Small and Rural Churches
Church Administration and the Diocese
Only three people attended the last diocesan workshop I hosted. I expected ten, which would not have been a big group, but would have represented at least half of the churches in our diocese that are using QuickBooks. In the end, the group of three was small but mighty because we learned a lot from each other. I was able to answer some basic accounting questions, but the help they provided each other was the real support.
My job title is Parish Administration Resource. What is that? Well, I am a resource for parish administration. Any questions that a church might have about the financial side of managing church operations, I am their resource. I, as well as everyone on the bishop’s staff, serve the churches in our diocese. Our goal is to make the administrative responsibilities of the church less burdensome and to be their support so they can go about the business of being church to each other and to the world. Through this work, I have been blessed to know so many clergy and laity who are devoted to the Episcopal Church, to our Diocese, and to their parish. Many of our parishes are struggling and through my job, I can help get them financially stable enough to remain viable.
Learning from each other
Our staff offers many workshops to our churches throughout the year. For me, I always start my workshops off by saying to everyone, “We learn best when we learn from each other.” I am prepared with information to share, but the questions asked and the answers given by the attendees are what make the workshops truly useful.
Our small churches generally have part-time priests and part-time or no staff. Because of this, parishioners must fill in some of the gaps in many areas of church operations. The diocesan staff can support small churches uniquely by being their help desk. We offer workshops on audits, parochial reports, budgeting, website maintenance, and communications – almost any area where we see a need. We also offer an annual vestry retreat, where vestries can meet together as a church but also benefit from hearing about best practices in other churches. And, all of us are available for questions by phone or email at any time.
The most valuable support the diocesan office can provide, however, is in helping our small churches realize they aren’t alone in their part-time circumstances. When these church leaders come together, they build their own support community. They share best practices with each other. They network so they have others of whom to ask questions. Sometime I feel that the participants at our workshops are just waiting for the next break so they can have the time to talk to their peers. Yes, we provide useful information, but the real learning comes from interaction with those doing the same job in another church.
The diocesan office is always there to answer questions and provide resources, and to underpin the operations of the church. My hope is that by being the support, the church will be free to go into the world and do the work that God has called us all to do.
Martha Goodwill has worked for the Diocese of Southwest Florida for four years as Parish Administration Resource. In this role she supports the parishes in her diocese by being the resource for all parish administration questions. Martha is also the Diocesan Coordinator for Education for Ministry.
- Who Can You Call? by Chris Meyer, Vestry Papers, May 2014
- Administrator’s & Treasurer’s Lunches by Nancy James and Ann Turne, Vestry Papers, November 2015
- Forms and Publications from the Church Pension Group