February 8, 2012

Taking Care of Business

I've been getting email inquiries about money. Not scams urging me to wire funds to needy causes abroad, nor do I mean grant requests. These come from parish leaders wrestling with money and finances.

Some of the questions are fairly straightforward. For example, a vestry member recently asked if there was a brochure or other document explaining the purpose and use of a rector's discretionary fund. (There is. See Chapter V in the resource below.) 

But one recent email hinted at deeper concerns; it described an instance of poor financial management and mistrust between a parish treasurer, clergy in charge, and vestry. It's the kind of situation that would be a perfect case study for learning how not to manage church finances, and though the writer didn't provide the names of the people involved or the parish, they did describe how the situation had been dealt with. Not surprisingly, the fallout is now negatively affecting congregational dynamics and growth.

This kind of email makes my heart sink, my stomach churn. Unfortunately, I had to tell the person that she's not alone. Fiscal mismanagement, intentionally or more often by negligence, happens more often than we'd like to believe it does. To make matters worse, poor leadership and communication patterns among lay leaders, clergy, and yes even bishops, can turn a difficult administrative situation into a deeper mess.

This is a real struggle in our Episcopal congregations. I'm not usually one to despair and complain, especially not in these blog posts for church leaders. But sometimes we've got to name the obstacles in our way, and point a way forward.

The Episcopal Church Center's Finance Office puts forth a resource called the Manual of Business Methods in Church Affairs. It won't solve all the potential problems with financial and administrative practices, but it is a solid foundation. If you or your vestry leaders are not aware of this resource, please "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" these guidelines. Not only are these mandated by the Canons of the Episcopal Church, they just might save you and your congregation from future headaches and mishaps. 

If you manage the business of the congregation, you can get on with the mission, leading with confidence as good stewards of all the resources God gives you.


Manual of Business Methods in Church Affairs