News from the Executive Presbyter/Stated Clerk
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE MENTIONS COVID
(BUT IS ABOUT MORE THAN THAT)
As March begins we reach the point where our experience of COVID-19 enters a third year. Perhaps it is significant that our “anniversary” of the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic coincides with the arrival of Lent 2022. Lent is an opportunity for spiritual reflection and introspection, a chance to assess the health of our spiritual walk with Jesus. I have written previously about an important call that our Book of Order gives for members to regularly assess their connection to the church, in G-1.0304. Faithful membership is responsible involvement in Christ’s church, including:
reviewing and evaluating regularly the integrity of one’s membership, and considering ways in which one’s participation in the worship and service of the church may be increased and made more meaningful.
Lent gives us the opportunity for this self-assessment. I believe that every congregation is facing at least three questions that need to be answered:
Perhaps one of the ways we can address the three questions posed in this article is to invite our members to join in this evaluation of the integrity of our membership. What are some ways in which we can make that participation deeper and more meaningful? Some thoughts about each of these questions follows.
The last two years has been hard on most every congregation in terms of membership. Most, if not all, congregations took appropriate steps to shift worship to a virtual platform, and continued these efforts as in-person activities were resumed. Despite the best efforts at reaching out to the membership in some form, there were some members who were not connected to the virtual world and congregations struggled to remain engaged with them. In 2020, sessions reported a net loss within the presbytery of 1,348 active members, and a net loss in 2021 of 1,325. That is the equivalent of almost 18 150-member congregations disappearing in the two COVID years.
It is almost always the case that these membership losses are traced to sessions that cleaned the active membership roll during the year. Sessions are reminded that cleaning the rolls is not just an administrative task, but it is first and foremost an exercise of pastoral care. Sessions are supposed to identify persons who have fallen away from active participation in the congregation and offer pastoral care with the intent of encouraging the member to become active again.
In terms of finances, conversations that I have had with congregation leaders generally has indicated that the financial impact of the pandemic has been less severe than what was feared at the outset. Sessions are still squeezed when they try to make ends meet. Members have continued to support the church. Members and congregations have had to deal with the effects of inflation, and related cost increases. Perhaps the most significant stress on budgets is in insurance costs. All of our congregations have seen an increase in these costs, particularly those along the coast where the risk of wind and water damage is greater.
If sessions have questions about insurance coverage, they should contact the Presbytery Office. Three providers have designed coverages that meet standards established by mainline denominations and are tailored for the needs of congregations: GuideOne, the Insurance Board, and Church Mutual. Unfortunately, some congregations are having to opt for higher deductibles in order to slow the increase of premiums.
CFP shares in this situation, as our income comes from our congregations. We are grateful that many of our sessions have continued strong support of the presbytery through these difficult times. We began 2021 projecting a $225K deficit in our budget, with a commitment to cover that from investments as needed. At the end of the year, our deficit was 30,654.24. In part this was because some programming simply could not happen, which reduced our expenses. But income was almost $200,000 more than we projected going in to the year, which is a testament to the faithfulness of our congregations.
The third question, the health of the pool of leadership, touches upon matters of resilience and perseverance within this pandemic-that-will-not-end. With so much uncertainty in what the future will hold, it is understandable that some people are unwilling to commit to three years on the session, or a church or presbytery committee. We are even having a struggle to find a presbytery moderator.
I know we will rise to these challenges, because Jesus rose for us to undergird, guide, and protect us as we seek to serve him each day.
Executive Presbyter / Stated Clerk
Rev. Dr. Dan Williams