Question: What does the Grand Philharmonic Choir of Kitchener-Waterloo and St. James’ Anglican Church have in common (other than The Rev. Lynn Mitchell)?
Answer: Members who do not take ownership.
December 13/08, the KW Records reported that the Grand Phil has an accumulated deficit in excess of $110,000 and its very existence is in jeopardy. Everyone from the outgoing President, the Artistic Director and a humble chorister were quoted as bewildered with the dilemma. They’ve done everything possible, they are very good as a performing ensemble, they’ve featured world class soloists, they use a great hall and they have an orchestra as the back-up band. Yet, the concert hall is half-empty for performances and the cash cow just died.
Choristers pay $275 per year to sing in this choir, the newspaper reported.
February 1/09, the St. James’ annual Vestry meeting is presented with a BDO Dunwoody financial statement that shows a General Fund deficit of $83,438 before inter-fund transfers and opening bank balance (hello everyone, this is the real deficit; not the questionable numbers that have previously appeared from internally generated statements). The 2008 calculated deficit (including net income from the restricted fund) was $59,729; 2007’s deficit was $32,791. According to the Treasurer, the parish has cut costs and been responsible. And, oh by the way, parish council did approve a 2.4% Diocesan recommended pay increase for 2009.
A few brave souls query the increase, given the facts that parishioners are losing jobs and retirees on fixed incomes are living with significantly reduced disposable incomes. These naysayers are soon humbled for their scrooge-like outlooks by an inner circle that is chanting the refrain of ‘but with all of these problems, the priests will have to work (note: future tense was used by the speakers) harder to help counsel the needy’.
My knitting keeps me silently absorbing the information, the dialogue, the rationalizations. A very popular parishioner promotes the idea that the parish can cover the extra costs by encouraging more than the current 26 parish families (total active families statistic for parish in 2008 = 238 families) to use the Eat To Give programme.
I stop to glance at the 2009 proposed (internally prepared) budget numbers. More knitting. The actual 2008 givings were $258,000 (down from $263,000 in 2007). For 2009, $269,000 has been budgeted. Wow; talk about faith!
From this same proposed budget chart, 2008 payroll was $193,000; the Diocesan apportionment and other expenses were 64,000. Oh, how I love the beauty of numbers: 2008 actual givings is almost the same as the total of 2008 payroll and Diocesan apportionment. The minute we turn on a light or turn on the heat or photocopy a piece of paper or (the really important stuff) like feed and shelter the poor, we have DEFICIT, Houston!
Another popular parishioner speaks up: Come on, Folks! We’ve got a million dollars in the bank; stop worrying!
More knitting. More math.
Let’s do the math, folks. At the rate of the increasing annual deficit, we are talking a dozen years, more or less, before we face the same dilemma that the Grand Phil faces today. And that does not include any capital work that requires doing (as opposed to discretionary change) or the very real fact of declining membership (hence, declining givings) or the ongoing truth of diminishing investment value and earnings.
More knitting, more math.
A Grand Phil chorister pays $275 a year to be a member of that choir. How much should a St. James’ parishioner pay to be a member of this ‘choir’? By my math, and using the 2008 actual external accountants’ numbers: $1510.27 per year or about $125 per month or about $30 a week or about $4 a day. Not really that much, is it? And, I fully understand that not everyone can afford the cost of membership at St. James’. However, using the 2008 receipted contribution chart included in the vestry report, of the 238 reported active families, 182 of those families give less than $1500 per year. That is a whopping 76% of active membership. I find it impossible to believe that more than three-quarters of the parish cannot afford to maintain their membership costs.
My thoughts to the Grand Phil and every other non-profit organization that is facing a deficit: Ante up! If I want to sing the music that I love, it is going to cost me; anything that the public contributes through ticket sales is a truly wonderful gift. If I want to be a part of a church that provides me with a venue for worship and community, then it is going to cost me. If I want two priests, a half-time paid office manager, a music director and lots of paper to hold in my hands, it is going to cost me. Manna from heaven, we feed ourselves and our souls with. Church operating costs are the responsibilities of its membership; not God.
Or the reality, like the one the Grand Phil is facing, (and I really hate to use this line but...) ‘the fat lady is singing’. The singing will stop; the doors will close.
I am going into my sewing room now. I love this part of my creative life as much as that chorister in the Grand Phil loves to sing. Every fibre, machine, needle and what-not was paid for, lovingly, happily and with hopes of sharing my ‘voice in fibre’ with others.