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.

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