In November Josh and Michelle, our Office Administrator, attended a Finance Team meeting on Monday night and brought a report back to us in our Tuesday morning staff meeting. Michelle announced that the financial situation had not improved since earlier in the year, and that there appeared to be no indication it would change by April of 2015, which was the time originally given to have the ship moving in a better direction. To be honest, I had completely forgotten about these financial conversations that had taken place just a few months earlier. After our move away from shared-leadership, it was no longer my place to expend mental and emotional energy on the financial matters of the church, and I was encouraged not to, so I didn’t. I was aware that a team was assembled to look at options for increasing revenue, and I assumed it was ticking along just fine. It apparently wasn’t, as the group decided to disband after just a few months.
In our staff meeting, I asked what all of this meant and was told by Josh and Michelle, in so many words, that it meant we would probably have to eliminate at least one staff position in April, 2015.
Toph and I conferred with each other the next day, each sharing our common anxiety. At this point, Josh was saying that any of our positions could be vulnerable to elimination, even his, but Toph and I knew better. The Leadership Team, who had a year and a half before elevated Josh to the position of Lead Pastor, was not going to then get rid of position. On top of that they had, just weeks before, agreed to retain the full time role of Worship and Arts pastor. Though the Children’s Pastor position was only part time, the children’s ministry was the area of the church growing the most, so we knew Emily was safe. And we also knew the part-time Office Administrator position, while vulnerable to being cut, didn’t take up a significant portion of the budget.
It was clear to both of us, probably before Josh even admitted it to himself, that it would be a decision between Toph or me. He and I both acknowledged this, and we also agreed on another key point: If the decision made by the Leadership Team earlier in the year was twofold—to delay for a year the decision to eliminate a position, AND to work during that period to eliminate the need to do so—and the second part of that was dead in the water, (i.e., we were no longer working toward that end,) then neither Toph nor myself wanted to go through the torturous months between November and April wringing our hands about which of us it would lose our job.
We told Josh that if this decision is on the table, then it would not be fair for either Toph or myself to put it off until April. He needed to call the Leadership Team together as soon as possible and decide if this was a decision that was going to be made, or if there would be more time given to try and solve the financial difficulties.
The holidays were approaching, making it impossible to get everyone on the LT together in time, so a meeting was scheduled for early January. I don’t know about Toph, but this made the holidays very difficult for me, imagining what may happen, thinking through a number of possible scenarios. The Leadership Team could say “no” for another year. Or they could make a decision to reduce our benefits or other areas of our (already meager) budget. Or, Toph, myself, or both could be let go.
I knew deep down what would happen, and it killed me inside.
I approached Josh a few days before the meeting with an olive branch. I offered up my position, with the request that I be employed through the end of the calendar year. I could take my sabbatical, which I had been planning for some time, and upon my return begin looking for more employment. It would mean that in the first fiscal year of the change (our FY went from July-June,) the church could cut a Community Pastor line-item by half, probably less if I found another job before the end of the year. This would have allowed me to use the fall to help Toph and Josh figure out how fill in the responsibilities I had performed after I left.
Josh thanked me for that. He also told me that he had already made the decision that he was going to recommend that we cut a staff position, and that I was the one he was suggesting be let go.
Two days later he called me at night and said that the Leadership Team, through anguish and tears, accepted his recommendation. I would be employed through the end of May. I would then be given my sabbatical and, at the end of that time, a couple of months severance pay. Everything considered, it was an incredibly generous offer on behalf of Leadership Team.
The only thing that was left to do was to tell the church.