November is a time of celebrating the memorable moments of this year while casting new visions for where we hope to go in the year to come.
Non-profit Executive Directors complete this task through video, email, newsletter, and end-of-the-year giving campaigns. Pastors do this in a sermon. Based on scripture. In under twenty minutes. For an audience that will likely include first-time guests and long-time members of the Board.
When I summarize plans and priorities for 2022, I am torn between the things I need to tell you, the things I want to share, and the need to keep this under 25 pages.
These are the things I need to tell you.
June of 2022 will mark the fourth anniversary of our human community’s presence on The Land. This year’s progress will provide the physical infrastructure to deepen the missional work in the coming year. The expanded gardens and irrigation system, plus the addition of memorial benches, canopy structures, above and underground storage areas, were necessary developments to provide onsite opportunities to connect with and care for creation for people of all ages and abilities.
With a year filled with so many physically demanding projects, it comes as no surprise that we are preparing for programmatic growth in the coming year. As we plan for 2022, there is no doubt that to maintain the garden, the summer mission program, the worship gatherings, the small group programs, the retreats, the prairie school, and all the administrative work that remains unseen, we need additional staffing.
Our growth reflects the commitment of dedicated volunteers carrying the heavy load of launching a new faith community since 2018. The irony is that work done well expands. And we are expanding, even as our limitations remain unchanged. We are giving as much as we can in time and financial resources and the predicted trajectory of The Land in the coming year requires the addition of more helping hands.
The Land’s Board of Directors is currently working with a staffing proposal to add multiple new seasonal, part-time positions in 2022. These positions would provide expertise and respite to areas where volunteers have carried a load too heavy for too long. These are positions that would support current programming and enable us to function in a humanly sustainable manner.
The proposed positions also push us to a new threshold in our operating budget that we are still working to meet with individual donations. We are getting closer, but we aren’t quite there. As planned, the grant awarded to The Land by the Mountain Sky Conference continues to subsidize our annual operating budget by $30,000 to $50,000 each year. The proposed staffing plan would require a longer-term reliance on these capital and operational reserves.
Though the operational budget for next year still needs to be finalized and approved, it’s estimated that the additional staffing would increase The Land’s operational budget from approximately $147,000 to roughly $180,000. While new staffing allows us to meet the physical demands of a growing ministry, it requires more of us financially.
These are the things I want to say.
If I had to choose between “burning through money” or “burning through people,” I would choose money every time. This choice is important because anyone who works with me knows that finances are a significant source of anxiety. It isn’t easy for me to take the necessary risks required to increase staffing and support the people who call The Land their spiritual home. It’s even harder to admit that The Land has grown too large for my two hands to pretend to hold.
I am still (very) anxious about finances because at this point being anxious has become a habit. But I believe we are moving forward together in this direction because we have identified and named the more legitimate fear; that pursuit for financial sustainability would blind us to the demands of our spiritual purpose. The Land is unique not simply because we gather outdoors or because we meet on Saturdays. The Land is unique because we are willing to fail in the world’s eyes to do what is right according to the love of Christ. Our spiritual purpose is to love so deeply, so completely that there would be no limits to the risks we would take if these risks drew us closer to loving like Christ.
Financial sustainability will work itself out at The Land. People will donate what they can and volunteer as they are able, just as they have always done. These offerings will determine the programming schedule and staffing structure. And even though this is something I struggle to accept, the real threat is not running out of money. The real danger is saving money because I believe money can save me …even as I sacrifice myself and others to burn ourselves out to meet The Land’s growing needs.
In May of 2018, the District Superintendent called to tell me the Bishop was appointing me full-time to The Land. I had requested this appointment in January, but by May, I had changed my mind. By May, waiting until 2019 felt more responsible. More logical. I shared this conviction with the District Superintendent along with the many reasons why the Bishop should change her mind.
I heard, “The Bishop says you need to spend the money.” To which I explained that by not spending the money, we were making more money.
I heard, “The Bishop wants you to use the money to do what you said you were going to do.” To which I responded by disclosing that I thought that was a bad idea.
I heard, “That isn’t a reason for the Bishop to change her mind.”
I am self-aware enough now to know that I scapegoat responsibility when the real motivator is fear. Fear that something so incredible would one day be gone. Fear that an experience so meaningful would be over too soon.
But The Land has taught me that money does not buy salvation. That people die and move and leave no matter how much money you save. That development strips landscapes and destroys habitat on property that we could never afford to buy.
The Land has taught me grief and The Land has shown me redemption. That even death and destruction can’t steal the holy stories that save us from despair in the loss; the stories that give us the necessary hope and meaning to keep us going.
Money can’t save us because salvation isn’t a commodity to buy. It’s an experience to live through in every moment of every day. I tell myself, spending money may be a bad idea if a bad idea is defined solely by fear. But The Land has taught me now what the Bishop knew when we began, that just because I name my anxiety, a bad idea doesn’t mean the sweeping winds of the Holy Spirit should shift and change their minds.
I pray that in 2022 it would be these sweeping winds that save us from ourselves in moments of fear, doubt, and anxiety.
May we find ourselves grateful for the gifts we have been given. And may our joy be placed in the privilege to use these gifts to do this work we are so utterly blessed to be doing.