One reason we like being in the United Church of Christ is that we value the decision-making abilities of the local church. On basic things like the direction of the church, approving a budget, and calling a minister, the gathered congregation gets to decide. In the congregational tradition, one person/one vote is important. But, it is also about how we charitably listen to one another to discern the mind of Christ. Living into our sacred covenant with God and one another is a spiritual practice.
In these last months, as a community, we have had a number of transitions and more than the usual number of decisions to make. We are adjusting to the retirement of our Associate Minister, Adrianne Carr, welcoming an Interim Associate Minister, Sally May, and we are in phase two of a reorganization process. Additionally, in November the church asked that we determine more quickly whether we could afford a full time Associate Minister, which necessitated an early stewardship campaign. In the midst of this, we also received a request from Redeemer Burlington to rent our church on late Sunday afternoons. All of these transitions and processes are important, and by necessity happened concurrently. As we work through these changes, in the open way we do, there is a lot to process at once. Understandably, this can be anxiety producing for some.
Going forward, however, the Trustees are choosing to slow the pace of some decisions to create space for greater dialogue in our discernment. At the congregational meeting on Sunday, the Trustees presented a report that the results of the stewardship campaign were inconclusive and we needed more time before deciding whether we can afford a full time settled associate minister. We celebrate that to date, 88 households increased their pledge or made new pledges totaling 37,000 in new money. Unfortunately, those gains were offset by lost pledges or decreases from about 32 households which to date has resulted in a very small overall gain. We are still waiting to hear from 50 to 70 more households.
In March, we will likely review the whole budget, including personnel costs, to determine if we need to adjust our staffing to match our revenue. This process will necessarily take more time, slow down the search for a settled associate, and defer the position’s start date, which at the earliest would be January 2016, or later. The decisions we make about the Associate Minister and other staffing will depend on how the campaign concludes. We also need room to readjust our plans and come back to the congregation for approval.
So, we will slow down and take this one step at a time. We thank each and every person who has pledged so far. We ask that if you have not pledged, to please make a pledge. Every pledge dollar makes a big difference and will determine the shape of what we are able to do as a church going forward. We have extended the pledge return deadline to February 22. Please be in touch with us if you have questions, concerns or ideas. We are eager to listen, and trust that we as a congregation will find the faithful and fruitful path forward.
Rev. Peter Cook, Senior Minister
and Louise Brewster, President of First Congregational Church