A Shifting Landscape
Late last fall, the Vestry began to explore a creative vision for sustaining our parish’s mission and ministry in the coming years. We began by naming some of the challenges our parish, like most others, are facing at this unique moment in time:
We also affirmed that our parish is living into our mission by:
We are not in a rush to make any changes. Rather, we want to use this time as an opportunity to be intentional in discerning a creative vision of what sustainable ministry for this parish may look like in the coming years. To that end, there is a group of volunteers looking at staffing trends; the Property Committee has made a list of long term deferred maintenance and is prioritizing those projects; and we are applying this kind of intentionality to all of our ministry efforts as a leadership team.
Staffing Changes: Parish Administrator
At our June Vestry meeting we considered and approved some staffing changes. One of those changes was shifting the Parish Administrator position from 20 hours to 15 hours a week, effective July 1. This was not a performance-based change; rather it was a reflection of our changing financial landscape and needs. It makes sense in light of our overall projected budget deficit of $37,000 and the slow return of our property use program - in spite of our Parish Administrator’s best efforts. The administrative needs of the parish also changed during the pandemic, and will continue to evolve in the future. In particular, we have streamlined and simplified our leaflet process, allowing work to be done ahead as needed.
We discussed with our Parish Administrator when to make this change, and it was his preference to do so on July 1. Effective Friday, July 1 our office hours will shift to Tuesday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. The Parish Administrator will also work remotely for an hour on Monday responding to messages, and will have some time to tend to things before the office opens each day.
Staffing Changes: Clergy Leadership
As your rectors, we have been in conversation with one another for several months about how to plan for the eventual reality that SsJA will have one full time priest, and the eventual possibility that we will have less than one full time priest in the future. We know, from resources our Vestry has reviewed, that this future reality does not need to mean SsJA is any less healthy and vibrant than it is now. Rather it will look different. We believe we can use this time with two priests, and eventually with one, to help SsJA prepare for that future. We believe empowering and equipping lay leadership is one of our primary roles.
As a point of information, Molly serves our parish ⅓ time, and Heather serves our parish full time. That said, Molly has been generous with her time, and in reality gives us closer to ½ time. We try to balance this out by giving her more time away in the summer.
Your rectors recently met with a coach familiar with our parish to help us begin to plan for these eventual changes in clergy leadership. One helpful takeaway was that we need to begin by shifting Molly’s work to ⅓ time not just in theory, but in practice. This means she will continue to engage in her church work on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, and be less available the rest of the week, unless it is a matter of urgency.
Another helpful takeaway is that since we have treated our Rector & Associate Rector roles and relationship as Ministry Partners, we have both been involved with many aspects of parish life, which, in effect, has often amounted to a duplication of effort. As the clergy, we highly value having both priests give time to creating meaningful worship. We want to continue to share in responsibility for worship and in our Vestry work. We feel the place where we can free up some of Molly’s time is for her to attend fewer ministry team meetings. She will continue to do work with Caregivers, Nerd Bible Study, and will be offering our lay preachers ongoing support and coaching.
The Vestry affirmed this next step and the general shifts it will be helpful to make in light of Heather’s 2023 sabbatical (May-August). We will share more details as they become pertinent, but the long and the short is that we are making a gradual shift in how the clergy spend their time at SsJA, and we have identified some plans on helping equip and empower our lay leaders so they may continue to feel supported and encouraged in their leadership in the church.
If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to be in touch.
Rev. Heather & Rev. Molly
This fall the Finance Team and Vestry have been prayerfully and thoughtfully discerning how to budget for 2021. We have been greatly supported in that work by our new Stewardship Team. We want to take a moment to share the things we have been paying attention to in anticipation of our Virtual Annual Meeting on Sunday, January 24 at 11 a.m. Please note that even more details about the meeting will be forthcoming in early January.
First, know we are on sound financial footing. There are several factors which have helped keep us on such solid ground:
We also discussed our thoughts on withdrawing funds from the endowment to supplement the budget for 2021, if necessary. There was a general awareness that withdrawals from endowed funds should always be done with a great deal of caution, care, thoughtfulness, and prayer. It is preferable to leave the funds be so they can continue to grow. However, we also agreed that should the unique circumstances of the global pandemic require us to consider making a one time draw on the endowment to supplement our 2021 budget, that we were open to that possibility.
The Finance Team accepted the challenge, and over the course of several meetings (as per our usual course) built a budget as best as we were able.
Third, we adopted a deficit budget at our December Vestry meeting which will be presented at our Virtual Annual Meeting. The budget is realistic about the costs of maintaining our campus and staffing levels, and it also greatly expanded our budget for Mission. At our December Mission and Vestry meetings we also adopted Sunday Sandwiches as an ongoing ministry for the foreseeable future. Each meal costs $2.65 per person, and we anticipate it will cost us $12,500 in 2021, though it seems to grow every single week-- now serving over 100 people each Sunday.
The budget anticipates a $39,000 deficit. And yes, it is a sobering amount. In ordinary times, we simply would not have adopted a budget with that kind of deficit, and instead would have resorted to making significant budgetary cuts. However, the sense of the Finance Team and Vestry, is that this is a once-every-hundred-years-global-pandemic kind of budget. Income that we ordinarily generate from plate offerings ($11,900 in a normative year; $4,700 anticipated in 2021) and property use ($45,000 in a normative year; $27,500 anticipated in 2021), coupled with expanded efforts in mission, ongoing care of property, and maintaining staffing levels is what has created this deficit. These are all factors we anticipate starting to course correct in the second half of 2021.
