NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: Diocese in Crisis. Churches to Close. Unpaid Loans to Diocese
Average Sunday Attendance Down 19% since 2003
By David W. Virtue
The Diocese of Northern California is in free fall. Churches are closing unable to pay their basic obligations putting the diocese itself on the brink of a financial crisis as a result.
In a letter to the diocese the Canon for Administration and Finance Bobbi Yeo, writes, "It should not come as a surprise to hear that some churches in the Diocese are struggling to maintain a full-time or even three-quarter time clergy or that some churches are having difficulty paying their basic obligations. In many cases it is loans from the Diocesan Endowment and Memorial Trust, group insurance premiums paid with Diocesan funds on behalf of churches, or Mission Apportionment that is left unpaid.
"Clergy and congregations are making heroic efforts to increase their membership and stewardship. In some instances these efforts have not resulted in the degree of success necessary to maintain sustainability. There are those who feel we are on the brink of a crisis which requires a response from the Office of the Bishop. This is because this is a crisis - not only for the congregation, but for all churches in the Diocese. We are strong when everyone is strong."
Yeo said that Bishop Barry Beisner has requested the formation of a Church Response Work Group made up of concerned Board and Council members along with staff to look at the situation.
"This group consists of folks with expertise in pastoral issues, property issues, law, administration, and finance. When certain markers are identified, such as arrearages in obligations to the Diocese, reductions in the clergy person's work week, or requests for special subsidies, a team will be appointed to make contact with the church and schedule a visit. The intent is to provide a holistic and integrative approach to identify core issues and assist the church in any reasonable way to address these issues effectively."
Yeo said the focus will be on the health of the Diocese as a whole.
"Years of deficit budgets have depleted Diocesan resources to the point where we simply can't continue to subsidize churches which appear unable to sustain themselves. After its latest meeting the group acknowledged that we don't necessarily know how this is going to work."
According to the most recent diocesan figures prepared by the national church, the diocese has 14,008 members, but average Sunday attendance was 5,694 in 2008. It is thought that a more realistic figure for 2010 would be closer to 5,000.
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