I always think of “Porgy and Bess” this time of year. “It’s summertime and the living is easy …” I wanted to write how we are welcoming Hollis Kellogg to the Board while saying farewell to Nate Binzen. Nate did most of the work on the document that got us our “Peace Advocacy Congregation” designation. He has been a valuable voice on the Board. But this column is not about that.
This is not the column I was hoping to write. I took a good look at the last financial report and the pledge report. I should know better after six years as Treasurer, but I was in an impulsive mood. There is good news in the pledge report; there are a few members who have already passed their pledge amounts. I also did not see any of what I think of as “nonperforming pledges.” Unfortunately, that is it for the good news.
The problem is that year after year we approve budgets with deficits. We did it again in our last budget. We did this despite the promise we made as a congregation when we called Rev. Chris. A promise to pay the minister and pay our bills. By the act of approving the budget, by the act of even tolerating a deficit budget we are breaking our promise. Indeed, our actions do not show concern for the very Unitarian Universalist principles we say we hold so dear. We are once again on track to exceed our deficit this year because the fire pump needed repair. This is not the way a well-functioning congregation conducts its affairs. What are our actions saying about ourselves?
In my six years as Treasurer and a year and a half as President I have never been asked; “Where does the money to cover the budget shortfalls come from?” In the recent past it has come from the Nicholas DiGiamo bequest. We blew right through that money. How many of us have given him a thought? I bet he hoped that we would do something more meaningful with that money than just pay bills. Perhaps help those less fortunate, or do some creative outreach. Right now we are diminishing the money that Anne Beck left us. There was hope that once we got it all we could do the things that Anne asked us to do in her will, and perhaps pay off most of the mortgage principal. If we let it become a race to see how much will be left, what are we saying about ourselves?
I do not own a television, but a wise Irishman told me that there is a saying on “Game of Thrones”. It is; “Winter is coming”. So, I say it now, Winter is coming. The Birch School will eventually leave. Our good fortune with people passing away and leaving us money will not last. Winter is coming. What will you do about it?
As President of the Board of Trustees I am the senior lay leader of this congregation. I cannot and will not be silent on this issue any longer. We are well overdue for some serious self-examination, both individually and as a congregation. We are way too blithe about breaking our promises. We must demand of ourselves that we stop behaving in a way that is contrary to our principles. Let me be clear, this is a moral issue that is manifesting as a financial issue. What will we – and you — do about it?
My observation on our congregational pledging leads me to believe that most of us feel that giving should not involve any personal sacrifice, that it should be easy.
Let us individually and collectively turn that around and make the act of giving a moral practice that involves sacrifice and spiritual enrichment. That is how we keep our promises. That is how we honor our bequests. That is how we stay true to our principles and each other.
President of the Board of Trustees