Thursday, April 29, 2010

Staff changes at St. Paul's

I have written a letter to the parish this week, and I am sharing it with you here:

Dear members and friends of St. Paul’s,

I am writing to update you on the staffing changes here at St. Paul’s Memorial Church. This is a long letter, and I hope you will take the time to read it carefully.

When I was called as the Rector of St. Paul’s nearly two years ago, I felt the staff needed sufficient time to discern their individual callings during the transition to new leadership. It was my belief that each individual who works here needed a time of deliberate discernment before decisions were made about their continuing on the staff.

I feel very grateful and personally blessed that all of the staff decided to continue for the first year of my ministry among you. The Rev. David McIlhiney chose to retire last summer after 40 years of ordained ministry. Dr. Don Loach retired at the beginning after 37 years as music director. Parish Secretary Betsy Kennan also decided to retire after 19 years of service. We are blessed that she is now volunteering in the office one day a week.

Others have stayed, including John Reid and Tony Potter, our parish administrators; Debbie Little, our financial secretary; Iris Potter, our children and family ministry director; and Albrecht von Gaudecker, our organist. I am delighted that each feels called to continue in their respective ministries.

Recently, our youth leader, The Rev. Janet Legro, decided to step down at the end of this school year. We plan to thank her for her ministry this Sunday as part of our Youth Sunday celebration. After Janet’s announcement, in consultation with the Vestry, I made a difficult decision to bring more cohesion to our mutual ministry. In recent years, St. Paul’s has been ably served by two part-time associate rectors: Janet, who works primarily with youth, and The Rev. Neal Halvorson-Taylor, who works primarily with undergraduate University students. Both work on an academic year calendar, and under the terms of their employment agreements, neither was available during Christmas or other holidays, or in the summer. St. Paul’s is a large parish with year-round needs. In consultation with our Vestry, I decided to merge the two part-time associate rector positions into a single full-time position. This model was used effectively at St. Paul’s several years ago, and I believe it will meet the needs of our burgeoning parish.

By merging these two positions, a new full-time, year-round associate rector will have primary responsibility for youth and university ministry. Each of these ministries is distinct and demanding, but by merging these responsibilities into a single position it is my expectation that a full-time associate rector will grow and strengthen each of these ministries.

I have had several conversations with Neal about this full-time position. As Neal described in a letter to you earlier this week, he does not feel called to the position as it is now envisioned and will resign at the end of the academic year. I respect his decision, and I am very grateful to Neal for his many contributions to the life of our parish including the community garden, his leadership with the Canterbury student ministry, and our Sunday evening worship. He has blessed us with many gifts and much inspiration, and I hope you will demonstrate your thanks to him at a reception on May 9 following the 10 am service.

Here is how we will move forward: I have received many applicants for this new associate rector position. Several of our parish leaders are assisting me in evaluating the applicants. With the concurrence of the Vestry, I plan to call a new associate rector by the end of May, and have the new associate in place in Charlottesville this summer. Last year, we called The Rev. Dr. Ann Willms as associate rector for pastoral care. She has quickly become a vital presence among us, and her ministry continues to expand as she explores avenues of need in our parish life. I hope that our next new associate rector will bring the same kind of positive energy to this new position.

A few words about other important staff changes. Earlier this year I appointed a search committee, chaired by Bruce Carveth, to seek a new music director. I plan to follow the recommendation of the music director search committee, and will make an appointment when the search committee feels ready to recommend.

I have also made a difficult decision about our office staff. Because of budget constraints, it was necessary to lay-off our part-time receptionist earlier this year, leaving us short-handed during the week, particularly with answering phone calls and greeting visitors and guests. I have asked Jacqueline Gergen to organize a group of office volunteers during weekday business hours. If you are interested, please contact her at 434.972.2406.

Finally, a few words about the membership and financial health of our parish: I am pleased to tell you that we reported to the diocese an increase in membership of 17 members to 1,705 in 2009. Our average Sunday attendance held relatively steady at 382. Those figures reflect a healthy parish at a time when all mainline denominations (including ours) are reporting sharp membership declines. That said, our financial pledges for 2010 are $15,000 lower than in 2009, at $655,000. The average pledge is $2,090, slightly higher than the previous year but coming from fewer pledging units. These figures reflect several trends, including a reliance on a relatively small number of large pledges (and we lost several significant pledges in 2009 due to deaths). Our financial health would be greatly strengthened by broadening our base to include a larger number of pledges.

At our Vestry retreat earlier this year, our parish leaders adopted an annual budget that reflects three basic priorities: our financial commitment to outreach and social justice in the community; strengthening our pastoral and worship ministry within the parish and the University community; and maintenance of the tools of our ministry – our buildings and grounds. We also pledged to live within our means by adopting a budget that did not depend on using unrestricted reserve funds. To do so, we chose to cut our office support staff. Our budget places its primary focus on ministry. I am happy to talk with you individually about these changes, and I will answer questions at a forum on May 30 at 11:30 am.

Finally, let me say again what a joy it is to be your Rector, and to be a part of this amazing faith community. While this letter has been focused on the staff, truthfully 90 percent of our ministry occurs each day through the faithful dedication of volunteers like you. We have vibrant worship and effective outreach in the community through PACEM, IMPACT, and AIM (to name three) because of you. Our children are educated because of you. Teens, University students, and adults of all ages deepen their faith because of you. We are a strong parish with great people who are committed to each other and to the world beyond our walls. We have much to be thankful for at St. Paul’s Memorial Church in our centennial year, and I am especially thankful to God and to you.

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. James Richardson
Rector & Chaplain

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