Sunday, February 20, 2011

Refuge Revisited (Again)

Service bulletin coverBecause I stayed till the bitter end of the session with Bob Johnston this morning—see “Report from the Treasurer Q&A”—I missed the beginning of the 10:30 service, so I decided to go to the Refuge service tonight. It is no secret that Refuge is not my favorite service, but I resolved to be as objective as possible in assessing the Refuge experience.

Actually, I think Refuge has potential, even though I question its staging at a suburban church. I almost like Refuge in principle, but I believe that lots of the specifics of its presentation need improvement. Rather than give a general review of the service, I will mostly note the things I think need improving.

Here is my list:
  1. Recorded music was playing when I entered the church. This was tacky, but the music was pleasant. When it was time to start the service, however, the music was abruptly cut off. This was unacceptably tacky. These things can be timed.
  2. The church is still too dark. I changed seats in order to be directly under a lantern, but I still had problems reading the service bulletin. This is not welcoming! More thought should go into lighting. Using more light in the side aisles might obviate the need for more light directly in the nave and, psychologically, might make the nave seem darker when it is actually brighter. The floodlights behind the arch at the back of the chancel might be put to good use, if only to dispel some of the spooky shadows above the reredos.
  3. The fabric draped here and there seemed rather arbitrary. Some of it makes sense; some looks, from a distance, like a mess of spider webs. The narrow vertical hangings were just so much clutter.
  4. The incense was intense enough to be perceived without being overwhelming or stifling.
  5. The translucent projection screen works well, and the electronic picture frames are a clever way of displaying text effectively even in low light. (Boldface type would have helped even more.)
  6. I cannot figure out if Refuge is intended to be a collective, kumbaya sort of experience or whether it is intended as a very personal, solitary experience. Perhaps it is intended to be either, depending on the needs of the worshiper. There are indications that it is intended to have a more corporate, though friendly, character, which would be more in keeping with an Episcopal ethos. In what follows, I will tend to adopt that assumption. (Perhaps more thought should go into our objectives for the service.)
  7. Why don't we use the pew torches? They provide light and look nice.
  8. I don’t like the way people spread out. I would rope off the pews from the middle of the nave to the back in order to make people sit in the general vicinity of one another.
  9. The prayer book, in many cases, breaks up text said together into short lines. This is done for a reason; it telegraphs where pauses should be inserted and helps a congregation read more effectively in unison. The Refuge service booklet does virtually none of this. It should.
  10. The service booklet says nothing about when people should stand, sit, or kneel. Mabel, who was leading the service, was of little help in suggesting what people should do. I wasn’t sure whether to do what my Episcopal intuition suggested I should do or do what everyone else seemed to be doing. I went with the latter, but I wasn’t comfortable doing so.
  11. There was no real passing of the peace. Why not?
  12. I found the musical interludes inserted without warning somewhat distracting. This may not be a fair criticism, but it’s what I felt.
  13. Candles near fabric made me nervous. I would rather not be distracted by such thoughts. (I tried to remember where all the extinguishers were.)
  14. Sound continues to be a problem. I could not hear the lessons because of noisy children. (I don't think Refuge is much of a children’s service.) By contrast to the spoken word, the music was generally too loud. Music needs to be toned down—sound reinforcement, not amplification should be the goal, and the spoken word requires microphones. Preaching should be done slowly and with as low and soothing a voice as possible.
  15. I did not like the fact that I could not see the musicians. They should be in a more conspicuous location. Moreover, the nature of the amplification produced a certain cognitive dissonance; I knew they were in one place, but the sound came from somewhere completely different.
  16. I heard virtually no one except me and one other person singing. Whatever we’re doing encourages an audience, not a congregation.
  17. I continue to dislike the fact that all music is offered in unison. I was jealous of the musicians singing in harmony. I felt left out. (It sounded like fun.)
  18. The music at the end of the service seemed to go on interminably. This was not endearing. If it was meant to accompany the departure of the congregation, no one seemed to know it, as everyone stayed until the music was over. I had a strong desire to get on with life.

Report from the Treasurer Q&A

There was a good turnout for the Q&A session at church today with treasurer Bob Johnston. Bob handed out a copy of the 2011 budget, which, unlike the version distributed at the annual meeting, included details. Those details even included a breakdown of personnel expenses, though not with figures broken down by employee. (You can view the handout here.)

