On January 30th over 140 of us got together for three hours at the Loaves and Fishes Mini Summit to share ideas on what we thought the church could do with the $1.4 million it received from the sale of Atrium Village. Last Sunday afternoon a smaller number of us, less than 100, heard another story about the church’s finances as the elder board presented the annual budget for 2015. Reduced giving in 2014 led the board to reduce their projected income for 2015. To offset the reduced income, the staff and board worked together to reduce expenses by lowering personnel costs (reducing hours of two pastors, not providing pay increases for the third straight year, reducing benefits) and cutting budgets in worship and education.
On January 30th we filled Leslie Hall in Cornerstone Center with positive energy and hopeful ideas. Nine days later we left the same room much more subdued.
Why do we have to scale back our operating budget at a time when we also are talking about how we invest a $1.4 million windfall? The board made what I think is the correct decision to not use the money received from the sale of Atrium Village to cover annual operating costs. We should be able to pay for our annual costs from our annual giving. The City of Chicago has shown us many times how dangerous it can be to plug annual budget holes with one time windfalls from the sale of assets. After a while you run out of things to sell.
A few of us gathered at the end of Sunday’s congregational meeting to talk about what we could do to restore enough funds to the budget to retain our pastors at full time, provide appropriate pay and benefits for our staff and fully fund the activities they carry out. In part of our discussion we wondered why so many of us were surprised by the budget shortfall and its impact on the staff. It’s not like we had not been told about it. During the last quarter of 2014 we heard regular announcements about being behind budget. In almost all the interviews she gave about the Loaves and Fishes Campaign Laura talked about the church having an operating shortfall. We were all asked to consider pledging more next year.
And yet, it all flowed right past me. Sandy and I got heavily involved in the Loaves and Fishes work, but we never got around to making our pledge for annual giving. We thought the budget shortfall would sort itself out by the end of the year and we didn’t worry about it. We didn’t think much about implications the diminished giving might have on the church staff and ministry until we went to the budget meeting this week. We found it much more enjoyable to focus on how to spend money that didn’t come out of our bank account.
I think many others at the church may be in the same position. In the excitement of thinking about what do with a huge amount of money we stopped paying attention to the regular tithes and offerings that keep the staff employed and the church running.
A lot of the ideas at the Loaves and Fishes Mini Summit focused on investments that we would like to make in the community around the church. Last Sunday we heard how the staff have already been carrying out many of the things we want to do. Colin Knapp runs a Bible Study at Walter Payton High School with 40-50 students attending every week. Randall Blakey works with the Near North Unity Project to generate employment opportunities and improve services to people living in the same neighborhood as the church.
So it’s time for me to put my money where my mouth is. Sandy and I filled out the online pledge form today and increased the amount we will give each month (and set up the monthly payments in our bank account to fulfill the pledge). We also agreed to make an additional gift to the church to help increase the funds available for this year’s budget.
Our readings and discussion this month in our Loaves and Fishes Prayer Schools feature the theme “Purity of Heart.” Maybe this is a true test of the purity of our hearts – are we willing to invest our own resources to cover the operating costs of the church that allows us to participate in a decision about how to invest $1.4 million?
Prayer School Captain – Yellowfin Tuna