by Peg Tomaszek-Witry
I read with sorrow about the planned sale of the Epworth United Methodist Church building that houses the men’s shelter for which we at Atonement provided a monthly breakfast for many years. The shelter will now have to look for a new home. I don’t know the particulars of the years of decisions that led to the closure of this building, but I do know that this congregation is certainly not alone in finding itself with a dwindling congregation and hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of necessary repairs. In my experience as a banker, I saw this in many institutions: the problem of short-term thinking—of hoping, and not planning. Hoping that tomorrow, the money for the deferred maintenance would suddenly appear. Hoping that tomorrow, the congregation could attract families and grow. Hoping that this year, someone else would increase their pledge and cover the operating costs.
There are three legs to our church giving, similar to our own home budgeting experience. Each of them is important for the life of the parish and our personal, spiritual growth in Christian giving. Only one of them is for the short term.
The upcoming annual stewardship drive this fall is fundamentally important for the short-term operating needs of the parish. It pays the utilities, salaries, and ongoing monthly expenses—just like we all do with utilities, groceries, and child/elder care or other domestic workers we hire. A successful stewardship campaign produces a balanced budget. A faithful steward reflects and prays on the importance of the parish in their life and that of the community during the pledge campaign period.
Every once and a while we need a new car, roof, furnace, or other major capital expenditure on our homes. For the church, this entails a capital campaign, usually three to five years, where people pledge funds over and above the amount that they give to annual Stewardship. As a result, the church does not need to borrow money or sell off church property to keep the roof from leaking or the foundation from crumbling. A faithful steward does not let God’s house get to the point that it is falling down.
Then there is the long-term planning for the parish, like putting money away for retirement. This is the endowment. Most endowment giving is in the form of bequests. These are people who have included the parish in their estate plans so that the long-term health and stability of the church is strengthened. These people, living and in sainthood, belong to the Atonement Legacy Society. Endowment gifts aren’t limited to bequests – they can also be smaller gifts that commemorate moments of joy and gratitude in our lives and those of others. The Atonement Endowment is used to provide an annual contribution to the annual budget. This amount is approved by the Vestry and is intended to maintain the corpus or principal of the fund while supporting specific expenses. Our endowment policy prohibits use for operating expenses but does allow us to use it to maintain the building, fund special ministries that will attract people to the parish, and support new ministry initiatives. [Spoiler alert: There will be a special event honoring our Atonement Legacy Society members this Fall. Get in your forms available on the parish website to Mother Erika so that we know who you are.]
So while I am so sorry for the plight of the Epworth United Methodist Church in Edgewater, I am grateful for the people of Atonement. A congregation of faithful stewards is a healthy, thriving parish. Returning the pledge card allows the Vestry to make a responsible budget and plan for the forthcoming year. Please include Atonement in your daily prayers as we enter this period of Stewardship.