The first question asked involved whether the personnel figures presented reflected salary cuts. Bob answered that they did—a 5.35% cut for lay staff and a 10.7% cut in salary and housing allowance for clergy.

Another question asked about mandatory outreach (diocesan/Episcopal Church assessment plus Growth Fund contribution). The figure is higher for 2011 than for 2010 because the parish was granted a more than $10,000 reduction last year. Bob indicated that we intended to ask for about a $1,500 reduction this year. (Out of perversity, I asked if we would ask for an assessment increase if we received more funds than expected. Bob didn’t think so. The assessment is based on a three-year average of income, which is intended to account for ups and downs in parish fortunes. One wonders how well we are planning if we have to ask for a reduction in assessment each year, particularly if we are already planning to do so in February. Perhaps we should be cutting expenditures instead.)

I asked if the $25,000 withdrawal from the Contingency Fund shouldn’t be considered operating income. Bob said that it was money we had already paid assessment on and therefore should not be considered operating income. He was uncertain about whether money taken from endowment and used for operating expenses should be considered operating income.

I said that my reading of the instructions for filling out the parochial report would require the $25,000 to be considered operating income, as would income to funds like the Altar Guild Fund.

A number of questions and comments involved possible economies. People asked if we could reduce utility costs, for example. One person noted that many tasks now performed by staff used to be done by volunteers. (Apparently, the youth program was once run by parents and other adults.) The cost of special musical events was questioned, although non-worship-related musical programs seem to be financed through Friends of Music. Someone asked why Friends of Music didn’t pay off any remaining debt from the organ installation. (No one had an answer to that.)

It was pointed out that a committee was formed in 2009 to develop strategies for eliminating budget deficits. Bob noted that the parish is now putting together a finance committee to provide such advice. He said the report from the earlier committee would be forwarded to the new one.

It was noted that we are losing money on Coffee/Coke. Bob suggested that providing coffee was primarily responsible for this. In the discussion, it came out that whatever fund donut sale money goes into is not represented at all in the annual report.

A question was asked about support of Old St. Luke’s. Lou answered that he thought we had provided no support for Old St. Luke’s since before he arrived. That church is financed primarily through wedding revenues.

I noted that none of the funds other than the Operating Fund had a budget in the annual report. Bob noted that, if any of those funds do have budgets, the Vestry never sees them. I then asked about the Refuge Service Fund, which, of course, has no budget in the annual report. If we are eventually to finance this service ourselves, we need to know its cost. What, I asked, has the diocese given us this year. Lou indicated that the diocese has contributed $12,000, with the promise of giving more this year. Someone suggested that we should have periodic updates on the Refuge Service Fund. Someone else suggested that the same would be helpful for the Children and Youth Ministries Fund.

A number of people expressed discontent at the proliferation of miscellaneous funds, which makes it difficult to get a clear picture of the financial state of the parish. Lou remarked that, except for ECW, the Vestry has to sign off on expenditures from these funds. (I’m not sure that response quite addressed the identified problem.)

Bob insisted that funds outside the Operating Fund were not set up to avoid diocesan assessment, though he seemed to admit that the arrangement might have that effect.

A question was raised concerning the cost of color handouts. Bob noted that the 8:45 bulletin cost about $45/week, the Refuge bulletin cost about $4/week (bulletins are used for more than one week), and the bulletin for the other services—that bulletin is usually black & white—costs $24/week. The parish newsletter costs about $150/month to print on our leased copiers.

I asked why our consolidation loan from the diocese, which I admitted was a good thing, was for more than the remaining principal of our two loans. Bob answered that the PNC loan had a provision for a prepayment penalty.

Someone asked why two people on the staff were involved in ministry for children and youth, and why we have so many sextons. Bob explained the division of labor and explained that we only pay sextons for the work done; we may have more sextons than formerly, but they are not being paid for more work.

Several comments and questions involved outreach. We are, of course, spending no money on outreach, though many parishioners are contributing personally to outreach projects. We are certainly not giving the 10% of our income to outreach, as the parish once voted to do.

