April 16, 2023

When I think about the last few years of Fellowship life, I picture a big sturdy masted sailing ship, pushing off from shore, heading for what was expected to be an adventurous year as our building was remodeled. But just as we were about to land, a fierce storm came up unexpectedly. We were pushed away from shore and buffeted about by the water and the wind, weathering wave after wave. We stayed afloat, but sustained some damage. Some people were swept overboard and stayed near the ship, others drifted away. Finally, the storm calmed and we landed. We began to take stock and reorient ourselves.

How has our congregation been changed by these last few years?

  • Well, we all became amateur epidemiologists, and learned how to assess personal risk and public health guidance during an historic and highly politicized pandemic. Through it all, we adapted and pivoted, sometimes creatively, often abruptly, as the situation required. Many of us got sick, but we didn’t lose one life to Covid – a huge success.
  • We became more adept at connecting virtually, for worship and other gatherings. Our AV Team and service leaders became proficient at producing beautiful, meaningful services for those who attend in person and on Zoom. We overcame our personal computer phobias and organizational technical challenges and learned how to be together and work together online. Indeed, a whole part of Fellowship life happens on Zoom. Since September alone, over 300 individuals have joined our services online – members, friends and visitors. A core group of 20 people attend services regularly on Zoom, and 65 people come at least once/month.
  • In response to the nationwide racial justice uprising, we took to heart the messages from BIPOC people both within and outside our congregation, and did much soul searching. We now are more aware of our privilege and are actively seeking out opportunities to partner with marginalized communities within and around us. We have raised our commitment to work for racial justice and against other forms of oppression, such as trans phobia.
  • We dug deep and leaned into our commitment to each other and our vision. We stayed connected through newsletters, music performances, outdoor gatherings, playshop, dinners, neighborhood connectors, committee meetings, and way too many emails. Dedicated leaders and key volunteers worked hard and gave generously to keep us going through these difficult times. We navigated conflicts both large and small.
  • We got a little smaller. While a surprising number of people joined during the last few years, a larger number moved or drifted away, including some who had been very involved. Our families with young children were particularly challenged. Like many congregations, we lost numbers in our Religious Education program, which is slowly recovering.
  • We are tired and stretched a bit thin – both in terms of time and money. Many committees and councils have vacancies. We have lots of ideas of what to do, but not as much bandwidth to do it. Some of our most generous donors have significantly reduced their pledges for next year for a variety of reasons, including the stock market.
  • We remain generous and determined and organized and highly involved. Almost all of our members are involved in something beyond attending worship, and most people are involved in more than one thing. Our committees and councils are actively working on a large number of pent up projects and deferred plans. We’re enjoying our new space and learning how everything from the HVAC system to the coffee makers work. We’ve shared our beautiful building with members of the larger community, and are refining our processes so this can be smoother and also bring in more income. The vast majority of our congregation pledged the same or more this year, despite the challenges of our current economy.

As you know, we’ve just completed our pledge drive. The results are confirming some of the changes we’ve sensed and I’ve already mentioned (reduced membership, economic factors, reduction in giving by a few top donors). As it stands now, we project that the pledge drive will fall $75,000 short of our stretch goal of $500,000, and $50,000 short of what we took in this year.

We know and respect that each of you carefully considered your personal circumstances when making this pledge. We deeply appreciate the generosity you’ve demonstrated already.

Nonetheless, we need to “Fill the Gap.” Leaders are already meeting to create a budget for next year and are looking at all options: raising income, reducing expenses, dipping further into savings. As responsible stewards of your money, we are having to consider some difficult choices to make the numbers balance – everything is on the table.

We are examining ways to raise our income through rentals and other fundraisers. And we need to ask those of you who have the capacity, to consider raising your pledge further. Anything additional you can give will help prevent the most painful cuts. Click here to reach a form to revise or supplement your pledge.

So this is where we are now – we found our way to our intended destination but it doesn’t look quite like what we expected. And we are different, too, for our journey.

As I think about where we go from here, it seems to me that we are in a time of reorientation and recalibration. Still committed to our vision, but needing to pursue it in a way that is sustainable, both in terms of financial and volunteer capacity.

To reorient is not to have failed, but rather to take a clear eyed look at this new altered terrain in front of us, take stock of where we are now, after the storm has largely passed, and plot a path forward, toward our goals, that has room for rest, contemplation, creativity, joy, and spontaneity.

I look forward to making the journey with all of you.

~ Janet Meyer, President of the Board of Trustees