On Sunday, September 13, 2015 at 11:30am, St. Mark Lutheran Church held a Special Voter's Meeting to consider a recommendation from Pastor Lentz and the Parish Leadership Council (PLC) that the Director of Music Ministries position be eliminated. The recommendation, made after much prayer and deliberation, was intended to address ongoing operational deficits (currently at about ~$30,000 for 2015) and to better align St. Mark's budget with the mission and strategic priorities identified by the congregation.
The PLC would like to thank the 132 members who gave of their time on a Sunday to consider this important decision. Though 53% of the voting members approved the resolution to eliminate the position, the vote did not meet the required 2/3 majority required. As such, the Director of Music Ministries position was not eliminated.
Throughout the meeting, two things were evident:
- The love and appreciation for all that Michael Kesar and his family have done for St. Mark over the past 18 years
- Continued concerns about communication from St. Mark's leadership
On the first count, there is no question. For those music ministries that Michael has supported, he has served well. Michael continues to focus and minister to those within the music circle.
On the issue of communication, the voters are correct, communication from the leadership needs to improve. My hope is that this becomes the first in a series of regular communication from the PLC to the congregation. For this first communication, I would like to answer a few questions that I thought would come up at the voters' meeting.
Why didn't the PLC tell the congregation about the possibility of a reduction in force (RIF) earlier in the summer?
While RIFs are not uncommon in the LC-MS, they are, as we found out, generally divisive for a ministry. That is why it is common in our church body to ask called workers to leave office in less public ways (i.e. retirements, resignations, calls to other congregations). This is done primarily out of respect for the called worker that they can be thanked for their service and peacefully released without sowing seeds of division within the congregation or tainting their service.
Based on the counsel we received, congregational votes, which tend to be harmful to both the ministry and the called worker, should be a last resort. It was also recommended that this be handled well in advance of the Annual Voters' Assembly to provide adequate time to prepare for that meeting. From June through August, the PLC worked privately with Michael in the hope that a peaceful resolution could be reached. During those discussions, Michael was offered a severance package that extended to December 31, 2015. Once it became clear that Michael preferred to have this matter settled at a voters' assembly, an announcement was made to the congregation the following Sunday.
Now that the congregation has voted, what does this mean for the 2016 budget?
There are the financial repercussions. With a good fourth quarter, we will break even for the year, and that includes using the entire operational subsidy from the Concordia Academy lease. Given that there are no other viable places to make meaningful cuts in our expenditures for 2016, this will hinder St. Mark's ability to address the strategic priorities identified as necessary to grow the ministry. As concrete examples, we still may call an Associate Pastor, because the need is real, but it will be more challenging. We can no longer defer maintenance issues, as work that has been put off as long as possible and some issues (ie the Sanctuary air handling unit) demand immediate attention.
What does this vote mean for St. Mark?
This has (re)opened wounds within the congregation. As soon as Michael decided that the voters should decide this issue, the divisions in the congregation were laid bare and wounds are exposed.
Over half of the voters in attendance voted for a change. Under the leadership of Pastor Lentz, the staff, the Elders and the PLC remain committed to reaching our ministry goal to Reach the Lost, Disciple the Save, and Love all People. In the coming weeks, we will provide more information on our strategic planning efforts and how we will need your help to reach the goals created from Congregation input and refined by Staff and Leadership.
I would ask that you continue to keep Pastor Lentz, the staff, the Elders and the PLC in your prayers.
Don Klepser, Chairman