I asked if the $19,000 or so difference between budgeted pledges and pledges in hand had a reasonable chance of being eliminated. Bob answered that Valerie had studied who has pledged in the past, not pledged this year, but is still contributing, and she concluded that the gap would, indeed, be closed.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Answers from the Treasurer

So as not to ambush him at tomorrow’s meeting about the parish’s finances, I wrote to treasurer Bob Johnston to let him know about my questions. To my surprise, Bob answered in writing. I am grateful for his promptness and frankness. I want to note his answers here, which I will interpret, rather than reproduce. The question numbers refer those in “Questions for the Annual Meeting.”

Question 1: The issue here is how to read the parish financial statements. Bob wrote
The amounts listed as short-term portion on the balance sheet represent the total principal payments on each loan that will be due during the coming twelve months. The amounts listed as long-term portion are the principal payments that are due in subsequent years.
Actually, this is very interesting. According to the balance sheet on page 14 of the annual report, our two loans, as of the beginning of this year, had a total outstanding principal of $65,701.86. Why, then, did the diocesan Growth Fund give us a loan to “refinance” our loans to the tune of $69,900? (See parish announcement here.) What we doing we doing with the excess of more than $4,000? Does the diocese know there is an excess of $4,198.14?

Bob went on to explain that interest payments on our loans ($4,498.39 in 2010—see line 512006 on page 16) are an operating expense, but principal payments are not. Specifically, he wrote
Principal payments are shown separately since they are repayments of amounts on the balance sheet and are not an expense to the church (they are a cash payment, however), but interest costs are an expense to the church, as well as a cash payment.
Although I don’t pretend to understand this logic, it does explain the $17,677.97 payment in the cash flow statement on page 19 and the similar, but negative, figure on page 18. It was not intuitively clear to me that “PNC and Diocesan Roof Loan Payments” on page 19 represented only the principle payments. Such payments should be labeled as principal payments in the future.

Question 2: Bob did not tell me what the Education Fund is for, perhaps because he does not know. He justified taking $3,000 from it to “educate” Kris about the Wilderness service in Denver. (The church sent him to Denver to investigate.)

Question 3: Because of the lateness of the hour—I want to get this posted tonight—I am going to reproduce Bob’s response first and make only a small comment on it.
This $25,000 was initially a loan from the Contingency Fund until it was determined that we would not have any excess cash at the end of 2010 to repay it. At that point, the decision was made to "write it off," or in other words treat it as a permanent withdrawal from the Contingency Fund. It would not be classified as revenue for the operating fund but would appear on the balance sheet for the operating fund as a liability to the Contingency Fund, if we had decided that we intended to pay it back in the near future. Interest income, of any type, is a true income item for any fund, so the interest income of the Contingency Fund needs to show up somewhere as income and we always transfer it to the operating fund as income in that fund. I don’t understand the surplus of $13,472.96 that you mention. As shown in the Operating Fund Statement on page 15, the operating fund has a deficit of $11,527.04 after loan principal payments. As you will also see on that same statement, there was a surplus realized, prior to loan principal payments, of $6,150.93. We have chosen to supplement the operating fund statement by including the loan principal payments, even though they are not expenses (rather the repayment of an amount borrowed), because we believe it shows a more complete picture of our cash deficit. I am not sure which "special funds" you have included, so I cannot recomputed the net loss of $600 that you mention.

There is no intent to obscure our true finances in order to reduce our assessment liability to the diocese. I am not sure why you say more and more items are being removed from the operating fund. The only item I am aware of removing in the past couple of years are the Children and Youth costs and we did that because we received special contributions from the Cotillion Fund specifically for Children and Youth costs and we felt it was only proper to segregate those amounts in a separate fund to which we charge expenses for Children and Youth. There has not been a discussion as to how the Salary Restoration Fund donations will be treated for revenue purposes.
I had suspected that the “loan” from the Contingency had been changed to a withdrawal. I believe this should have been treated as operating income, however. (More on that next time.)

Question 4: Bob explained that the Property Commission pays for “normal operating expenses” such as utilities, maintenance, and minor repairs. The Property Fund covers “major repairs and maintenance of a capital nature.” The $25,100 line for donations (page 22) did come from parishioners, though Bob did not make clear under what circumstances they were contributed. Clearly, the line between Property Commission costs and Property Fund costs is blurry. Here and elsewhere, as far as representing the financial condition of the parish, it makes no difference how contributions such as the aforementioned $25,100 are accounted for. For purposes of computing the diocesan assessment, it might. (Frankly, it does not seem to me as though any of the expenses of the Property Fund represent capital improvements. They all seem like routine—if perhaps too long deferred—maintenance.)

