Written by Julie Long, Interim Director of Staff and Congregational Life
This week our church membership received a mailing that included a copy of the 2024 proposed budget and a letter from the finance committee chair that expressed the full and hard reality of our church’s financial situation. In short, the news was not good. Even with staff vacancies, our current giving patterns are not meeting the expenses of maintaining our facilities, ministries, and missions offerings to the level to which we are accustomed and want to continue. Our budget and finance committees continue to try to work magic to make the numbers work, but they are running out of tricks.
You’ve also heard in recent weeks and months of efforts by our Facilities Master Plan Task Force to reduce the financial burden of our facilities by exploring ways to re-purpose our space. And the
departures of ministerial staff members and the necessary reduction of support staff have demanded more of our lay leadership and left us feeling anxious about how we will continue to hold all of this together.
These things feel heavy and discouraging – that so much is changing, that our resources are scarce, that there will not be enough – and there is grief and fear in all of that. We are not alone in these changing dynamics. Almost every mainline church I know is struggling to figure out how to live sustainably as cultural shifts have changed church attendance and giving patterns, particularly after COVID.
The hard news is that this is our new normal. We cannot expect that any change we make will send us back to days with larger budgets and packed pews and a full building of Sunday School classes. We are having to learn how to become a smaller church.
In recent weeks, we have reflected together on why this is “my” church – why each of us individually has found a place of belonging here – and why this is “our” church—that we each share in the gift of community and bear the responsibility for caring for each other and for this institution that unites us. This week, I call us to remember our name —the First Baptist Church of Christ—and to remember that above all, this is God’s church.
This is our great hope: that while this church belongs to each one of us and to all of us together, above all, this is God’s church. God, the creator of the universe, meets us here and flows inside of all that we are trying to do. I deeply believe that in spite of all of the signs of loss and decline that seem to surround us, God is not done with us yet. There is still more that God is calling us forth to do, and God will empower us to do it as we offer what we have to give.
The liminal season in which we find ourselves is a time of discernment in which we are listening together to what God is calling us to do and be in the next chapter of our life together. I don’t know exactly what that is yet – I don’t think any of us do – but I have a hunch that it has something to do with the direction that God has already been calling us towards—a vision of being a community that nurtures authentic faith and belonging, loves and serves courageously, and affirms the image of God in all people.
Last Sunday, I sat in worship feeling the weight of the proposed budget cuts we were preparing to present to church council and deacons following the service. I was exhausted from a week of hard conversations to even have a budget ready to present. Tears came as the choir offered their rendition of these words in the anthem:
O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe, that in Thine ocean depths its flow may richer, fuller be.
O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to Thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain, and feel the promise is not vain that morn shall tearless be.
The tears that flowed were not tears of grief or fear, at least not in that moment. These were tears of deep gratitude and abiding hope. These words were a desperately-needed reminder that even when—especially when—our souls are weary and we are in pain, we are held by a great Love that will not let us go. And our response to that can only be to give back the life that we owe out of a deep sense of gratitude and hope.
This week’s budget mailing also included one more piece—a commitment card. On All Saints Sunday, November 5, we will join together as a congregation—our church, God’s church—to pledge our financial commitments to this church for the coming year. I invite you to join with us—with gratitude for all that God has done and with hope for all that God will do – as we offer ourselves to the work of God among us and through us.