November 2015
Practical Matters

Administrator’s & Treasurer’s Lunches

For several years now, our diocese (Southern Virginia) has offered an annual daylong conference for church administrators and treasurers. The conference includes unstructured time for participants to network. This turned out to be participants’ favorite part of the day and, in conference evaluations, they asked for us to build in more time during the day for them to talk to each other.

Ann Turner, our diocesan communications officer, and I put our heads together and, inspired by the diocesan Christian educators group, decided to invite all the treasurers and administrators to have lunch together on a regular basis.

Our diocese is pretty spread out, so we started in the area with the most churches (Virginia Beach/Norfolk/Newport News/Hampton). This area is coastal and intersected by rivers, impacting travel. Our first lunch was scheduled in Virginia Beach and the second, a month later, across the water in Hampton. Since then, each month we alternate between the two. They’re not that far from each other, so some people come to both locations. Attendance ranges anywhere from six to 12 people – the smaller size makes the gathering much more conducive to conversation.

It’s a pretty simple plan – we meet at one of our churches, everyone brings their own lunch, the church provides coffee, tea, and water, and I bring soft drinks. There’s no agenda for the 90-minute lunch. Everyone comes with their questions, problems, and ideas and we just talk. They share their successes and failures, get answers to questions, and advice on solving problems. Just as importantly, they get to know one another, around the table, face-to-face.

“I enjoy the fellowship,” said Sylvia Lurty, parish administrator for Hungars Parish on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. “I like hearing what problems and solutions other churches have, and I get ideas for my own churches.”

We took a summer break from the lunches, but based on what we heard from participants, we offered an all-day ACS* training workshop in June. I envision that other opportunities for education and training will arise from these casual gatherings.

What do we talk about? Topics are pretty wide-ranging: accepting credit cards, new medical insurance regulations, stewardship, online giving, financial and membership software, direct deposit, online bill pay, how to handle gifts of stock, food pantries, equity housing allowances, how churches communicate with members in emergencies, computer backups, and much more.

“I come to the administrators’ lunches because it is incredibly helpful to know what other parishes are doing and how they handle the complex situations that impact us all,” said Susan Nakigane, parish administrator at Christ & St. Luke’s in Norfolk. “Almost by definition, the administrator or finance person at a church is the only person in their entire organization that does what they do, or knows what they know and it is a lonely position in that respect. It is wonderful to have fellowship and to share ideas with one another.”

“The monthly treasurer and admin lunches represent an outstanding opportunity to informally discuss issues or problems that individual parishes have and to receive suggestions from more experienced church staff on possible solutions,” said Bob Frady, finance director at Grace Church in Yorktown. “It also represents an excellent opportunity to float ideas or suggestions and get input from a broad array of different sized parishes, and provides an informal networking opportunity for those that have similar positions and are working towards similar goals.”

After each month’s gathering, we take time to analyze how these lunches are going and decide if we need to make changes or adjustments. Meeting at lunch works in these areas because many of the churches in the area employ an administrator and see participation as beneficial to his/her job. Other attendees are retired and serving in a volunteer capacity.

After hearing churches in the Richmond area express interest, we added a third area to our monthly rotation. We picked a date and central location (our churches are fewer and further apart in this section of our diocese) and put an announcement in our weekly diocesan eNews. We immediately had six responses - so for now, we know that this is something our parishes want.

We’ve learned some things along the way. I want everyone to have a chance to bring up a question or topic, but I don’t want to cut short a good discussion if no one else has another question. I have learned that some people enjoy listening more than talking. So now at the beginning of each lunch, I ask who has a topic they want to discuss or a question to ask, and I write down the person’s name and the topic of their question. It helps me keep conversation moving and makes sure everyone gets what they need.

“I get so much out of our networking lunches,” said Diane Miller, accountant at Old Donation Church in Virginia Beach. “They allow us to really share what is going on in our own churches - successes and struggles and hear how others, whose work is so similar to ours, have met those events in their own Episcopal churches. In all the time I have worked I have not been in such a beneficial networking group.”

*ACS is a church management and accounting software program

Try This
Does your diocese or deanery/regional area offer an opportunity for parish administrators and/or treasurers to network on a regular basis? Do you think this might be something other congregations would want to be a part of? What steps would you need to take to get something like this started in your diocese or deanery/region?

Nancy James is the comptroller for the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia, where she has worked for ten years. Prior to that, she served seven years as church administrator for at Williamsburg Presbyterian Church in Williamsburg, Virginia, having previously served as comptroller for seven years at Bruton Parish Episcopal Church in Williamsburg. She has a degree in Business Administration from Christopher Newport University.

Ann Turner is the communications officer for the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia. Prior to that, she served as the communications director at Eastern Shore Chapel Episcopal Church in Virginia Beach for 10 years. She has a degree in English from the College of William & Mary.


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This article is part of the November 2015 Vestry Papers issue on Practical Matters