Question 5: Bob said he has to check on this. Apparently, the money is not in an interest-bearing account. Why not?

Question 6: Bob indicated that Bryan’s salary is split 80% to Refuge and 20% to other activities. As best as I can tell, the $5,264.86 represents Bryan’s salary and FICA. Bob did not say whether other musicians were being paid for Refuge and, if so, where the money is accounted for. The 20% of Bryan’s salary and FICA is included under Total Personnel Commission. Bryan’s salary, therefore, seems to be accounted for responsibly. (I still want to know if we are paying other musicians for Refuge.)

Question 7: Bob did not know who was paid $1,000 out of the Friends of Music account. Apparently, Virginia Schaap is the Music Guild Administrator. Her duties seem to include publicity and soliciting funds.

Question 8: Bob could not explain this figure fully, and said he would have to consult with Kris. He suggested that staff time to prepare bulletins and the like might be included here. If this is the case, why does it not show up in Refuge Service Fund revenues?

Question 9: I think I will just reproduce Bob’s answer here.
At this point in time, given our budget position, we do not anticipate providing any support to Old St. Luke’s. It is up to Doug where he saves $2,100 in the music area. He is given that budget and needs to adhere to it, unless he comes to the Vestry for authorization to spend more. As part of the process of determining the best way to balance the budget, it was decided that Music was an area we would look to for savings.
Question 10: Again, let me just give Bob’s answer, which includes information I did not know.
I will have to get back to you on what the budget is for Refuge in 2011, but we have already received a grant from the diocese for 2011 expenses. I will confirm that amount, as well.
Question 11: From Bob:
You should ask Kris and/or Lou this question. I have not been intimately involved in discussions about Refuge.
Question 12: Bob reported that we now have 232 pledges totaling $591,320, but he admits that this might not be up-to-date. It is, however, more than was reported in the annual report. There are five additional pledges, but the average amount of the new pledges is substantially below that of previously reported pledges. (We have sometimes shown the distribution of pledges, which was very interesting. I’m sure some parishioners were surprised at how much they were giving, and others were surprised at how little they were giving. In general, the average pledge is usually above the median pledge.)

Bob also provided answers for the questions in my post “Questions for the Treasurer.” His answers to these questions were particularly helpful, and I have no need to elaborate or comment on them. I reproduce them below.

Question 1:
The basis of the requests made in 2010 was that we were projecting a deficit and did not want to decimate our Contingency Fund by using a large portion of it to cover the deficit. Having no endowment fund to tap for income, we were in a tough situation. Early in the year, we requested a $6,000 reduction in our assessment. The Budget and Assessments Committee of Diocesan Council deferred action on that request and asked that we approach it again later in the year, if our financial position worsened or we determined that we still needed the $6,000 based on actual results further into the year. In the fall, we felt that our position had worsened, based on projections for the balance of the year. We therefore approached the Budget and Assessments Committee again, with a higher request (around $12,000, if I recall correctly). In the end, we were granted a reduction of $10,600. That amount represented two months of our assessment. We anticipate requesting a small reduction in our 2011 assessment based upon our current budgeted income being lower than the average of the last three years. The calculation of what we will request is based upon the diocesan formula for determining assessments and applying that formula to our projected 2011 income.
Question 2:
As you know, St. Paul’s has two loans outstanding. One is with the Diocesan Growth fund at 3% and has about 4 years left on its term. The other is with PNC Bank at over 7% but I do not know the number of years left on its term off the top of my head. It was the amount borrowed when we renovated the Nursery School area and purchased the organ. In order to conserve cash by spreading the payments over a longer period of time and paying a lower interest rate, we decided to apply to the Growth Fund for a loan to refinance these two loans. This week, we were granted a loan of $69,900 (amount owed on the loans as of the beginning of 2011) at 3% interest with an amortization period over 10 years and a balloon payment at the end of 5 years. Our intention is to pay off this loan with the first proceeds of the anticipated capital campaign in the next 12-18 months.
See my comments to the first Question 1.

