At our recent Administrative Board meeting, we discussed the need to give everyone involved in our church a better idea of the “state of the church” so that you are well aware of our successes and struggles. With this understanding, we hope that you can help the church become stronger and more active in our mission.
Though I used to prepare a “state of the church report” each year for charge conference, we’ve changed the format of that gathering to be more of a connectional gathering with all the United Methodists in the Council Oak district. This past year, we met at St. James United Methodist Church in South Tulsa. Our administrative board makes you aware of some of our local church indicators of health each month in this newsletter, but I wanted to take this opportunity to speak more broadly and frankly about “the state of the church.”
February 2019 has loomed in my mind for years now. It was chosen as the date by our last 2016 General Conference for when we’d have a Special Called General Conference to deal with petitions created by the Commission on a Way Forward and recommended by the Council of Bishops. The Council have recommended a plan called the “One Church Plan,” which would diversify our approach to ministry with the gay and lesbian population, allowing for each pastor to follow their own conscious on whether to perform weddings between gay and lesbian couples, and for each conference to decide whether ordination would be open to married gay and lesbian people. Despite the General Conference asking the Council of Bishops for leadership on this decision, some substantial resistance toward that recommendation has come about, and a caucus group of conservative United Methodists have created the “Wesleyan Covenant Association,” which plans to meet in St. Louis directly after the General Conference in late February. They have openly stated that the purpose of their meeting is to develop a break away denomination if the conservative “modified traditionalist plan” does not prevail at General Conference, and perhaps even facilitate the exit of “traditionalist” churches even if their plan does prevail. It is a tenuous time in the life of our denomination. We just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the merger between the Methodist Church and the United Bretheren, creating the United Methodist Church. Now it seems that we’ll see the common misspelling of the church become the reality—Untied Methodist Church. Despite the potential for some institutional turbulence, I do not fear the future and believe the Spirit will work within us. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”
The state of the larger church, our denomination, is tenuous. And the reality is that the state of our local church is tenuous too. We engage in unique, graceful, caring ministry in our church that speaks to the mind, warms the heart, and activates our bodies for the Kingdom of God, but we do so in a building that is a large strain on our budget. We have approved a budget for 2019 that includes a projected deficit of $44,453. We did this last year as well, and had some success in making up some of that deficit, but not all of it. We ended the year with a $36,000 deficit instead of a projected $47,000 deficit. We also saw success in our pledge campaign to the tune of a 9% overall pledge increase. These are great achievements, but not sufficient to get us “out of the hole.” We have budgeted very closely to last year’s expenses, and of that overall $288,379 in budgeted expenses, $36,000 is dedicated to utilities, and our building insurance has risen as well for which we are now budgeting $35,000. Maintenance contracts also make up $26,000 of that budget. We have also been informed that the church’s share of my health insurance, which had been $580/month, is rising to $780 per month as of the first of the year, and $980 in July. My own portion of the insurance has risen in cost remarkably as well.
We have done some great things in the past couple years with bequests that have been given for maintenance and capital expenses at the church. Last summer, the air conditioner went out at the parsonage. The trustees decided to replace the air conditioning system, including the ductwork. This was a big help to the parsonage, as the previously installed ductwork was falling apart under the house, and we were heating and cooling our crawlspace. That project was more than $20,000, and we were able to pay for it without instigating a capital campaign.
There is a real power in this place of worship, and we gain a lot of spiritual nourishment from the rocks, windows, pipe organ, and other aspects of our life together here at UUMC. But the fact is, such a building requires a lot of maintenance. We are fortunate to have a contract with Donahue air systems, and they are here working on our old heating and air system almost every week. That contracts costs about $19,000 per year.
So, while we love to hear about Jesus and the good things we are able to do as a church, the reality is that our expenses are mounting above what we have been able to sustain with our offerings. If not for the generosity of the saints who’ve gone before us and included the church in their estate, we would have had to leave this building years ago in order to keep being in ministry. We are University United Methodist church—it is part of our ethos to be here at 5th and College, offering the light of Christ in our neighborhood in the open and beautiful way that we do it. Christ works through this church in ways you rarely even get to hear about—but I as your pastor get to include that goodness in my own perspective on our challenges. We need to continue thinking creatively about how we are to best live out our mission and fund our mission. The state of the church on a larger scale reflects the state of the church on our local scale: in need of God’s Spirit to foster gracious change and growth. I almost said “stability,” there, but then it occurred to me that growth is not “stable.” When we pray for growth, we may find things “unstable.” A prayer I love in our funeral liturgy goes, “strengthen us in our weakness,
and give us courage to face the future unafraid.” May we indeed find that courage in these trying times leads us to growth, because “all things work together for good for those who love God.”