What a joy-filled year it has been when I reflect on highlights from 2022:

– Planning the family Retreat, even if I couldn’t attend due to covid
– Seeing Membership Coordinator Audrey’s smiling welcome and being part of their excellent workshop sessions
– Bringing on Angel with their expertise on board to help the A/V family
– Participating in lay-led services and experiencing newfound friendships as a result
– Hosting the Innovative Energy Fest on campus, complete with racing solar electric model cars
– Seeing the Gathering Place filled with tables and people during the Homecoming Bazaar
– Cherishing the creation of the amazing LUUnch BUUnch
– Dancing to Mike Condit’s jazz playing at the Auction
– Teaching at and learning from the Adult Religious Education classes
– Participating in small group discussions – cottage meetings – with our awesome search committee
– Experiencing ceremonies to welcome in new members, welcome back members, celebrate the life of members passed
– Singing on Music Sunday, joined by our own orchestra and jazz band.
– Relishing in the very special Solstice and Christmas Eve services

So much went on in the life of this church in 2022. So many volunteers and such a great staff made it all happen. We are truly blessed.

As we start in the new year, one of the Board’s tasks is to present a budget for your consideration. As we prepare for that presentation this Sunday, January 8, after church, it is helpful to reflect on this past year from a financial perspective.

At the start of 2022 the congregation approved a budget in which revenue was less than operating expenses. The congregation also approved filling the difference with Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loan proceeds (thank you Karen!!) and our previous year’s surplus. Good news! Thanks to folks honoring their pledges, supporting our fundraising efforts, and all watching expenses, we have stayed within the planned budget. Not so good news: It means that we have used up our working capital, our surplus, and the forgiven loan.

We must make some hard choices in 2023. Actually, we have been making hard choices for years now.

We are an aspirational church – always have been and hopefully always will be – because we are a religious community, with a great deal of faith among us. Those aspirations have often been couched in the word “growth”, but for this coming year, I urge us to consider replacing that word with “sustainability”. As we review and approve the proposed budget, let us strive toward being a sustainable church, where we can worship and work, fulfilling our mission of building a better world while having a plan to live within our means.

We are a generous church and hopefully can continue that good habit as long as it is sustainable. We collect Sharing the Plate every Sunday for charitable causes. In 2022, we have distributed about $25,000 to causes we wanted to support. What a great gift we give!

We committed an amazingly generous parting gift to Rev. Becky after her 20 years of ministry with us. For the last three years, rather than dedicating our allowed draw on the Endowment for capital improvements, we have been making installment payments on that gift. We made our last payment this past summer.

Our bylaws require us to dedicate a minimum of 25% of our allowed draw on the Endowment to go toward charitable causes. While we have not made this draw for the last few years as we gave our gift to Rev. Becky, the proposed budget for 2023 does include the full 5% draw. This means that around $10,000 will be available to the Charitable Outreach Committee to distribute as they deem appropriate.

A thought for consideration: It may be time we focus that generosity on us, at least for the short term – on the charity that is our church, our community. Once we have a settled minister, we can consider a capital campaign and a drive to rebuild our endowment (please do remember the church in your will!). But for the short term, maybe one of the charities the Charitable Outreach Committee might consider giving to is our church missions.

For we cannot keep on operating where we outspend our revenue. That is not sustainable. With the number of extraordinary events that have happened over the last few years within our church and given the general trend of membership both in our church and throughout the nation with mainline churches, we have been extra challenged to meet our aspirational goals.

Long Range Planning Task Force: On the agenda for the Annual Meeting on January 22 is a vote to support the creation of a long-range planning task force to develop a plan to become more financially sustainable. Past President Martin Estill held a long-range planning workshop in 2020, where all ideas were welcome, from sharing our building, to allowing an outside developer develop part of our campus, to selling and finding a new, more affordable location to do the work of the church. Remember what Rev. Sam said to us each Sunday – we are the church, we, the congregation, are the church. It was decided to put these ideas on hold until we have our settled minister so we can go on that journey together. The time is now – please be prepared to vote to create this task force. Let us know if you would like to serve on it!

Last spring and early summer, the Finance Committee reached out to staff and committee chairs asking for their desired 2023 budget. The Board decided not to tweak any requests, resulting in our aspirational budget from which the Stewardship Committee sought to raise $590,000 in pledges. The Stewardship Committee did a great job, and you, our friends and members responded generously. Thank you! We have raised approximately $450,000 in pledges, with every friend and member contacted in one way or another. We are truly blessed!

We have also had some staff changes since that budget was created. Alejandra Gonzalez, our Communications Administrator, left us in August (spoiler alert, she is back!!). While Audrey and Angel bravely took on more tasks to fill the gap, we leaned heavily on the Communications Committee to find a sustainable way to keep our website operational and our communications running smoothly. New members often first find us from a web-search. As a result of the committee’s hard work, we have signed a contract with Fair Marketing, an independent contractor, to help make the website robust and our search engine optimization improved. For the first time maybe ever, we are asking a committee to manage this contract rather than staff. Please keep that in mind when you review the proposed budget.

We also found out that our Business Administrator Karen Van Horn will be retiring at the end of January after 17 years of dedication to Emerson. We are so grateful for her tenure. She will be missed! Given our decline in membership, the staff and the board took the opportunity to review how we might better staff our church. We gladly approved Rev. Michelle’s suggestion of hiring back Ale as our Congregational Administrator, and Ale has found and is hiring a 10-hr per week bookkeeper, Cheryl Rivers. Again and again, we are truly blessed!

Rental income has not bounced back to pre-Covid times. The Campus O&M committee is hoping to use the improved website to attract new renters for meeting space, office space, parties, weddings, as long as we can get volunteer “sextons” to support the effort, with the goal to generate more income in the future.

The Board has worked on three budgets: the original “Aspirational” budget updated to reflect staffing changes and additional requests that came to the finance committee later in the year, requiring borrowing from the Endowment; a “No-New-Revenue” budget that is truly painful to all aspects of the life of the church but requires no borrowing; and a “Mid-Level” budget that allows us much but not all of the aspects of normalcy while allowing time to call our new minister and let the long-range planning task force begin their critical work while borrowing from the Endowment at a lower level. Any of the three budgets would require hard choices from the congregation.

After much deliberation, the Board recommends the “Mid-level” budget for congregational approval, but it will require two additional votes: 1) to approve a 5-year loan from the Endowment; and 2) to approve using the 5% allowable draw from the Endowment for Building Maintenance and Repair and Chiller Loan Repayment rather than the Reserve Fund for capital improvements.

The proposed budget can be found HERE, in advance of the January 8 budget meeting, well in advance of the January 22 Annual Meeting. 2023 Annual Meeting Agenda

We look forward to a meaningful discussion as we adopt the 2023 budget.

In peace,