We were all surprised (and I expect, very pleased) last month, when we learned that Desert Hills had received a large bequest. The gift was all the more surprising because the giver hadn’t been part of our church, except as the widower of a member who passed away in 2009.
What you may not have realized is that, when we received the gift, our church was already operating in the black!
This September marks the end of my fifth year as your pastor. The first four years of my ministry here were largely dominated by our finances. Each year we spent more than we took in. The economic problems our nation began to experience in 2008 only made things worse.
By this time last year, our reserves had dwindled to about $20 thousand. That sounds like a lot of money—at least to me, it does!—but it was only enough to cover our deficit for about about 12-15 months.
Something had to be done. So we did it.
Your leaders on Session approved a budget with deep and painful cuts, mostly in the area of personnel. We reduced the pastor’s take-home pay by about 10% and my total compensation by about $6,000. We eliminated the part-time office administrator position. We built in an unpaid summer furlough for our music director. These cuts were painful, but they put our budget close to balancing.
To close the gap, our leaders asked each of you, the members of our congregation, to increase your giving by at least a dollar a week. And you’ve done it!
Since I don’t look at individual giving records, I can’t say who was and who wasn’t able to increase their giving, but I do see the totals. Collectively, our congregational giving this year has consistently been more generous than it was last year. During January to August of 2011, we have received about 8% more than we did that same portion of 2010.
The result of this effort—cutting expenses and increased giving—has meant that, for the first time in my five years at Desert Hills, we are now running a modest surplus. We are on track to end the year in the black, even after we fill the music positions we are currently advertising. We will have achieved this without drawing a dime from our reserves, and without reducing our traditional level of support for ministries of compassion through our mission partners.
To achieve our goal, two things still need to happen: first, we need to continue to hold the line on expenses. Second, we are counting on you to continue to give generously. We aren’t asking you to stretch any further—if you can, that’s great; more money’s always welcome—but we are asking you to keep giving at your current level so we finish the year in the black.
I am so grateful that we did not receive this bequest last year, or earlier this year. Instead, God gave us time to embark together on this scary journey of faithful spending and giving. God held back the bequest just long enough for us to see that we already had within us the financial resources to function as a church even in a time of economic hardship.
This fifth year here at Desert Hills has been satisfying to me because we turned the corner on our finances. I want to thank each of you for all your work and sacrifice to make it happen. I especially want to thank our lay leaders, developing our financial plan and refining it along the way.
Now, finally, we can lift our heads up from the ledger books and begin to think and pray and listen together to what God has in store for our church in the years ahead.
(Cross-posted at the Desert Hills Presbyterian Church website.)