Informal Session Report, May 23 and May 30, 2021

May 23. Session met, via Zoom, for our regular, monthly meeting. We couldn’t even wait for the meeting to get started before we were celebrating the in-person Pentecost gathering earlier in the afternoon. It was sheer joy to see so many people join in, to see so many kids on our new playground, and to see each other’s faces again! 😊

The church building’s wi-fi has been successfully upgraded! Once we start meeting in-person, we now have the capacity to continue on-line worship for those who prefer it. This hybrid model for worship is how we will move ahead in the short-term, but the improved connection will also serve us well once we’re all back in the building.

We listened to two guests from the Nehemiah Project, which had granted us a leave of absence for the past three months. Gerald Taylor and Angela Cowser invited us to re-commit. In my opinion, one of the great things about this project is that it assumes that all the participating congregations fall short of being perfect or of having all the answers. Hey, we qualify! 😊 Session agreed to renew our connection to the project, partly as a way of moving to fulfill our previous commitment, and partly as a way to re-engage, not only with these other congregations, but with each other, too. The Nehemiah Project is funded by a Lilly grant, so we are not asked to invest money. Just ourselves, working side-by-side in healing.

We also listened to two representatives from Mid-Kentucky Presbytery. Bill Williamson and Cynthia Campbell, leaders of our listening circles two months ago, encouraged us to get an outside mediator to help us ask the necessary questions about moving into a reconciliation process. Jihyun Oh, from the national PC(USA) offices, has offered to help us ask ourselves those hard questions, and (even harder!) listen to each other’s answers. She will then advise us on who might be best able to help us in our reconciliation process.

Our budget is in trouble, due to the decisions by some of our members to withhold their pledges. Those decisions have consequences. We will not be hiring a youth director. We have cut all budgeted staff bonuses. We have delayed fulfilling our pledges to some mission work, and we will reduce expected mission giving by 20%. We will also delay other planned expenses, such as building maintenance. I realize that withholding pledges is an attempt at communicating displeasure and distrust. I get it. But gifts to the church are investments in the vision we share of being a community of Christ, of pooling our resources to work for a better world. Isn’t that a more worthy message to communicate? Let’s work together toward our shared vision. Thank you for supporting Crescent Hill.
For those of you interested in the numbers, here are some high-level financial points to help you understand the situation more clearly:

• Our annual budget for 2021 was approved by Session in December 2020 to be: $331,749 in expenses.
• As of April 2021, our church had total assets of $341,523 with approximately $204,000 in restricted funds (e.g., Woosley/Leake Scholarship funds, Organ fund). This leaves approximately $137,000 in available reserve funds.
• Through the first 4 months of 2021, we are running a deficit of $31,485. This is not typical of recent years.
• $52,000 in pledges have been withheld or withdrawn by members of our church community with another $15,000 at risk of being withheld.
• Given the budget planning for 2021, withheld pledges, and additional expenses in 2021 (largely associated with the personnel issues around Debbie Dierks’ firing), we may be facing a budget shortfall of over $100,000 for 2021. This would represent 73% of the available reserve funds.

May 30. Session met with Jihyun Oh. We discussed the importance of a “truthful and complex narrative,” where we acknowledge different perspectives, and how to be honest with each other without being toxic. We recognize that we have been slow in following up on the original listening circles, and we apologize. We agreed that we will contact the entire prayer list in the next couple of weeks to listen to everyone’s concerns about reconciliation. We will ask you if you would like your responses to be anonymous, and then we’ll ask you your views on two questions: What might reconciliation look like for you? What do you personally need to move toward reconciliation?

Session’s next regular, monthly meeting will be on Sunday, June 27, at 3:00.

Bruce Whearty