Partners congregational visits
Synod Council members at our December 2015 meeting lamented that Mission Support receipts were nearly $178,000, or about 10%, behind budgeted expenses. The Council directed the NC Synod staff to develop a program whereby representatives would be trained to go to all of our congregations to lift up the many vital ministries of the synod in hopes of a much needed uptick in mission support.
Still, as I traveled about the synod, I realized how many of our congregations are struggling.
I thought back to how many of our congregations are struggling due to decreased attendance, increased costs (especially healthcare), and in some cases general opposition to directions the ELCA and the NC Synod are pursuing in the arenas of social justice and moral deliberation.
When I started at St. Paul’s in Startown in 1986, $100 would buy what would take $220 today. I made $14,400 when I started there, plus I lived in a parsonage with all utilities paid AND health coverage for my whole family (still a NC Synod compensation guideline). Family healthcare in 1986 was $188/month. The congregation’s total budget was $88,000. We sent $27,000 of that to the NC Synod in what we now call “Mission Support,” roughly 31% of our annual operating receipts. This was fairly standard.
Compare this to today. Health care costs for my whole family would be $1,888/month. That’s exactly ten times what it cost 31 years ago in Startown, and five times the general cost of living increase! If congregations have continued to follow synod guidelines, they, like most employers, are getting nailed by health-care costs. And that’s not even taking into consideration declining membership, attendance, and giving by members to the congregation as the fiercely loyal “greatest generation” folks who’ve carried us in the giving category are passing the torch to a reluctant generation of church members with other priorities.
So, given all that, how does that make you feel if the NC Synod sends someone to visit your congregation to not-so-subtly suggest that you’re not sending enough to Salisbury and Chicago? From that perspective, the synod’s ministries become a burden and a source of guilt rather than cause for celebration. I even suspect that for some congregations, it’s easier to leave the synod or be angry with its resolutions and policies than to be told they’re inadequately supporting it. Complicated, isn’t it?
Now, back to the main thing. At our Deans’ Retreat in early 2016, I described the Synod Council’s lamentations and decision to send out reps to congregations because of our dire financial situation. One of the wise deans replied simply, “Bishop, the synod doesn’t have a financial problem. The synod has a relational problem.” The more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right, even though I was feeling personally responsible for how our budget was going. (Your pastor probably feels the same way in your congregation, no matter how much you rationalize otherwise.) The dilemma brought clarity. Clearly, the primary purpose of the synod is to help congregations to be as healthy and vital as possible in and for the Gospel ministry of Jesus Christ.
The Partners program was born in that deep realization. Phases I and II involved meeting with rostered ministers to hear their concerns and needs and then gathering with congregational leaders in various locations across the synod for the same purpose. Phase III is underway right now and through this fall. We are inviting all congregations to host a “Partner” for a congregational event to show two short videos and to give congregations input into how the synodical expression of the church might help them to be as vital as they can be. Yes, we hope to share some of the exciting programs available to them through the synod toward that end, but we want to hear from our congregations, to be with them in a relational way, as we contemplate our synod’s new vision and mission statements.
If you haven’t scheduled a Partners visit yet, please contact our Director for Evangelical Mission (DEM)—Pastor John Mocko until July 31, Pastor Danielle Kosanavich DeNise after August 7—in our synod office at 704 633-4861. We want to be with you, and we want to hear from you. We ARE you.
I’m trying personally as well to visit as many of our congregations I can as quickly as possible as well. If you do the math, it would take a little over four years for me to visit each of our 200 congregations on a Sunday, assuming a few Sundays off per year.
We want, we aim, we exist, to make our congregations and their leaders as vital as possible for the sake of the Gospel. Let us hear how we, the synodical expression of your church, can help. Please schedule a NC Synod Partner visit to strengthen our mutual ministry in the Gospel!
Walking with you,
Bishop Tim Smith