Question 3:
This entire amount represents our diocesan assessment, national church assessment and Growth Fund contribution. We classify this as Mandated Outreach, as you will note on page 18 of the 2010 Annual Report, as it is money used outside of St. Paul’s to support diocesan programs, national church programs and Growth Fund activities.
Question 4: Bob sent a spreadsheet with the requested information.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

More on the Financial Front

The first of my financial questions was answered today in St. Paul’s’ weekly e-mail:
Good Financial News!
As I noted in the Treasurer's Report included in St. Paul's 2010 Annual Report, we applied for a $69,900 loan from the diocesan Growth Fund to refinance our current loan with the Growth Fund and our PNC loan. The purpose of the loan was to reduce our interest costs (the PNC loan was above 7% and we could refinance at 3% with the diocese), as well as our cash outlay each year for these loans. I am happy to report that the Board of Trustees approved our loan at their February meeting, which will save us about $4,600 compared to what we budgeted for 2011.
This news more or less answers question 2 in my post “Questions for the Treasurer.” Unfortunately, it raises another question. The new loan from the diocese is for $69,900. On page 14 of the annual report, however, the total of the short-term and long-term portions of our two loans—I really don’t understand the short-term/long-term distinction, by the way—is $65,701.86. Did we borrow more than we needed?

There seems to be good news and bad news on the stewardship front. Apparently we need more pledges than we had in hand when the annual meeting was held. Nevertheless, the annual meeting was held almost exactly one year after the 2010 annual meeting, so it should be meaningful to compare pledges reported at the two meetings. (Somewhat as an aside, I note that our meeting this year was held on Sunday, January 30. According to the 2010 minutes on page 45 of the annual report, that meeting was held on January 30, 2010. I think the correct date is January 31, 2010.)

According to John Sweeney’s Stewardship Commission report (page 37), as of January 10, we had 227 pledges totaling $587,420. This is good news because the average pledge is $2,587.75. According to the minutes of the 2010 meeting, the average pledge at about the same time of year was only $2,103.34. Now the bad news. According to the minutes from last year, the rector announced that we had 290 pledges in hand totaling $610,000. In other words, from 2010 to 2011, we increased pledges by 23%, but the number of pledges decreased by 22% . What is going on here? Perhaps Lou’s boast that the 290 pledges included “44 brand new pledges” suggests an answer. Since new pledges tend to be lower than pledges from long-time parishioners, perhaps we lost many of those new pledges, thus raising the average. If so, it is not an encouraging trend.

One final concern. Whereas in the annual reports of other parishes, I see information about discretionary funds, there is no such information in our annual report. Why is that? Does the parish not contribute to discretionary funds for priests?

Questions for the Treasurer

St. Paul’s Finances
"Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know about St. Paul’s Finances, But Were Afraid to Ask" led by Treasurer Bob Johnston, will be held on Sunday, February 20 during the 9:40 adult formation time in the back of the Parish Hall/Undercroft. Please join Bob for this question and answer session about our parish budget and finances.
The above announcement has appeared in a variety of places. The session presumably is intended to compensate for the lack of such a session prior to the annual meeting and to the suppression of questions at the annual meeting from which the treasurer was absent. I am delighted that the session has been scheduled, though I have my doubts that the allotted time for the meeting is sufficient. Also, I am not happy that I have to miss rehearsal with the choir to attend the meeting. (Sorry, Doug.)

I had a long list of questions I was not allowed to ask at the annual meeting—see “Questions for the Annual Meeting”—most of which are financial. I hope to get answers to those financial questions on Sunday. I have some additional questions I will list here. I invite others to suggest issues I may have missed.

