I was reminded this past weekend that not everyone is aware that Rev. Elizabeth Bukey will be leaving Chalice by the end of June. Her position, Minister of Congregational Life, was funded for three years, and unfortunately, we will not likely be able to fund the position going forward.
A bit of history:
In spring 2014, we had a task force studying church growth issues (called the “Size Transition Task Force”). Members of that task force were Deb Coon (chair), Ann Cunningham, Karen McComb, Peter Armstrong, and Colette Jones. Members of the task force approached me to discuss the possibility of a new staff position to support two areas of congregational life that had traditionally been areas of struggle for us: social justice and membership. We crafted a job description for a position we called “Director of Congregational Life.” We thought there would be an added benefit if the position could serve as an assistant minister position, with that staff person qualified to preach and lead worship.
Believe me, this all seemed like a crazy pipe dream when we talked about it for the first time. To fund even a part-time position with appropriate pay and benefits would take $35,000 a year. It was clear to me that there was no way pledging was going to increase that much.
But ministers are supposed to be optimists! We agreed to make this new position a featured idea in our pledge drive for the 2014-15 church year. I preached about it in a sermon (called “What’s Next for Chalice?”) kicking off the pledge drive. Many congregants were excited about the new staff position, and pledging increased by an average of 10%. But with other financial commitments we needed to make in the budget, the increase was nowhere near enough to fund a half-time position.
Congregational leaders and I were beginning to consider if we could start with a quarter-time position to support our social justice work when a generous (and anonymous) congregant stepped forward to donate $105,000 to fund the half-time Director of Congregational Life position for three years. What a gift! What a blessing! What an investment in our future!
At the June 2014 congregational meeting, the budget presented to the congregation for approval included the new Director of Congregational Life position, funded by the anonymous gift. There was much discussion about the new position; some congregants wanted to slow down the hiring process in order to learn more about the envisioned responsibilities. I spoke in favor of going forward because going slower might limit our applicant pool: if we hoped to hire a minister, June and July are the times for hiring; new clergy positions typically start in August and September. In the end, a motion to defer the line item with the new staff position was defeated 59-15, and then the budget was approved unanimously.
Three weeks after the congregational meeting, we held an informational session to answer questions about the Director of Congregational Life position, for those congregants who wanted to know more.
The hiring task force for the new position was chaired by Lloyd Kelly and included Deb Coon, Ann Cunningham, Colette Jones, Elijah Jones, and Karen McComb. Of five applicants, Elizabeth Bukey was the unanimous first choice, and she began her new position at Chalice on September 1, 2014.
When Elizabeth started with us, she had just completed her year as an intern minister. She was welcomed into fellowship with the Unitarian Universalist Association (i.e., she became a minister) in fall 2015, and we changed her job title to “Minister of Congregational Life.” Chalice ordained her to the ministry in January 2016.
Three years ago, we hoped that hiring a new staff person might result in a substantial increase in membership, and that more pledges would result in enough money to continue to fund the staff position. That has not happened.
What has happened is that we have developed a social justice program where we didn’t really have one before. Our “pathways” (i.e., membership) program is much more robust and structured than it was three years ago. And we have grown accustomed to consistently professional preaching and worship leadership on Sunday mornings.
We have been very fortunate to have this staff position for the past three years, and even more fortunate to have the same person in that position the whole time. We will feel the loss of Elizabeth’s presence and leadership at many levels in the congregation.
But rather than bemoan the loss of the person and the position, I hope we might focus on our gratitude that we were able to have this position at all, if only for a few years. And hopefully the day will come when we can again afford a Congregational Life position at Chalice.
Bright blessings, Sharon