Scott’s Column: State of the Church 2023 Jan 31, 2023 | News Yet again last week I saw another article on one of the major national news websites detailing how difficult times are for churches. That longtime trends of decline were exacerbated by the pandemic, political divisions, and more. I read such articles, sometimes I learn something, but often I smile, feeling rather good that First Central is not having this experience. As I’ve said many times, we have faced the many challenges of recent years—also including the uprising for racial justice, the rising cost of inflation, and rapid increases in mental illness—with integrity and care. We do have our challenges, of course. Our end-of-year 2022 financial picture was not encouraging, as we recorded an annual budget deficit far in excess of any during my 13 years as pastor. And we continue to encounter serious infrastructure issues in our building, such as the various plumbing problems that have recently come to light. Among the positive outcomes of my recent work conference in Florida with other UCC Senior Ministers is that I learned that 1) most of our struggles are shared by our sister churches throughout the country and 2) we don’t have any really difficult and unique ones, such as those I mentioned in a recent newsletter—the Florida church paying $100,000 a year in insurance because of hurricane threats or the Washington church that needs to rebuild a salmon culvert under the parking lot for somewhere between 7 and 14 million dollars. Quite grateful that our challenges are ordinary. And, honestly, we have generous faithful givers, who have remained so throughout the challenges of the last three years. Our Capital Campaign pledge drive was a huge success and it may just be that one reason our general fund fell short last year was that folks’s extra funds were already committed there. And then we received the good news this last week of another significant estate gift from Bob Vassell, who had been a member here longer than anyone and was deeply committed to the legacy of this place. As Katie Miller said in staff meeting, “How perfect for Bob that his estate gift might make such a difference to the budget of this place he cared so much for.” It was also clear from that work conference I attended that no one really knows what post-pandemic church is going to look like longterm. We are all experimenting and innovating and trying to be faithful and effective and will learn from one another. Nor is it obvious what financial and economic issues are big global and cultural trends that we have no control over and can only wisely navigate, and which trends are internal and local that we might be able to more effectively respond to. Some of that information we’ll have to simply wait and see. And everyone is facing the challenges of doing hybrid worship (online and in person well), responding to the changing nature of volunteerism in the church, revitalizing ministries to teenagers, and figuring out the longterm impacts on generational giving trends. We will also have the opportunity in 2023 to say goodbye to Katie Miller and thank her for her seven years of faithful and effective ministry with us. That will be an occasion for grief and celebration. And another opportunity to envision what we do next in pastoral ministry and in education, and how to do it well. But as I survey this congregation and this particular moment, as I said last Sunday, it rises to the top as one of the periods in my ministry that I’m most excited about. I think on most accounts our community and our ministry are strong, vital, and healthy. Our in person worship attendance has returned to almost where it was before the pandemic, and when you add in our digital audience, we have more people in worship every week than we did in 2019. Our To Be More Capital Campaign is making infrastructure investments that will pay off in the longterm—in hopefully reducing annual maintenance costs, in generating income, in outreach to our neighborhood and the city, and in designing the building for 21st century ministry with children and young families. Speaking of, we have abundant children and families, which I must remind you is contrary to the trends, even the pre-pandemic trends in American church life. We have very effective teachers and leaders. We have engaged parents. And we have lots of enthusiastic and creative kids. As I said the other day and will keep saying, right now is not the time to shortchange our investments in ministry to children and young families. God is clearly at work in this part of our congregational life, and so now is the time to invest more energy, passion, and resources. So, in my opinion, we have the tools, we have the resources, we have the talent, we have the vision, we have the vitality, and we have the opportunity to live more fully into our mission in 2023 and beyond. So that’s why I’m excited and engaged and looking forward. And why I believe that the state of our church, is very, very strong.