New questions:
  1. In the past year, St. Paul’s made several requests for reduced parish assessment. What was the basis of these requests? How much of a reduction was requested, and how much was granted? Are additional requests for reductions anticipated? If so, on what basis?
  2. A diocesan newsletter this past week contained this item: “The Growth Fund also approved a request from St. Paul's, Mt. Lebanon, for a restructuring of its debt.” Can you explain?
  3. In the monthly financial statement in The Messenger, a large expense is “Outreach.” My understanding is the the major part of this is our diocesan assessment. Please list all items that make up the Outreach figure and justify their inclusion in the category.
  4. Please provide a complete breakout of “Total Personnel Commission,” which, after all, is the largest piece of St. Paul’s’ budget.
N.B. I have made Bob Johnston aware of these and earlier questions.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Work Resumes on Steps

I happened to pass St. Paul’s this morning and was gratified to see men working on the sidewalk and steps around the Mayfair Drive entrance to the narthex. No work has been done there in quite some time, which, I assume, was the result of inclement weather. I hope that we will soon be able to use that entrance again. The yellow tape and overturned orange barrels have hardly been a good advertisement for the church.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Regular readers know that I have some pet peeves regarding language at St. Paul’s. Like many parishioners, the renaming of the undercroft as the “parish hall,” a change of absolutely no utility whatever, is galling. Likewise, the constant repetition of our slogan about being welcoming is both annoying and embarrassing.

Happily, there is some progress on the language-at-St.-Paul’s front. Although Lou apparently cannot bring himself to say “undercroft” without additional qualification, the word “undercroft” is showing up with greater frequency. For example, in the news for the week of February 13, we find this sentence: “Pat McKeone will be selling tickets during the coffee hours this Sunday, February 6, in the Parish Hall/Undercroft” [emphasis added]. Lou frequently juxtaposes “parish hall” and “undercroft.” Doing so is irritating in its own way, but, to the degree that it recognizes that our congregation had a history before he arrived, it is mildly gratifying.

Since, at the beginning of the 10:30 service, I am usually lined up with the choir in the hallway, I generally don’t hear Lou’s welcome before the service begins. For a very long time, he had been greeting worshipers and identifying our parish as “the most welcoming congregation in the South Hills for all generations.” Someone had to point out to me that he is no longer doing that. Good for him! The announcement was like one of those irksome ads one has to endure on the Web before being allowed to watch a video you want to see.

Perhaps even the wording of our slogan could change to something more modest. I noticed this sentence in the February 11 “Exploring Our Worship” notice: “St. Paul’s Episcopal Church strives to be the most welcoming church in the South Hills for all generations” [emphasis added]. Whereas this is less compelling as a slogan, it has the advantage of being (at least arguably) true. (Incidentally, I thought the graphic for “Exploring Our Worship” was clever. I don’t know if it was done in-house or not, however.)

One other peeve is worth mentioning, namely, the capitalization of the names of rooms in the church building. (I was reminded of this practice at St. Paul’s while researching this post.) Why do we have a “Lounge” or “Parish Hall”? These terms are generic and do not deserve capitalization. On the other hand, something like “Chapel of the Good Shepherd” does deserve to be capitalized, as it is a specific, rather than a generic name. This practice is one of longstanding, and it’s time to put it to rest.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fire Update

Bryan Sable has e-mailed choir members to provide on update on the fire reported here yesterday. (See “Bryan Sable’s Rental Property Burns.”) Unfortunately, he reported that his tenant, Denise Huss, lost everything and did not have renter’s insurance. (Renters take note.) Apparently, Ms. Huss has a house in Akron, Ohio, but she was living in Wheeling and working at Wheeling Downs.

Bryan will skip rehearsals at St. Paul’s tomorrow, but he will return to work Sunday.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bryan Sable’s Rental Property Burns

A two-story home in Wheeling, W.V., owned by our musician Bryan Sable burned in the early hours of Monday. The house was a total loss. The tenant, Denise Huss, escaped but saved only her pajamas, purse, and cat. The cat, Opie, was credited with waking Ms. Huss from her sleep when the fire broke out. The incident was reported by WTRF-TV. The story and video is on the station’s Web site here.

The station did not report what is to become of the tenant. She may not be the world’s greatest animal lover, however, as she referred to her cat as “it”: “I’m gonna hug it, because I’m normally very short with it because it meows a lot.”

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Welcoming Statement

The St. Paul’s statement of welcome—“the most welcoming congregation in the South Hills for all generations”—that now adorns every piece of paper coming out of the church office has always struck me as devoid of any theological moorings. Replace “congregation” with “supermarket,” “bowling alley,” or “brothel” and the slogan works equally well, albeit for a different sort of enterprise.

