Congregational Meeting Q & A (December 11th, 2022)

Congregational Meeting Q & A (December 11th, 2022)

On December 11th, 2022 we held a congregation meeting (view the meeting on YouTube, and review the handout). Many questions were asked. Below are the questions as they were written down, followed by an initial set of answers.

Has there been outreach to African-Americans & all communities to grow base? What are we doing? Who is doing it?

St. Philip has celebrated Mardi Gras with food that reflects the Caribbean and Louisiana roots of some of its members; our celebration of St. Nicholas (in 2019 and 2020) provides an opportunity for Black Santa, and was well attended by black families; however, they did not then continue to engage with St. Philip as a parish. Rev. Maria was involved in The Albina Ministerial Alliance’s work around the George Floyd protests, but the reality is this organization is less active. Members of our parish have attended cross-congregational anti-racism and police reform sessions, and participated in diocesan-level groups focusing on race. All of this work is essential to networking with other people of faith sharing in work around race. However, these are not necessarily places to invite new members to our community. Participants in these groups already have faith communities. 

Outreach to any group or community happens through relationships. Over 80% of church members say that they first attended church because they were invited by a friend. So, if anyone is going to learn about St. Philip, you all need to invite them!

What are we doing to strengthen our existing community?

Rev. Maria invited a group to form a pastoral care team but there was no consistent follow-up. At the beginning of Covid, Rev. Maria and the Vestry set up a call list for each member of the congregation to call at least one to two others each week. By all reports, this lasted a month or two, and then people fell off. The reality appears to be that unless members are related to one another or have known each other for decades, there is little engagement outside Sunday Eucharist and the following coffee hour. 

Margaret Heil has recently stepped in to start a card-writing ministry that has been very well received by recipients who include those who are shut-in, unexpectedly ill, and as well as thank-you cards to those who have offered specific service to our community.

Recently, Rev. Maria invited some of our newer members to start a game night in order to provide a place for newcomers to get to know one another outside Sunday morning. This is in the works. In addition, the stage area is going to be converted into a comfortable “sitting room” to create a more inviting space for small groups to meet.

What would the parish like to see that isn’t happening now?

Good question. What would you like to see?

Is there ongoing outreach? Outreach generally refers to care for the vulnerable. 

The Deacon’s Dining Hall has continued throughout Covid, largely through the efforts of Sue McDowell and Pat Montgomery. It shifted to sack lunches offered the last two Saturdays of the month. There is a new effort to move back to hospitable, sit-down, hot meals at least twice a month, perhaps returning every Saturday. A team is being formed to work with Sue and Pat to spread the work of coordinating, planning, and implementing these lunches. The Deacon’s Dining Hall remains one of the chief ways this parish invites non-members to work alongside us as we care for our vulnerable neighbors.

Over the last six months, Rev. Maria and Rebecca, the parish administrator, have opened the doors of the parish hall and sanctuary to anyone who would like to sit down, read, drink a hot beverage, or grab a snack. People have prayed in the sanctuary, grieved the loss of parents they could not visit, eaten hot soup, read a book, and had emotional break-downs. Two parishioners (Bob Rhodes and Janet Robinson) have consistently been present to welcome folks so that Rev. Maria and Rebecca can attend to their other work duties. For this ministry to continue, greater participation of non-staff is essential so that staff can meet their other obligations. For some of our vulnerable neighbors, this quiet and safe space has proved to be restorative, and essential to their gradual move towards potential housing.

What is our message? What are we offering?

At the end of every service, we say together a thirty-year old mission statement. We say we are called to be a vital presence in the lives of individuals, families, and the community. Is this true? How vital are? Perhaps it is time to articulate a new mission or focus for our community. Or perhaps it is time to decide how we can, or cannot, be vital? How would you articulate your message? What do you hear that you are then sharing with other people?

Advertising and media outreach?

We currently do not engage in paid advertising, in large part because we do not have enough resources to design consistent and media-savvy advertising. We do post all of our newsletter content on our website and on facebook.

Our website has consistently provided information for people investigating communities. Not a single new person who has entered our church has not checked our website first. While it has received compliments for both its clarity and content, we do not have regular contributors to it outside what either Rev. Maria or Rebecca post. Facebook, to be effective, requires that members like and share our posts. Our newsletter is sent to 96 addresses, which include neighbors and friends, not only members.

Our online streaming engagement is minimal, and appears to primarily serve members who cannot attend on a given Sunday. Sunday Eucharist generally brings in 7 or fewer viewers (usually 1-3 on Sunday itself). On Christmas Eve, severe weather bumped this to 10 (at the actual service). By far, the videos with the highest views are our paperless music offerings (Uyai Mosai had 164 views in the last year!). This way of worshiping is unique among many Episcopalians, and is a gift to smaller churches that like us, don’t have choirs or music programs. Music beats out sermons, which topped out at 18. In general, we are an in-person community. 

We could decide to spend money on advertising, but again, people come to church because of a direct invitation. If someone would like to plan and design advertising and social media outreach in conversation with Rev. Maria and Rebecca, their contribution would be welcome.

Will the diocese provide $/support for higher membership? What is that #?

