [sic] for this component of the potential capital campaign is to provide for three to four years of transitional funding, with the operating budget gradually increasing so that the positions could be fully funded by the operating budget after several years. As we grow our programs of great pastoral care, outreach, and activities for children, youth, young adults, families, singles, and seniors, we will attract more people of all ages. The congregation will grow, and the operating budget will increase as the number of contributors increases.

Stay tuned for more information about the Capital Campaign!

The Rev. Lou Hays
(I have reproduced the essay here, since the issue is not yet on the St. Paul’s Web site.)

This essay offers, in order, the following facts and assertions:
  1. The Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) will report on the feasibility study on August 30.
  2. Initial feedback suggests that there is much resistance to the non-capital components of the proposed project.
  3. All the proposed projects are related and are designed “to make our Vision and Mission as expressed in Vision 15 a reality.”
  4. We should not attend to our building and ignore our people.
  5. The increase in staff will lead to growth and increased giving. After a few years, salaries for new staff will come from increased giving.
I want to offer my thoughts on these five points.

Point 1. I am happy to know when the ECF will deliver its report. We had been told to expect a report by the end of August, of course. I am concerned, however, that ECF “will report to the Vestry and Capital Campaign Committee.” Is there going to be a report available to parishioners? If there is, say, a PowerPoint presentation given by the ECF, will parishioners get to see it? Can parishioners attend the August 30 presentation? I have reason to believe the vestry intends to go into executive session to receive the report. Parishioners are paying for this report; they have a right to know exactly what it says.

Point 2. No one who has talked to parishioners about Fulfilling the Vision should be surprised by this admission.

Point 3. Like many parishioners last fall, I attended the first “visioning” meeting, but I did not participate in subsequent meetings. (I gather that few people did.) I had two reasons for not continuing to be a part of that process: (1) I thought the process was not well matched to our needs, and (2) it was never clear how the conclusions of the planning were to be used. That the proposed projects are tightly interconnected and part of a plan whose integrity would be destroyed by picking and choosing from among them is an assertion that has never been supported and which is not obviously true. At best, what the projects have in common is that they all came out of last year’s brainstorming (or dreaming). I will have more to say about this below.

Point 4. This assertion is designed to make us feel self-absorbed, shallow, and ignorant. One has only to look at the Statement of Operations on the facing page of The Messenger, however, to see that we are hardly spending an excessive amount of money on our physical plant. Of the $742,455 total budget, only $96,000 (just under 13%) is allocated to property. On the other hand, $506,815 (more than 68%) is dedicated to personnel expenses. In reality, we have continued to add staff while ignoring the needs of our aging building.

Point 5. The argument that we must add personnel to grow and that the increased giving from additional members will eventually pay for the expanded staff is an argument that, at best, has been only implicit until now. It is an argument that should have been made long before now. The argument is, alas, a highly questionable one, and I know cases where such a strategy has led to disaster. Lou assures us that “[i]t is a principle of congregational development that churches need to hire staff in order to grow, and that increased giving should follow.” I challenge him to cite an authority for this “principle of congregational development.” No one I consulted considered this conventional wisdom. No doubt, in some circumstances, additional staff could facilitate church growth. I don’t think, however, that any rule of thumb of church development justifies what has been proposed: adding 3 or 4 people, in addition to an expensive new service, all at once. Even if we had the money in hand to add so many people to the staff, it would likely be unwise to add them all at once, rather than expanding the staff gradually by adding one function at a time. This is not a rational investment in our parish; it is a reckless gamble. Also, I am surprised that, in the rush to add to the staff, no one has suggested adding a skilled technologically savvy communications person. Yet, improved communications is an often cited need at St. Paul’s, whose Web site is—not to put too fine a point on it—inadequate.

Thoughts on Vision 15

Vision 15 seems to be a laundry list of everything anyone thought it might be nice for St. Paul’s to have. Surprisingly, it did not include pony rides for the kids and a merry-go-round in the playground. Every church should dream, but planning requires adult supervision and the ability to focus on which needs are most urgent and which are either frivolous or of low priority. Fulfilling the Vision looks like the product of someone who could not say no to anything. Had I realized that what was being said last fall would be incorporated into an expensive fund-raising campaign, I might have attended more meetings.

As it was, I thought that the “appreciative inquiry” that began the visioning process was a poor technique for a St. Paul’s with a good deal of parishioner unrest. We were being asked to identify our strengths and how we could build on them. This is a fine task to undertake, but a more urgent task is to identify problems likely to impede our progress as a congregation. My impression is that serious problems do exist. At the very least, many parishioners believe there are serious problems at St. Paul’s, and the proposal of a grand plan to raise and spend more then $1.8 million has simply added to their discomfort about the health of our parish.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

New Musician Hired

In an e-mail message to members of the choir Wednesday, Doug Starr announced that Bryan Sable has been hired by St. Paul’s as musical assistant. He begins work next week. Bryan’s principal responsibility will center around the forthcoming Refuge service (see earlier post here). Apparently, however, he will also help with the 10:30 service. Doug reports that Sable will resurrect the Canterbury (children’s) Choir, which will occasionally sing at the 10:30 service. Doug told choir members that more information about Sable will be available in a forthcoming issue of The Messenger, presumably the September issue.

Doug’s e-mail also contained information about forthcoming events, including a performance of Bach Cantata 29 on November 14. Unfortunately, the St. Paul’s Web site doesn’t seem to have any information about music at the church, which is rather odd for a church with a serious music program. Friends of Music does have a Facebook page, but, like most Facebook pages, it isn’t designed for quickly conveying useful information.

I was happy to see that the weekly e-mail from St. Paul’s also announced the addition of Bryan Sable to the staff. (You can see that e-mail message here. Look under “Worship and Music” for “Music Notes.”)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Fulfilling the Vision, Part 7

My sixth post on Fulfilling the Vision is here.
I was surprised in church today when Lou suggested that the projects in the proposed Fulfilling the Vision package are all of a piece, relating to one as an integrated whole. Grab bagThis notion was a surprise to me and surely was to others, if they were paying attention.

The collection of projects appears to me to be a grab bag of everything anyone could dream up last year when people were brainstorming about what St. Paul’s could do. If all the pieces of Fulfilling the Vision are related, it isn’t obvious, and no one hitherto has made the case that they are. Why, for example, would Fulfilling the Vision be any less coherent if it contained no money for the endowment? for air conditioning? for the Blessed Mustard Seed Babies Home? I have no idea.

Many parishioners clearly think that the price tag on Fulfilling the Vision is too big. If the package is being offered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, it is likely that the entire project will be rejected.