Fourth, we have plans for how to address the deficit. As mentioned, the Finance Team is working double-time, and we have plans to re-assess the budget in June. The diocese is currently building a program of zero-interest loans that they will be launching in the new year, and there are two diocesan grants for mission and technology that we plan to apply for. We have high hopes that we can heavily shrink this deficit.
We also had the very real conversation about whether to supplement our operating budget with a special draw from the endowment. Our endowment is approximately $647,000. The Vestry voted that in 2021, the church can draw up to $39,000, if necessary. We would not draw the total amount approved, rather we anticipate only resorting to a draw, should cash flow become an issue down the line, and limiting the draws to what is necessary at that time. Please note, at this point that is not an issue as we are still operating with a surplus.
In a perfect world, we would not be writing to you about church finances in the days leading to Christmas. Yet this has been a strange and difficult year, and we want to be transparent with you. This is a lot of information to take in, and know there will be opportunities to discuss and that we are always happy to answer your questions and listen to your concerns.
Most importantly, thank you for your faithfulness and generosity. This parish’s capacity for change, your agility, and your overwhelming love of God and neighbor is a diamond in the rough. You amaze us every day.
Happy Advent, and very soon, Merry Christmas.
Rev. Heather & Rev. Molly
Do you have questions about the church’s 2021 budget? You are invited to join members of Finance for a Zoom meeting to answer any questions you may have. This meeting is part of our preparation for our annual meeting, where each year we present the budget that has been adopted by the Vestry. Join us on Thursday, January 7 at 6:30 p.m.
Join Zoom Meeting
Dial by your location +1 646 558 8656 US (New York)
Meeting ID: 843 6802 1870
Virtual Annual Meeting
Save the Date! On Sunday, January 24 at 11 a.m. we have a virtual annual meeting using Zoom, which will be broadcast from 73 Federal Street, Greenfield, MA. You can use the coffee hour link on our website to access the meeting. Stay tuned for more details in early January.
Everyone reacts differently during stressful times. I’ll always remember Canon Pam Mott’s sermon to the small, anxious congregation of the former St Andrews. We had just begun contemplating a huge change and challenge in our lives; one that ultimately led to the joyous union we call James and Andrew. When Pam visited, however, we were feeling stressed. She told us the story of her cats; they travelled with her to her vacation home, and upon arrival each reacted in their own way. One crawled under the bed and pretty much stayed there for the duration. One sniffed and explored carefully and curiously and finally found a comfy spot. I suppose another might have misbehaved in ways only a cat-lover can imagine!
Social distancing, quarantine and isolation can be overwhelming and can cause strong emotions in adults and children. This can manifest itself in emotional and physical ways: fear, worry and anxiety, changes in sleep and eating patterns, difficulty concentrating, worsening of chronic health conditions including mental health, and increased use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances.
Here are some thoughts on how to cope with stress:
There’s the simple “Breath Prayer”; a phrase on the inhale, a phrase on the exhale. When anxiety builds, a few minutes of this can diffuse that anxiety, slow your heart rate and restore some of those helpful, relaxing endorphins.
There’s a beautiful practice called “Viseo Divina” . We invite God to speak to our hearts as we gaze at an image. For me it often is the antics of our favorite hen (her name is Lovey!), or the blossoms on the purple foxglove in our garden. Simply pray, “God speak to me”.
Any activity can be transformed into a spiritual practice; how about all that hand washing we are doing these days. A tiny litany for washing: “May I be centered in God’s presence, may my family be centered in God’s presence, may my community be centered in God’s presence”, etc.
Your reactions to these unusual times are your own and they matter. Take time to talk them over with someone you trust. I keep hearing God reminding me that she is always here, in the backyard, at the desk top and in the grocery store.
Here is a beauty of a little poem by Terry Tempest Williams.
I pray to the birds.
I pray to the birds because
I believe they will carry the messages of my heart upward.
I pray to them because I believe in their existence,
the way their songs begin and end each day,
the invocations and benedictions of earth.
I pray to the birds because they remind me of what I love
rather than what I fear. And at the end of my prayers,
they teach me how to listen.
Faith Community Nurse
SsJA Pastoral Care Team
You can contact any clergy person by reaching out to the office to reach the Pastoral Care Team. If you have a pastoral emergency, our office number is forwarded to an answering service after business hours.
Email Office Call (413) 773-3925
The Department of Mental Health
The state government's Department of Mental Health website
(CSO 24-hr access number) 1-800 562-0112
First Call For Help
Providing referrals to a number of community resources and supports in the Franklin, Hampshire, North Quabbin and Hampden County areas.
National Alliance on Mental Illness of Western Mass
Providing support and resources to individuals diagnosed with a mental illness, their families and the community in Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties.
413-786-9139 or toll free 1-800 295-2121
New England Learning Center for Women in Transition (NELCWIT):
Serving individuals who have experience domestic or sexual violence in the Franklin County/North Quabbin area.
413-772-0806 or toll free 1-888-249-0806.
Clinical & Support Options:
Mental health and crisis services in Hampshire and Franklin County.
Mental health services primarily in Franklin and Hampshire counties.
Western Mass Recovery Learning Community
Healing and recovery through peer support.
CHD (Center for Human Development)
Community-oriented human services.