Saturday, January 29, 2011

Annual Report Part 7

I’d like to return to Refuge in this post, as I have not yet taken notice of Kris Opat’s report on the service that appears on page 4 of the annual report.

First, let me admit that Refuge has its virtues, but such a service would make more sense at an urban cathedral than it does in the affluent but quiet suburbs. Moreover, a project like Refuge should only be undertaken by a healthy parish looking for new challenges, not a parish like our own with many discontents and a widespread belief that the last “new” service has been a failure.

Having said that, let me offer three stories. I have all of them on good authority, but I admittedly heard them secondhand.

First, the good news (sort of). A member of the Unitarian church down the street came to a Refuge service and was quite impressed—impressed enough for her to invite a friend to the service. (I know the friend.) She remains a member of the Unitarian church, however. I was told of another woman who liked the service and showed up at Dickens’ Dames, certainly a good sign.

My final story is less happy. From the beginning—see “Reflecting on Refuge”—I have complained about the absence of adequate lighting in the Refuge service. I understand the desire to create a relaxing, contemplative atmosphere, but humans are neither owls nor bats; we become dysfunctional in real darkness. Apparently, a worshiper tripped at a recent service. This should be a wake-up call, but I don’t have confidence that it will be.

Now, to the matter of Kris’s report. He notes that an average of 34 people attended the service in 2010. Attendance over the 15 weeks Refuge was put on in 2010 is shown in the graph below.

Refuge attendance
The average attendance was indeed 34, as Kris asserted, but that number is less impressive than it might seem. Attendance at the first service was 90, more than two and a half times the average attendance. Obviously, that service attracted a great number of rubberneckers who never came back or who never even considered coming back. Also an outlier in the data is the attendance for December 5, when members of the confirmation class were required to attend. (God only knows why, other than to skew the attendance figures.)

If the two special Sunday services are excluded from the data, the average attendance was about 30. (The number would be slightly higher if we were to throw out the data for Halloween, which Kris described as “abnormally low.”) Given that five or more people are actually involved in staging the service, a more realistic statement of the average attendance is on the order of 25. No target attendance goals were ever stated for Refuge in 2010, so I cannot say if such a number represents success or not.

According to Kris’s report, the parish contributed $8,000 in start-up funds for Refuge. Moreover, the way he stated this, it appears as though that money was appropriated in the spring of 2010:
In the spring, Diocesan Council approved a grant of $12,000 to St. Paul’s for the new Sunday evening service. To that seed money St. Paul’s contributed another $8,000. In May we brought Kate Eaton to consult in the preparation and launch of Refuge at St. Paul’s.
It is difficult to account for this $8,000. (See “Annual Report Part 2.”)

Kris notes that the Refuge budget for 2010 was $23,000. (Vestry members repeatedly asked to see a Refuge budget and were never provided with one. I asked Valerie DeMarco for a full accounting of Refuge expenditures and met with the same result.) According to Kris, “$21,000 covered all expenses for 2010.” Perhaps it did. Then why are Refuge expenses for 2010 shown as only $16,128.45 on page 26? Again, see “Annual Report Part 2.”

Why does trying to make sense of Refuge accounting have to seem like watching a shell game?

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