Priest's Letter - February 2021
I am writing this letter in the evening after our Annual Meeting, in which we discussed the future of the parish. I am very grateful both for the large turnout and for the kindness and thoughtfulness of the conversation. Three new members have been added to the Vestry: Arel Bucalo, Patricia Betzhold, and Patricia Orton. The first two are "new entries." A very heartfelt thanks to them and to the other nine who are staying on for 2021, including Don Sevier as senior warden and Cash Sutton as junior warden.
With regard to the financial situation, let me simply summarize that we have a $60K deficit projected for 2021. My calculation is that if the pandemic did not hit, we would probably have a $40K deficit. But this line of reasoning is helpful only to understand that we have been on the right path, diminishing the deficit by about $10K each year for past three years, and the trend would likely have continued. It does not make money appear out of nothing.
I came out of the meeting convinced that the Vestry has still a lot of work to do to investigate the positives and the negatives of each possible solution to our financial deficit, but also that - during this transitional time - we might need to meet as a whole, meaning all parishioners, about once a month or every six weeks.
The four possible paths for financial stability that have been named at the Meeting were all already discussed in Vestry and are the following:
Option 1: A "merger" with another local Episcopal parish. Today we said that we prefer to call this option "courting and marriage" to avoid the corporate implications. For a successful marriage, though, the following will be required: enough time for getting to know each other, the choice of a residence for the new family, free consent from both parties and, last but not least, full disclosure of the financial situation of both sides.
Option 2: Opening a preschool (or, alternatively, a day care center) on our premises. This would require a thorough investigation of the local needs, the bringing up to code of several rooms, a business plan, the hiring of teachers. The school could have an "on-hands ecology" theme in conjunction with the development of the Garden of the Cosmic Christ in the back of our property.
Option 3: Opening a Garden Café on our premises. In conjunction with the Garden and the Spirituality Center, keeping our campus open to visitors and actively inviting people to visit us to create a new network of relations. It requires a business plan as well as a well-studied advertising plan - which needs to focus on our programs, not on the Café per se, as the city zoning won't allow us to open a business as such.
Option 4: Becoming a mission rather than a parish / getting a part-time priest. These two solutions are actually distinct: a parish can have a part-time priest, and a mission can have a full-time vicar, named by the bishop. Missions typically receive a grant by the Diocese that would cover about half of our current deficit. This kind of vision, however, is the only one that has been consistently rejected by Vestry and by the Annual Meeting today as well. In any case, it is unlikely that an application for mission status to the Diocese will be considered before mid-2022.
At the last Vestry meeting, option one received a very large consensus, yet the Annual Meeting seemingly has brought back to life also option two and option three. These last two would avoid the risk of moving elsewhere (which is not a given, yet it is a possibility with option one). They also seem to involve, in my view, an even larger effort by many parishioners than option one does.
The ball is back in the Vestry court, but please expect to be summoned soon again. Unless the Vestry disagrees and has a different plan, I would like to call for another general parish meeting on February 28 after the service, still online as today.
I am happy about how our options are taking shape and about the open conversation that is happening. Experiencing the unity of purpose and the energy of your intentions at the Annual Meeting this morning was very refreshing. Thank you!