We need to talk about ....money!

We need to talk about.....money!

After lengthy discussion, the Leadership Team now puts this question to our congregations for reflection leading to action: How do you believe we should function as a Chaplaincy (gathering for worship & fellowship) when the money runs out?

We think the Chaplaincy faces real and pressing questions, and that it is time to explore them with our whole Church Family.

Taking off so we can fly: an analogy.

A local Church is a bit like a plane – it's purpose is to take off and fly somewhere with whatever it is carrying. In order to take off, a plane needs to be well designed, well fuelled, well maintained, well crewed. It also needs to be fit for purpose – capable of carrying the load being asked of it.

Barely ten years into its life, the Chaplaincy committed itself for the next fifteen years to spending the first €1050 of income each month on repaying the the cost of purchasing a set of buildings. That commitment represents the 'load' with which the quite small and new 'plane' was expected to take off and fly.

The Chaplaincy judged the size of this load to be feasible, and trusted that it could 'fuel the take-off' by an income flow based on big fundraising events, lettings, and giving from an expanding congregation. (A plane taking off needs more fuel than one that is already flying!)

The fifteen year commitment represents the take-off runway (long runway: heavy load to lift!) To take-off a plane needs to be picking up speed as it moves forward, so by the end of the runway the plane is off the ground and flying away on its journey.

That was the aim, but it hasn't happened quite as envisaged. The steady flow of 'fuel' hasn't happened: fundraising stopped during Covid and never really restarted, lettings never materialised, attendance plateau'd then shrank in the aftermath of Covid, while the flow of holiday visitors and new residents has dried up post Covid and post Brexit.

Even rolling the plane along the runway to take off has been hit by the crosswinds of events beyond our control. The plane cannot take-off with the load it is carrying, and the end of the runway is near. Taking off and actually flying looks impossible with the load we have been trying to carry.

'Could this plane have ever flown?' - we'll never know. But we now believe we need to think again about the journey, and about the load we should be carrying.

Why are we asking the question now?

We haven't suddenly run out of money!

The Church Council gratefully accepted the plan to use last year's generous gift to cover the mortgage payments this year, with the aim of using this temporary relief from pressure to rebuild Chaplaincy finances for the 'new normal'. We accepted that without such rebuilding, by the end of the year the situation would be very bleak.

We are now half way through this year, summer is upon us: so far no significant fundraising has taken place and little is actually scheduled.

Collections are better now the pattern of weekly worship is restored, but it's clear our congregations are now smaller, so collection income will be smaller.

Outgoings this year are already higher than predicted because we are being hit by the cost of rectifying a backlog of health and safety defects in order to keep the Salle open for use – simply making the doors safety-compliant may have cost more than the projected income from the Christmas Fair!

The accounts to end June '22 show no real progress, and, for all sorts of reasons, the Church Council aim to rebuild finances in 2022 is simply not materialising.

So, the money won't run out tomorrow, but it is limited: we have a responsibility to think ahead.

What is the crisis?

We are not the only Chaplaincy facing profound questions at the moment, especially in the changed post-Covid world. Chaplaincy leaders here have been warning of an approaching crisis for three years or more. This crisis has three faces.

1 A spiritual crisis

We have been trying to help the Chaplaincy to identify and unite around its purpose – our shared vision of what God wants of us, the direction in which we need to move forward. Processes to seek this together have started, then have needed to re-start after each interruption caused by the Covid pandemic.

Purposeful Churches generate energy: purposeful Churches draw new members.

2 A human crisis

It is now clear that post-Covid lockdowns our core congregations are smaller. There are fewer new arrivals in the local Anglophone community post-Brexit, and those arriving are statistically less likely to be already practising Christians, let alone Anglicans.

A significant proportion of our congregation are now dealing with age and infirmity: they have less energy to support the church – we need to be supporting them! Rising fuel costs make coming together for services and activities more expensive for all.

Our old buildings require better maintenance and closer monitoring, but we have fewer people with the energy to bear responsibility for this.

