Notes from a Retiring Senior Warden
By Liz Kerner-Wyse
Have you noticed that when you are doing something that really engages all your skills and senses the time seems fly by? For me, this is common in surgery. I concentrate so much on what I am doing that when I look up it is 5 or 6 hours later. (Of course, the staff usually does not feel quite the same degree of engagement and they wonder when will this case ever finish.) It also happens reading a really good book , or cooking an elaborate meal. Doing what fully engages you makes time seem less relevant. And so it has been with this past year on Vestry. The time has been fleeting and the burden light.
Rather than leave you with a dry recitation of what the Vestry has accomplished, I would like to give you a feel for how we operate and the problems the Vestry tackles.
The Vestry has three committees, through which tasks flow and questions are asked and answered. Using our Vision and goals document, each committee was assigned appropriate goals to pursue. Just one example: Mission and Ministry (MM) would work on compiling a list of our holy objects. So this might not seem like a big deal, but it is quite a big project. We want to catalog ALL the holy objects in the church- chalices, linens, the tryptic, art, on and on. Why would we do this? On the practical side, we need this for insurance purposes; just like doing a content inventory of your home. On the less practical side, we want the history of what the church owns and who donated this and why. This has taken the better part of the year to try and find records and put things in order. And the task is ongoing. Not because there is not interest but because this work relies on volunteers, who have other lives and responsibilities.
Each Vestry committee meets monthly, balancing tasks assigned to committee members with the understanding that progress may be slow .
Building, Grounds and Technology works each month with Bracken Reece our Director of Operations to help oversee the care and repair of our physical plant. Did you know we maintain over 50,000 sq. ft of buildings? This is enormous and Bracken does this with a staff of two full time and one part time sexton. Our capital maintenance plan was completed in 2013, and to keep up , we should be spending at least 500k per year. Why? We have lots of buildings that are over 30 years old and lots of deferred maintenance from years when the budget did not allot money for this . To really bring us up to snuff would take in the vicinity of 6 million dollars. But based on pledging, all theVestry can provide to Bracken is 100k a year. And even that means not funding programatic needs fully and not being able to hire another full time priest – which we all agree we need and want.
The Budget, Finance and Administration committee then comes into play for these difficult financial decisions. They carefully, and prayerfully consider how the expected pledge revenue can be distributed. The decisions are often agonizingly difficult- how to distribute a finite pool of money when there is so much we want to do. At the January BFA meeting, we were somewhat amazed to find we have ended FY17 with a small surplus. For the previous 4 months we predicted a 100k deficit based on historical trends and pledges collected. But this December, lots of pledgers decided to pay more than their pledge and it has made a gigantic difference to the bottom line. Why you ask? Well, we don’t know for sure, but the leading theory is expected change in tax law makes this a good year to donate more. Or maybe the Holy Spirit is at work and has answered the prayers of all on BFA and especially those of the Rector.
Our church staff are really the unsung heroes . We do not have the luxury of a large staff to spread work around. So every staff member wears several hats. Despite being chronically overworked , they all are willing to help the Vestry with our monthly reports, need for financial data and help with communication efforts. And I am sure this is just the tip of the iceberg of requests they are handed.
Fr Casey began the practice of all Vestry meeting starting and ending in prayer- as well as asking all our ministries to follow suit in their meetings. We begin with spiritual formation and end with compline, as he slowly nudges us to come better disciples of Christ. This year we began sharing our stories of times when we shared our faith with others and maybe even stepped out on that proverbial limb and invited someone to church. We now recognize that asking the congregation at large to do this, when we struggle in our efforts, will need preparation and education. Evangelism isn’t a dirty word, it is just a foreign concept to most Episcopalians. And when you have no past experience, it takes time to learn how and become comfortable with the practice.
So you may have read this and thought- why would I ever want to be a Vestry member? It does require sacrifice of personal time, attending lots of meetings, and being willing to work on long term projects without recognition ( and of course no pay) , hearing mostly gripes from parishioners, and getting used to living with the constant worry of will we have enough money. But knowing you are serving the congregation and by reflection, maybe advancing God’s plan for our church is the reward. And just like reading a great book, you look up and three years have flown by and on balance it has been a life affirming experience- one you realize has been to seek and serve Christ in all we do.