Congregational Forum Sunday, May 19

Summary of the letter below:

  • At the Annual Meeting of the Congregation on June 2, the Board of Trustees will present a balanced budget for the approval of the congregation.
  • To ensure a sustainable financial future for the church, we are faced with the difficult choice to reduce our staffing.
    The Board of Trustees proposes to reduce the position of Director of Religious Exploration from full-time to half-time (~20 hours/week).
  • You are invited to learn more and ask questions prior to the June 2 meeting by attending a Congregational Forum THIS Sunday, May 19, 2019. The Board and Lead Minister will be available to answer your questions and address your concerns.

Dear Friends,

The Board of Trustees along with the wise counsel of the Finance Team have been at work developing a budget for the coming fiscal year (2019-20) and have found that we, as a congregation, need to make some difficult choices.

As you know, over the last five years this congregation has been presented with, and has approved, operating budgets where our planned expenses have exceeded our expected income (deficit budgeting.) We have managed these deficits through a combination of reserve funds, mortgage restructuring, contentious spending, and the deep generosity of our members and friends.

We took on these deficits in faith. Faith that these investments would lead us to a kind of sustaining growth in membership and engagement. We continue to believe in and value the presence of professional staff as a catalyst for growth and have made staffing decisions accordingly.

Nearly two years ago, we began to experience the fruits of those investments and had an influx of new members, many of whom brought their children to engage our Religious Exploration programs. At the same time, we were blessed to hire Rev. Terry Vodery as our Director of Religious Exploration (DRE) for a 3/4-time position. The Board, and indeed the congregation, held a reasonable optimism that this growth — particularly in our Religious Exploration program — would continue.

So we took a leap of faith, based on our sound expectation that we were on a sustainable growth trajectory. We applied for, and received, a Chalice Lighter’s Grant to help us fund the DRE position at full-time. And the congregation agreed to a FY2018-19 (our current year) budget that included a planned $24,000 deficit.

The good news is that through prudent management of spending, a second mortgage payment restructuring, and some unexpected income, we anticipate our actual end-of-budget-year deficit to be less than $9000 (which will come from reserves.)

However, the growth we experienced has not been “sticky.” In other words, and for a variety of reasons, our Religious Exploration program (Children and Youth) attendance and engagement did not remain at the levels we were seeing. (We note that there has been an increase in Adult RE engagement.)

In drafting the FY2019-20 operating budget, the Finance Team counseled the Board of Trustees that we cannot recommend the congregation to approve another deficit budget. To do so would risk the long-term financial stability of the congregation. To that end, the Board would need to find a way to remove approximately $24,000 in expenses from the budget plan in order to offer a balanced budget. After years of trimming, saving, and managing to make it work, the only part of the budget available for that kind of reduction in expense was our staffing model.

The Board did some research and found that for a church of our size (150 members, 85-100 participants on a Sunday), and that is “staffed for growth,” the benchmark is 2 to 2-1/4 FTE (full-time equivalent staff.) This past year, we have had 2-3/4 FTE. In other words, we are overstaffed for our size by 1/2 a full-time staff position. In addition, we researched and found that churches with full-time Directors of Religious Education typically have between 60 and 100 children regularly participating. Our recent participation averages between 15 and 25.

To aid in our discernment, Rev. Greg presented to the Board a series of staffing models and their associated costs. Each model took a different perspective on how we might best serve our mission, foster our growth, and be good stewards of our resources. The Board wrestled with the implications of each model.

In the end, the Board found that the staffing model that would most closely satisfy both our aspirations and our constraints would mean reducing the position of the Director of Religious Exploration from a full-time position to a half-time position (~20 hours/week.)

We remain committed to the mission of this church and to its growth — particularly in our Religious Exploration programming. We are inviting all members and friends of Mill Creek to join us in fostering a deeper (stickier!) family engagement — no matter what the configuration of your family!

We are well aware that this is a significant change to our congregation, and we anticipate there will be many questions. To that end, the Board of Trustees invites you to a Congregational Forum this Sunday, May 19 at noon, where all will have an opportunity to learn more and to have their questions answered as best as we can.

If you are unable to join us on Sunday, please feel free to reach out to any member of the Board of Trustees, or Rev. Greg, in the weeks to come. (Click on the email links next to the individual Board member’s below – or send to

And please plan on attending the Annual Meeting of the Congregation on Sunday, June 2, where we will seek congregational approval on our balanced budget plan.

In Faith,

Judy Pappenhagen
David Bonner
Melissa Bryson
Anna Hull
Stephen Peterson
Ram Ray
Helen Springer
[You may email the entire Board:]

Rev. Gregory Pelley (