The Chaplaincy currently enjoys 'free ministry' through the voluntary service of two retired priests, but this isn't a viable strategy for the future: no further clergy have retired here in the past 10 years!

3 A financial crisis

The Leadership Team believes the financial aspect is in many senses a symptom and reflection of the other issues already mentioned.

The treasurer has warned us regularly of our worsening situation for some years. The strategy for living as a Church and funding a 15 year mortgage depended on a blend of income sources that is no longer deliverable: we need a different strategy.

What are our options?

1 Cut our spending?

In 2013, of every €1 of regular income, 39c went on paying the mortgage.

In 2021 Of every €1 of regular income, 65c went on paying the mortgage.

From this remaining 35c we heat, light, insure and maintain the buildings, keep the church itself open, warm and supplied, and partially reimburse the costs our ministers incur working on our behalf.

Simply paying for the buildings is consuming a greater proportion of our resources with each passing year, progressively draining other aspects of our life and work in the process.

Reducing mortgage payments would mean extending the mortgage for extra years beyond Oct 2025 – at this stage this would be financially counterproductive.

65% of our expenditure is inevitable as long as we have the mortgage, so any attempted cuts would need to target the remaining 35% - further squeezing spending on heating, lighting, insurance, maintenance, Church supplies, ministry costs.

Ministry costs reflect the actual work of the Church. Despite inflation, reimbursements for the four ministers together are now 10% less than our payments for one minister in 2013. Ministry is more than taking services on Sundays! Cutting the work of the Church by its ministers reduces our impact and increases the burden on lay officers.

2 Get rid of the mortgage?

There are two ways this could happen.

One would be for kind benefactors to pay off the mortgage on our behalf. That would free our money to be used for more constructive purposes: it would enable us to pay proper attention to the actual work for which our Church exists.

The other way is to ask whether the buildings are delivering – can realistically deliver – what our Church now needs in order to thrive in a changed world. If not, then maybe the time has come to consider selling them and using our money differently, spending more money on real work and less on maintenance.

Getting rid of the mortgage would 're-set the clock' for now, but then we would need to reinvest our energy in outreach and service, and in properly resourcing our ministry, including the Chaplain/Leader we need.

3 Change the way we fund our Church?

If we lack the energy as a Church to carry out the fundraising that once was possible, maybe the time has come for us to look very seriously at our giving, and ask whether it reflects the value we place on our church here? We give to what we believe in, because we believe in it.

To simply return ourselves to the financial position of 2013 and meet our current obligations properly annual income needs to increase by €12,700 p.a. Providing the financial resources to do our job is one way for us to demonstrate our commitment to the aims we share.

Not such an easy solution!

'Sell the buildings' sounds an easy way out of the problem, but it brings a whole new set of issues. Reverting to events in homes and hired venues is easy, but what about meeting for Sunday worship?

We put heating into Hommeel church to make it usable for us, but the loss of the Salle site would leave us with a church building with no toilets, no running water, not enough parking.

Finding a buyer for the Salle might be the easy part: finding a new worshipping home might be much harder, and might involve having to share, to have services at less popular times, to maybe having to base ourselves in a different area.

Have we missed anything? Can you see something we can't see, something that could transform the situation? Now is the time to tell us!

Finally a reminder: why are we bothering?

We want to reach out to people to share the joy that faith in God can offer: if we win people's hearts and souls, then the practical commitment (including money) will follow.

Every Christian realises that 'Church' is so much more than an event in a building on a Sunday morning. Every local Church is a community called by God through Christ to bring Him glory by worship and service, to spread His message, and to work to expand His kingdom.

Those are the activities and the priorities that should draw most of our energy and attention, those are the activities and priorities on which an effective Church should be spending most of its resources of time and money. They are 'our work'.

By those criteria, if Jesus returned tomorrow and called us to give account, would He say we are a focused and effective Church?

Lord Jesus Christ, thank you for calling us to be a Church under the banner of your Name:
may we look to you today and find clear vision for tomorrow.
May our life together bring you glory, as you make of us a living invitation
to enter the joy of your Kingdom. Amen.