As we begin, I am requesting a few minutes of personal privilege as your Moderator. Ordinarily, I would offer a “state of the congregation” report at our annual meeting in May. Given the number of things that are happening, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on some of these things with you now.
A mere five months ago, our new Senior Minister joined us. We have been in high gear since then so at times it seems that she has been with us much longer. We waited exactly 2 years for her coming. Our former senior minister left on September 1, 2013 and our new senior minister came September 1, 2015.
In that two-year interim, we were not idle. Our search committee worked long and hard to seek the right person to lead us. Our Governing Board and our Designated Pastor led us through a self-evaluation that proved valuable as we prepared for new leadership. Some of the discernment and study from that interim continues today as we are seeking to move forward in following God’s call upon our congregation for this day and time. A word of thanks and acknowledgement to our staff who while many of us were future focused, that worked diligently to maintain our day-to-day operations.
For a number of years your Moderators were aware that we were somewhat stuck in a rut of doing things the way we had always done them. This is always the threat for congregations that have enjoyed such a long history as ours. Our two year interim and with the leadership of Bob Gross and now entering this new era with the leadership of Nanette Pitt has brought fresh eyes and new vision to assist your Governing Board in recognizing the rut and now having the leadership to move us forward. That movement means evaluating how were have been doing things and making changes that put us in a position more congruent with the needs and plans for our ministry and administrative functioning for today.
While our membership in the last five years has remained pretty stable, even going through a process of purging our membership roll, we have seen a huge fluctuation in attendance. Pledges in 2010 were a high of $297,000 but reached a low in 2014 of $237,000. During those five years we reached a high of actual pledge income totaling $266,000 but saw a low of $231,000 in 2014. We bounced back in 2015 to receive an actual pledge income of $240,000.
While I recognize that many factors go into these numbers, I think that we can surmise that for the last five years, we as members of the congregation have known that we were in a time of transition. Such times require a hard look at the way we are doing things and often require hard decisions to move us to the next level of growth.
Your Governing Board is prayerfully navigating this particular time of making hard decisions and changes—decisions and changes that should have been happening in a systematic way over the last 10-15 years. But as it often happens in church life, the rut occurred and was quite comfortable. In making some of these changes, the Governing Board has the wise guidance of our Personnel Board and Stewardship and Finance Board advising them.
One of the changes that has been instituted was the elimination of our administrative assistant position in our church office. While we hugely regret that it meant ending a job for one of our church members, we see this as a first step in making the necessary changes to move forward. Another change that is being instituted tomorrow is having our church office open to the public from 9 AM through 2 PM. Again, we had to consider the burden to our budget versus the benefit to our ministry. Let me assure you that this will not adversely affect our programming or ministry. It just means making plans to accommodate the needs. We are trying to right-size our administrative functions so that we can operate in the most effective way. We need to become agile enough to provide for the needs and growth of our congregation and ministry in a prayerful and systematic way rather than allowing “the way we always did things” to guide us.
And then as life happens, the unexpected happens. Valerie Thorson, our Director of Musical Arts, has tendered notice of her retirement. This is a change we did not want to see, but as Valerie has eloquently shared with us, it is the right time in her life to make this transition for herself. We trust that God has led her to this decision and that God will sustain us through another transition in our ministry leadership.
All that we are doing we are doing from a position of strength. Please hear me say that clearly. We are not making decisions from any sense of being in decline—we are making them from a position of strength and excitement. It is evident to all that our attendance is up. Our pledged income for 2016 is $40,000 more than our actual pledged income received in 2015—the 2016 total of pledged income is $280,000. More members are stepping up and volunteering for our outreach ministries. We are moving forward on filling our vacant Associate Minister position. We will make plans at the appropriate time to fill the music director position. It is a new day for the First Congregational Church of Akron. We have prayed for this day to come, we have spent time praying and discerning what God is calling us to be and do, we now just need to hang on for the ride as God continues of mold and make and use this congregation as God has done for 180 plus years. May God bless us as we follow God’s call.
I would welcome the opportunity to dialogue with any of you regarding the things I have shared today or any things that are on your mind. Please do not hesitate to set up a time for us to talk.
As we now move to the next item on our agenda, you are experiencing yet another change in the way we want to do business. For years it has been our practice for the Governing Board to approve our annual operating budget. In an effort to be more transparent—and more congregational—we are bringing the operating budget to the congregation for approval.
Karen Ballard, Moderator