January 21, 2019
The Loaves and Fishes Management Board appreciates the opportunity to speak with the Vestry and interested SSI parishioners about the future of the Loaves and Fishes program. We understand the Vestry’s decisions regarding minimum financial reserves and acknowledge that issues raised in the Vestry’s latest letter are rooted in a genuine concern and responsibility to protect the church’s resources. We also understand and appreciate that the new financial reserve requirements and consequences were designed with the interests of Loaves and Fishes guests in mind.
We understand that the Vestry meeting on January 27 may include a vote on whether the L&F program should become independent of SSI. In addition to responding to the concerns in the Vestry’s most recent letter, we’ve outlined our position on this issue below.
RESPONSE TO 12/17/18 LETTER
Thank you for informing us that the Vestry has decided to continue pursuing merger opportunities for the Loaves and Fishes program. We would appreciate being involved in the Vestry’s early discussions with prospective partners. Please make Management Board Chair Ed Grandi aware of such discussions, and we will coordinate to determine who from the Management Board might participate.
The Loaves and Fishes program is starting 2019 with reserves of $34K, enough to cover three months’ operation with no income. As noted in the 12/17 letter from the Vestry, Loaves and Fishes has not required any backstop funding from the church in at least the last ten years. In the last two years, the Management Board reversed the deficit patterns of the previous four years and added $28K to the reserves account. This was achieved by constraining expenditures and developing new funding opportunities.
In addition to recommending to the Vestry a Loaves and Fishes 2019 budget designed to add another $10K to the L&F reserve fund, the Management Board is exploring conducting a small capital campaign later this year with a goal of perhaps $50K. The proceeds would double as an additional reserve and a modest quasi-endowment whose income Loaves and Fishes could draw upon in future years. We commit to having multiple strategic planning meetings for this purpose by the annual meeting of the parish, with the expectation of providing the results to the congregation. We welcome members of the Vestry and the SSI congregation to participate in this process.
LOAVES AND FISHES INDEPENDENCE FROM ST. STEPHEN’S
The Loaves and Fishes program was developed by St. Stephen’s to engage and help our community. It remains the only program of St. Stephen’s which draws in and serves significant numbers of people who are not currently worshiping members of the church. The Management Board sees the program as a part of the ministry of the church and finds it hard to imagine it as not part of St. Stephen’s. The sections below detail the Management Board’s perspective of the church’s involvement with the program, the benefits to the church of conducting the program, and some risks to the program.
Church Involvement and Ministry
As you know, parishioners currently support the program in many creative ways, including writing thank-you notes to donors, conducting the annual survey, volunteering in the kitchen and dining room, and gleaning in local farmer’s markets. Nine volunteers are currently writing thank-you notes to donors to L&F’s just concluded appeal. Former Senior Warden Michael Robbins performed the statistical analysis of the 2019 survey of L&F guests (attached). More than half of the Loaves and Fishes Management Board are parishioners volunteering their time as well.
However, as we have raised in the past, we have seen a drop in parishioner interest and support for the program. The SSI congregation has members with talents in fund development, management, and other areas that we need help with. We invite the Vestry to partner with the Management Board to help organize and leverage some of this talent on behalf of Loaves and Fishes.
Benefits of Maintaining the Relationship between SSI & Loaves and Fishes
St. Stephen’s has built a reputation as a progressive, social justice-oriented congregation that focuses on community. While that alone is enough to attract many like-minded individuals, concrete opportunities to serve the community can be a draw for potential new members as well. Many current parishioners (even those who do not volunteer with L&F) see the program as part of our church’s ministry. Legally separating the program would remove the only outward-facing ministry to which SSI gives significant support.
Relatedly, the Loaves and Fishes program brings people, guests and volunteers, into the church in numbers that far exceed visitors to our worship services. Many of them are potential members of our worshiping community. Note that 41 percent of our guests said in last year’s survey that they would be interested in participating in Bible study or worship services. Loaves and Fishes volunteers are frequently spiritual seekers who might well find a worshiping home at St. Stephen’s, especially if that was suggested to them by St. Stephen’s members volunteering beside them.
Risks to the Program if Independent from SSI
Despite the Vestry’s position that the intention of a legal separation would not be to reduce SSI’s annual donation or parishioner support to the program, the Management Board is concerned that this will happen. We are concerned that in the long term, the Loaves and Fishes program would be considered just another SSI space user, rather than a home-grown ministry. This threatens the spirit of the program and its relationship with future SSI parishioners and vestries.
In summary, instead of legally separating from the program, the Management Board requests that the Vestry draw the program in closer, and work with the Management Board to strengthen it as a central ministry of SSI.
Many of us plan to attend next week’s vestry meeting. Per some outside discussions we’ve had with you, we will also be inviting some donors and stakeholders to join as well. Given that the vestry’s position and vote was announced to the congregation through an all-parish email for awareness, we request that the Management Board position be shared broadly as well.
You can find in this link the results of a survey conducted with Loaves and Fishes guests.