Together. Doesn’t that word have a different connotation now than it did before March of 2020?
It does for me. Before 2020 arrived, being together could easily conjure up images of family gatherings, holiday celebrations, weddings, passing the peace with handshakes and hugs, summer picnics or barbeques, gathering in fellowship hall after church or sitting around a large table at a committee meeting brainstorming… together. All sorts of good images that bring a smile, especially now, as we begin to gather again after so long and reimagine what together means for the future. Sometimes it almost feels “normal,” and we can temporarily erase the 15+ months of “lockdown,” which changed things, forever.
Joining our Office of the Bishop staff in May 2020 certainly presented challenges as I went through the onboarding process. Being a lifelong Lutheran for over 50 years, I suppose I had a little head start, at least knowing what a “synod” is! But it was the warm reception, openness, and desire of each member of our staff to share information and knowledge that made it easier to begin this new journey during the pandemic. Similar to my role in the corporate world, my role at MNYS as Chief Operations Officer is to manage the day-to-day operations of our synod office. During the past year, as a relatively new team, we navigated our learning curve through unprecedented times, finding new ways of working together, getting to know each other, and making plans to do God’s work for our synod. We built new relationships in familiar and unfamiliar ways… who knew about Zoom before 2020? Occasionally we were able to work together in person, having our temperature taken as we entered the building, wearing masks, staying socially distant, keeping track and trace logs, and taking turns sanitizing the office.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.
— Hebrews 10:24
In August 2020, we welcomed Donna-Mari Fieldsa to our team as our Director of Finance, Administration and Grant Management, completing our executive team. Thanks be to God, with the arrival of spring and vaccines, we have been meeting together in person at “The God Box,” finding joy in this “new” opportunity to be together and work together in the same space.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!
— Psalm 133:1
During the past year, we have worked diligently on a number of projects, including creating an updated employee handbook, carefully reviewing expenses and taking seriously the expectation of our Synod Council that we work toward a balanced budget. We reviewed and launched an extensive data conversion to Salesforce. This robust database enables our MNYS staff to work together more efficiently, and better assist our ordained ministers, lay leaders and congregations.
We have also taken a close look at our synod-owned properties and put together recommendations for the future, which were outlined in our State of the Synod presentation in April. I will now share with you highlights from this presentation, which have since been updated:
Our budget for this fiscal year ending 2022 is set at $6 million, which is comprised of $4.8 million for operations and $1.2 million for synod owned properties this is reduced by about $400,000 from the last year’s total budget.
We are grateful to our congregations for the Mission Support given for the fiscal year ending 2021 totaling $878k.
Fifty two and a half percent or $461k of the mission support received from our congregations was sent to churchwide in our synod’s support of the ELCA. Leaving about $417k with MNYS. We were also blessed to receive grants from churchwide which equaled approximately $150k as well as $332k from PPP loan, which has been forgiven, jointly providing our synod with close to $945k in revenue which is approximately 15% of our budget.
With only 15% of our budget dollars being received through mission support, grants and PPP (which will not be available in the future), the remaining amount needed to cover expenditures ($3.9 million) was drawn from the legacy fund.
We anticipate a similar scenario in our current fiscal year receiving the second PPP draw of $320K. This means we expect to withdraw just over $5 million from the synod investments of our Legacy Fund to meet our budget needs in the current fiscal year, providing we spend the entire budget.
Drawing from the legacy fund at this rate is not sustainable.
This is why we are working on a “glide path” to reduce spending over the coming years and continue to act as good stewards of God’s resources in the form of our synod’s finances, addressing what is needed now as well as planning for the future, and leaving a legacy for generations to come.
During the last fiscal year, we spent approximately $965k on synod owned properties, alone.
This is 15 percent of the total budget, which is lower than in previous years, yet still a considerable amount of resources, yearly. This includes: legal fees, property and liability insurance, maintenance and repairs, real estate taxes, utilities, staff salaries and time, and appraisal and architect fees, and paying violations (we have seen more NYC violations this past year for trash left in front our vacant properties).
Our properties require care and upkeep which is time consuming — sometimes labor intensive — and costly. It is not cost effective for our synod to continue to care for, or restore buildings, knowing it is not our mission or calling to be landlords of vacant properties, but to focus on our ministry and mission, enabling us to be church together.
Though we will not soon forget the past 15 months which have been a time of change and disruption, I can say with certainty that the staff of the Office of the Bishop has a plan to move our synod forward to a more stable tomorrow; and I am blessed to be part of this team, knowing God is with us and will continue to equip us for the opportunities and challenges ahead, whether in person or on Zoom… we are church together!
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
— Ephesians 4:16