I want to offer a big THANK YOU!! to everyone who took part in the Congregational Conversation at the potluck on February 18. For those of you who missed it, this potluck was the setting for a second church-wide discussion on the subject of stewardship. The people at my table were very interested in hearing about the progress made in this area since the last conversation (in October), and they had some great recommendations about where we could go from here. We had to really speak up to hear each other, so I know there were energetic conversations going on at the other tables as well.
The conversation we had in October was more of a brain-storming session, where we asked the congregation to give us every idea they could come up with for making Westside more sustainable. We then took those ideas, discussed them, developed a plan that focused on the ideas that seemed most promising, and then came back to the congregation in February for advice on
how to refine that plan and make it work. For a summary of what we came up with between October and February, check out the report that Gillian Hunt prepared on behalf of the Stewardship Committee. To hit the highlights, we are concentrating first on ways to increase revenues from outside sources, such as use of the church building by outside groups (especially weddings). In addition, we are considering "non-pushy" ways to reduce our mortgage and replenish our reserve fund, we are preparing financial management and investment guidelines, and we are supporting the Endowment Committee's efforts to set up an active Endowment Fund to promote Westside's long-term sustainability.
I know that many of you are frustrated by our slow rate of progress on stewardship. I am too. When we first started, I wanted to approve a program in December, kick it off in January, and have money rolling in before we sat down to prepare next year's budget. But I found out that in a covenantal community like ours, things take longer. But we are making progress, and we are realizing that stewardship is a long-term effort.
In the meantime, we are entering budgeting season. Traditionally at Westside, the Board of Trustees and the Finance Committee present a draft budget at the March Congregational Meeting. Then the Finance Committee canvasses the congregation for pledges for the upcoming year. After the canvass is complete, the committee and the board revise the budget to balance expected revenues and expenditures. This revised budget is presented at the May Congregational Meeting for review, amendment, and approval by church members. For the past two years, we have drawn money from our reserve fund to pay for the level of programs and activities that we wanted. The reserve fund is now almost exhausted. That means that we must find ways to do things more economically. We will probably have to make some cut-backs that we all hate to make and also do some rebalancing between the monetary and volunteer-effort components of stewardship. We will rely on the input you gave us during the February Congregational Conversation as we prepare a draft budget that does these things. Then, you will get the final say at the Congregational Meeting in May.
I am confident that Westside is going to become even stronger as we go through this transition. I also know that all of you are contributing everything you can in the way of money and volunteer time. But, if you find that you have a little extra time and energy to contribute to church activities or a little extra money that you can pledge, we promise to put it to good use.