Charles L. Wildman,
Interim Conference Minister
Pastoral Letter Index
April 28, 2009
To: The Authorized Ministers of the Conference
The Moderators of Churches and Associations
The Committees on Ministry of the Associations
From: Rev. Dr. Davida Foy Crabtree, Conference Minister
Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ, the Resurrected One, the Source of healing for our world and our own lives!
In the midst of these troubling times, I write for several reasons.
First, I thank you for the thousands of prayers wafting to God over the months since my diagnosis last July. I am now two months beyond the end of treatment and recovery is going well. The journey has been long and challenging yet spiritually full and rich. Your prayers and caring ministries are deeply appreciated.
In this letter, I will lay out for you the financial circumstances of your Conference and the decisions the Board of Directors and I have made to ensure that we will have stability in our common life in the challenging years ahead. I have written it in key sections and urge that you read it in the order in which it is laid out so you understand the reasons we have made the decisions we are making.
I urge you to be present for our Spring Meeting on May 9th at Asylum Hill Congregational Church. We will focus in the morning and early afternoon on the church and health care and health ministries. Following the afternoon workshops, we will convene in a plenary session and hear together the impact of these economic conditions on our churches and our members, as well as some of the strategies local churches are using to cope internally and to reach out to those experiencing unemployment and other financial challenges.
Now to the subject at hand: the economic recession is impacting the life of our Conference much as it is affecting the lives of many of our churches. We have two primary sources of support for the work we do with you and for the mission we share together: your gifts through Our Church’s Wider Mission and Per Capita Fellowship Dues, and income from endowments and invested funds.
As a result of decreases in both, we have found it necessary to cut this year’s budget.
The decisions we have made are transitional ones. We do not know fully what the future holds, so we are making the best decisions we can based on what we do know about the next few years. During this time of transition, we wish to open a dialogue with you about our life and ministry as a Conference and the level of support and kind of work we do together. For now, based on your reports of your giving and our projection of income from investments, we will all need to adapt to changed circumstances. We must change our expectations.
Here are the principles we articulated as we undertook this specific work of budget-cutting:
The decisions made by our Board of Directors were informed by deliberations of the Finance and Budget Committee, the Personnel Committee and the senior staff of the Conference.
We value highly the partnership we share in covenant together as a Conference. We know that these decisions will have an impact on our life together. We also know that not making these decisions now would mean even greater and yet more deleterious effects later. Our invitation to you is to join us in partnership over these next few years as we seek to keep our churches strong in a time when much is demanded of us all in ministry to those in need.
The magnitude of the projected shortfall for this year is such that we knew immediately that our decisions would have to include impact on personnel. As a result, the following staff-related decisions have been made:
All staff will be on a weeklong unpaid furlough August 3-7, 2009. The senior staff will each be subject to a second week of unpaid furlough during the summer, to be taken in consultation with others so that we have staff available for the churches’ and pastors’ needs. During the furlough week, the office will be shut down and arrangements will be made for emergency contact only. Silver Lake staff will be on a week of furlough later in the season for obvious reasons.
We decided to downsize staffing through a process of attrition rather than laying off personnel. As you know, the Revs. Lois Happe and Susan Townsley have both resigned, Lois to retire and Susan to move to Japan with her husband. Neither of these came about as a result of this fiscal situation, and they presented us with a dilemma: how to downsize and yet provide excellence of regional ministry evenly across the life of the Conference.
The outcome can best be summarized in saying that all of our churches and pastors will receive ongoing ministries responsive to their needs for assistance in building up parish life: in times of transition and conflict, in resourcing for best practices in ministry, in connecting with other churches and pastors to build up our shared life in the Church. For the foreseeable future, this will be accomplished with three continuing fulltime Regional Ministers and two half-time Regional Ministers.
So that the Fairfield County and Eastern Regions will receive ministry equal to that of the other regions, the three continuing RM’s will reduce their availability in their current regions to make themselves available the equivalent of one day a week to those two regions. In addition, Rev. Ron Brown, Associate Conference Minister for Clergy Concerns, and I will also be available to respond to both parish life and association needs during this transitional time.
I am appending to this letter some listings of the services we will continue to provide to Associations and related staff assignments. The shift to two half-time Regional Ministers necessitates some shifting of responsibilities in this regard.
In order to achieve a balanced financial condition for this year, other cuts have been necessary as well:
Letters will go to each program area or partnership detailing the cuts to their allocations.
It is clear to us that the model of five Regional Ministers has been well received. It has built closer relationships among the churches and clergy, provided more tailored responses to each church’s need, and given more attention when greater needs arise. Yet there has been no increase in the churches’ giving over these years. This has given rise to the question of the sustainability of the model.
In particular, as staff we find that we spend an inordinate amount of time supporting the 15 associations. Our Conference has the largest number of associations in the whole United Church of Christ even though we are geographically one of the smallest Conferences. We wish to invite our associations into conversation about their nature, size, life and mission during this era when transportation and communication are significantly changed. There are numerous models that have been developed across the wider Church that might lead to yet more effective, faithful and efficient decision-making, use of resources, and relationship building. For now, our priority as your staff is to focus on our churches as we adapt to reduced staffing.
Our goal has been to sustain as much strategic ministry with you as possible during these difficult times. There will be times when we will have to say no to requests for assistance because we will have less staff time and dollars available. Overall, we are determined to use our gifts as staff and your gifts as churches as strategically as possible to enhance the vitality and strength of our churches as we face these challenges together.
I hope that you will pray for our Conference and its staff and leadership just as we pray regularly for each of our churches and pastors. In times like these, we need each other more than ever. I know that this news is difficult to receive. I invite you to join us in a spirit of partnership as we seek to embody the Risen Christ in outreach here in Connecticut, across the nation, and around the world.
The following assignments for work with certain functions will begin this summer:
Rev. Ron Brown
Association Executive Committees will not have staffing during this time period
In addition, all of your staff continue to be available to all churches across the Conference, to resource you with the particular skills we bring. I would especially name the following areas of work:
A more comprehensive and detailed listing of whom to call for what area of concern will be available on our website in the near future.