Our question this week is really an question and an update from a newly ordained pastor who has discovered that the congregation she is serving keeps no records...
Dear Ask the Matriarch,
I have worked for a few different churches in a non-ordained pastor role, always with other pastors and full time secretaries. About three weeks ago I started my first call, it is a solo call at a church with a volunteer part time secretary. I knew it would be different and I am excited
but....although the church is set to celebrate their 150th anniversary I cannot find hardly any records of anything. I don't mean just historical stuff, I mean basic day to day stuff like old bulletins, newsletters, and annual reports not to mention the parish membership records or budgets. What little I have found has been painfully incomplete. I just don't understand what happened or what I should do about it.
When I ask about the lack of records I am usually told I'm the pastor I should make all the decisions. When I ask about the lack of a budget I am told the congregation doesn't have a lot of money but if it is needed we can usually try to find it. I can't help but think its important for me to know what they have done in the past and have some kind of budget to work with. How can I the past or a budget. For all their talk about me being in charge I am convinced that without records I will miss something important and without a budget I will violate some financial taboo and end up unnecessarily offending the congregation.
How much of this is normal new call/first call stuff? And how should I proceed?
Now as we were preparing to address that question, "Frustrated in
Over the last week I have found out more about why I can't find certain things, they never existed. Apparently I can't find old budgets because they have never had one. In fact the secretary told me I am the third pastor to asked her if we have one...and when the first one pushed this issue it apparently wasn't well received. So my revised question has to do with church budgets. Am I the only pastor in the land with a church that doesn't have and possibly refuses to create any kind of church budget? If you too go without a budget how do you make spending choices? Do you bring every little thing to council? Do you just do what you want
and assume they will pay for it? Or something in between? Have any of you come into a parish and tried to get them to make this kind of huge shift in the way they think about and deal with money? How did it work? Should I just leave it be (either until I get more settled or forever) or can I pursue this (now or later), because a big part of me wants to ask them to create a budget so I can know how they want to utilize their resources, but I don't want to stir up a hornets nest in my first month?
Even more frustrated in
An Episcopal priest, a friend of one of our matriarchs, writes:
This is going to take some counsel with her bishop. But if she can dig back through other parish records like newsletters and vestry minutes, she might shed a little historical light on the problem. But ultimately, I think she's accountable for the continuing lack of a budget and, by extension, the wise use of parish resources. A couple of questions:
Is there a treasurer and what does he/she do?
How does a pledge campaign fit into this lack of financial accountability?
Her language needs to move from "they" to "we".
A couple of other questions that affect this situation: How small is the parish? Is there a group of parishioners who have pretty much run things over the decades? Has she talked with the previous two priests? Did she not get parish information prior to accepting this call? Has she never talked with the bishop about this parish? How can they fill out a parochial report without solid financial info? I'd check national and diocesan canons as well to see if they're violating anything or if they're lack of budget implies that they must violate a canon. I don't think, though, that she'll be able to do much without the bishop's support. And if she cannot be assured of that, she needs to make a move out of there sooner rather than later. This is a major disaster waiting to happen and regardless of what the disaster is, the priest will be lifted up as the cause.
This parish reminds me of a priest-killing parish in xxx where I was the interim. A small group ran the place and it was a struggle every day. The treasurer wasn't even a member of the parish! When he called me the day before my first pay day and told me they couldn't afford to give me a check after paying the bills, I called the senior warden and told her that there would be no more services on Sunday until they could afford to pay me. I had a check within the hour. And that was only the beginning ....
A rector friend adds:
What a nightmare! I would find some good "financial stewardship" type information. The Episcopal Church has the Manual of Business Methods in Church Affairs – that would help. Then I would gather some numbers types in the church and share this information with them. Enlist a group to support a change process. Maybe as a first step then, this year, I would ask one of those folks to help track spending and maybe come up with different categories. Take that spending tracking to the council at the end of the year and set it next to your mission or parish priorities and ask if the way we operate reflects accurately who we want to be? If it does, let's set this as a sort of budget to help us stay on track. If it doesn't reflect who we think we are, then lets allocate money in advance and use that allocation to keep us faithful to our stated commitments.
It seems like budgets are good stewardship for two reasons – one is that we are open and hones in how we deal with money – no secrets from the congregation, the other is, as I said above, because they are tools to help focus our ministry where we believe God wants it to go.
Jan, who blogs at A Church for Starving Artists writes
This is not normal.
And keeping the status quo would be a lose-lose situation: if you spend whatever you want and you overspend, they'll be angry. If you spend nothing terrified of overspending and so certain ministries are not possible then they'll be angry.
As I've said in these posts before, most difficult conversations start best with "In a healthy church . . ."
Healthy churches have budgets. Budgets also give you and the congregation a clear understanding of boundaries, permission, core values, and goals.
You could also ask the leaders: why do we exist? (possible answers: To have someplace to go on Sunday mornings. To serve God in this community. To take care of our own needs.) Information, money, and energy are all needed - among other things - to do ministry. You cannot do your job unless you have those resources. You are not the only minister of that congregation -- unless they have called you because they want a personal chaplain. (I hope this isn't the case.)
Even More Frustrated is not the first to have experienced this lack of appropriate financial behavior. Do you have some insights to add?
(image courtesy of rehobothpres.blogspot.com)