What made me think of the St. Paul’s tag line—I generally try to think of it as little as possible—was a brief e-mail message from the Rev. Bosco Peters, a clergyman in New Zealand. In a blog post, Peters mentioned the “covenant” declared by a local Presbyterian church:
We covenant to respect the diversity of belief among ourselves as together we grow in understanding of God and of our own lives.

Respect means that we will surround the other person with appreciation, seek to understand their point of view, and allow them to disagree.

This is the sort of Church we hope to be.

Feel welcome to join us!
Now, that is a welcoming church!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Report from the Vestry Retreat

At the 10:30 service, Lou gave a report on the Vestry retreat just concluded. For the benefit of those who were not there, I offer a bit of a summary here. No doubt, you will be hearing more through official channels in good time.

Lou mentioned a list of what he called “success stories” that the Vestry discussed. My own list might differ from (and be shorter than) Lou’s list, but I do think that two items deserve special notice. One was the resurrected Canterbury Choir. I look forward to hearing this children’s ensemble, which has sung at the 8:45 service and is to sing at the 10:30 at some unspecified time.

I don’t know just what successes can be attributed to the group working to make church friendly for special needs children so far, but I do think the initiative is both clever and pastoral. Of course, we will have to wait to see what becomes of it.

Lou also listed five objectives for the Vestry for the coming year. I list them here without giving much detail. I’m sure we will be learning more as the year progresses:
  1. Improve Vestry functioning. This includes improving communications with parishioners, “keeping Christ at the center” of Vestry deliberations, and working through consensus. (This last item is worrisome; “consensus” sometimes involves intimidating minorities. We’ll have to see how this works out in practice.)
  2. Continue to be a welcoming church.
  3. Improving our financial health. A finance committee has been formed to help keep finances on track.
  4. Respond to the feasibility study with a new proposal for a capital campaign. (I hope there is an opportunity for parishioners to have some influence over what this campaign looks like, but I fear another take-it-or-leave-it surprise.)
  5. Celebrate the parish’s 175th anniversary. (Curiously, we celebrated our 150th anniversary in 1987—the parish was founded in 1836—apparently one year late.)

Parking Lot

Because the lines are so faint, it was difficult to tell if my car was in a parking place or not in St. Paul’s’ parking lot this morning. Thursday night, when I went to church for choir rehearsal, it was simply impossible.

Now, of course, is not the time to re-stripe the parking lot, but I do hope we will do so in the spring. Because the existing paint has virtually disappeared, this would be a good time to consider making parking places a bit differently. Do look at the suggestion I made last spring in my post “Parking Lot Stripes.”

Status Report

It has been a big week for diocesan news. As I observed a few days ago—see “Lots of Diocesan News”—our own diocese cut a deal with a breakaway church that will become independent of both the Episcopal and Anglican dioceses. And, of course, the Commonwealth Court rejected the appeal from the Anglican diocese to the decision that awarded diocesan property to our diocese.

This blog is reserved for concerns about our parish, but, since parishioners should be interested in our diocese as well, I wanted to mention two other pages you might like to visit on the Web. Our diocese sent out an e-mail message explaining the week’s events. You can read that here. If you subscribe to the diocese’s weekly electronic newsletter, you should have already seen this. If you are not subscribed, you may want to do so. Just go to the diocese’s Web site and look for the place to enter your subscription to “Grace Happens” under Featured Parishes on the right side of the page.

On my own blog, Lionel Deimel’s Web Log, I have written an essay about how Archbishop Duncan’s diocese is reacting. You can read “Why Bother?” here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pickerings Safe

I have learned that the Pickerings arrived home in Richmond, Virginia, from Cairo at 8:30 yesterday morning. Thanks be to God.

Lots of Diocesan News

There are two big news stories about our diocese today. First, the diocese has reached an agreement with St. Philip’s, Moon Township, a parish that went with the Anglican diocese when the diocese split in October 2008. St. Philip’s will, by this agreement, become an independent church.

The bigger story is that the appeal to the Court of Common Pleas to award diocesan property to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has been rejected by Commonwealth Court.

Details of both stories are available on my other blog, Lionel Deimel’s Web Log. In order, the posts are
Make no mistake, these are both big stories. Details will be forthcoming from the diocese this week, but most of the information you will want to know are contained in the posts listed above.