Reflections on Prepared to Serve

On February 20th, I attended Prepared To Serve, our Conference’s annual day of workshops, presentations and conversations in Pembroke, NH.  Jane Lane, our treasurer, and I carpooled up together, and we were glad we did.  It proved to be one of the most enriching, positive days in my new career of Church Administration.

Jane and I went to the same presentation for two of the three blocks in the day: “Funding for the Church’s Ministry” by Rev. Urie, Interim Pastor at the UCC in Westmoreland, and “Best Financial Practices for Churches” by Bill Hoystradt, the retired Finance Officer of our Conference.  The third one I took was “Critical Insurance Issues for Church Leaders” led by our Insurance Agent, Jeff McDonald.  They sound pretty dry, as I recount them, but I have to tell you they were not. 

Just so it’s said, there were plenty of other offerings that sounded very interesting, including workshops on grief, transgender issues, Islam, the environment, Q and A with our Conference Minister, leading Bible study, Pastor Parish Relations Committees, classism, using the internet and social media to spread the word, leading missions, immigration, the UCC in Zimbabwe, homelessness, and the General Synod resolution on Israel and Palestine.  Jane attended the Q & A with Rev. Gary Schulte, our Conference Minister, and said she left with a much greater understanding of the role of the Conference and what it offers us as a member Church.

As with most educational experiences, much of the weight and meaning was brought out by the students, who, in this case, were trustees, council members, finance committee members, lay leaders, lay staff, and yes, also some ministers.  It was a real joy to share the room, and share ideas and stories with other people who were in the same kind of environment I work in daily, who were wrestling with many of the same issues, challenges and problems I and the lay leadership of our Church face, on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

When I was in restaurants and we had workshops or seminars, we used to say that it was a worthwhile day if we took two things back to our location and used them.  Well, I got a lot more than two at Prepared to Serve.  Here are just a few of them:

1. There is no better way to ask for money than with an individual, personal plea.

2. The annual giving requests (pledge drive) would best happen BEFORE the budget is written!

3. The Stewardship Committee, which typically spends 3 months of the year running our Pledge Drive, would do well to spend the other nine collecting information and statistics from all of the efforts and missions of the Church, and distributing and celebrating those efforts and missions.  Doing this, they will walk into the pledge season already knowing what they are asking for money to do.

4. We are in great hands with the Insurance Boards providing our Property and Liability coverage.  Most of the items we were told to be sure were in our packages: flood coverage, law and ordinance coverage, blanket coverage, agreed value coverage, are all included automatically in all UC Insurance Boards policies.

5. Though we aren’t required to fix items that are “grandfathered” like our balcony railings, or our third floor church school, we would likely see premium savings if we address those issues.

5. We should consider issuing quarterly giving statements to update members on their pledges.

6. Church staff, including myself, are not protected by the Unemployment Insurance system that all other employees and employers are required to take part in.  I intend to take this one up with the Personnel Committee!

7. We need a donations policy in place, as some donations carry with them some aspects of liability for the organization that holds them, including financial instruments in some cases.

Lastly, I want everyone here at the United Church of Christ in Keene to know that you are not alone.  Even just in our little state, there are thousands of others facing many of the same things we are facing: big, expensive facilities sized for a congregation twice the size it is now, how to engage young people and newly forming families, declining pledge income, responding to homelessness, joblessness and addiction, managing endowments in a changing economy.

So maybe this was a little dry.  I get into the nitty gritty, the minutia of my work.  But three years in, I still love my job, and not because of the clauses in the insurance contract, or the budget schedule, or the policy writing.  I love my job, because at the bottom of all of that, the heart of what I do is to help you do what you do.  And what you do is join together in the body of Christ to shine the light of the love of God out into the world.  And that is worth working hard for.

If anyone wants to go to Prepared To Serve next February, 2017, I’m driving!

– Mark C. Harris

Church Administrator

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