The Diocese gave St. Philip over $535k to support staff and affordable housing. This 5-year grant will end in two more years. At that point, St. Philip can always ask for more money. But without a parish actively engaging our community and clear evidence of dynamic growth, it is unlikely the diocese will offer more support. 

What are the current neighbors yearning for? Do we have the heart to extend that?

This is an essential question: what does the community around us want, and what can we reasonably offer? How do we find this out? Are we willing to listen to what they say? 

The reality is, this parish was started to meet the needs of a black Episcopalians in the black community that surrounded it. This neighborhood has been almost entirely “gentrified,” or, to be more blunt, “whitified.” Every black church around us is struggling with the same problem: black folks no longer live here. Is St. Philip called to be a neighborhood church, and serve the neighbors who are here, now? 

How do we reach out to each other & the community?

How do you want someone to reach out to you? How would you reach out to your neighbors? Who wants to lead that effort?

Why don’t we knock on doors and see?

We had pre-pandemic plans to go door-to-door, though many folks said they wouldn’t have the energy. Those plans have not been picked up post-pandemic. In part, Rev. Maria has been re-invigorating the housing conversation, developing in-person worship with paperless music, and running day-to-day operations of the parish. Who is going to lead in reaching out now? More importantly, who do we want to reach out to?

What are people who attended the block party saying?

Who did you get to know at the block party? Who did you talk to, and who did you get together with afterwards? Tell us what your new acquaintances or friends are saying.

The primary contact from neighbors who attended the block party has been around continued concern for the camping and night-time drug use around St. Philip. The block party was planned by the same neighbors who organized to sweep the large camp next to the church. The street is cleaner for the sweep, though the folks swept have had a hard time settling elsewhere. We maintain some relationship with those who left. As you all know, a few folks still sleep on our porches, which we allow as long as they vacate the porches every day. This helps keep things cleaner, while also providing a little shelter from the elements. Knowing who sleeps on our porch and having positive relationships with them keeps our grounds cleaner. The few times complete strangers have utilized our property have been the times when more cleanup is required.

Is there a better place for St. Philip? Relocation?

Relocating would require examining demographic information (which is collected by The Episocopal Church) and deciding what demographic we are called to reach as a community. What would be a better neighborhood and why? Then, a team would need to be formed to explore this option, including getting permission from the Diocese to sell our property, and the finances to purchase a new property. 

Will the diocese help w/building? What is the cost? Who is responsible? Why isn’t it in the total report of numbers?

Over the last two-years, we gathered a list of “all the improvements we would like to make to our building” including a new roof (essential), HVAC/air-conditioning (highly recommended post-pandemic and with climate change), a fully ADA bathroom (essential if we want to consistently rent the building), chairs for a more flexible and community accessible sanctuary space, flexible lock/security to make building use more manageable, an updated and more accessible kitchen. Two years ago, the total came to almost $700K. This figure only rises over our years. 

This number was not included in the original information in part because it only makes the situation before us more dire. It isn’t clear we can consistently raise the $180-$200K required to staff and use the building as-is. Raising over $700K is a huge stretch for our small community.

In reality, our building is older, was built for a specific purpose, and is not able to be easily used by the public. We also lack consistent building management and cleaning resources. 

We do not know how the diocese will help with the building. The diocese has offered loans to other parishes, but the truth is, we cannot afford to pay back a loan. Our new affordable housing explorations addresses the building needs by taking it down, and creating a new, flexible, and smaller space. 

What can we do as a church to offer to the neighborhood?

This is an important question. We need to understand what this neighborhood needs. We need to decide if this neighborhood is our primary focus, or perhaps another community (a number of folks have suggested queer people of color who are not welcome in their home churches, just as an idea). We also need to be realistic about what we can offer. We are not a social service agency, though we can work with such agencies. We are not a community center, though we can welcome in the community with a usable building and hospitable people. We are a church, and whatever we offer must coincide with the life we live as followers of Jesus, and what we are capable of doing given our size, ages, bodily and emotional abilities.

How will The Alcena fit into this? Is the affordable housing still going to happen?

The Alcena, whether it is in the form granted an award by Portland Housing Bureau, or a new form, may provide either a new space, a minimal annual income of around $40K, or perhaps both. It will not provide enough for consistent staffing or operational costs, but it might help. Ultimately, housing will not bring in enough money to sustain us in the long term. More importantly, income is not the only or primary problem, it is joyful and able people.

We are making every effort to build affordable housing, including exploring options that take down the current building and create a smaller, shared worship space. This decision will be made with full congregational participation. If we decide to close, we will present our work to the diocese, and can ask that our assets be used to help complete the project.

Is there a larger community we could try to serve?

Who are you willing to serve? What community or communities would it bring you great joy to love and serve? 

Where will I go if St. Philip closes?

You could go to any church you want. Or, perhaps a group from St. Philip will choose to attend another church together. As a part of our closing celebrations, we could go together to another parish and be welcomed in by them as members. This is really up to each of us.

If we close, where will I or my family be buried?

This is a concern that is voiced by many. In part, this decision is up to your family. Over the course of 2023, we will be offering a burial planning class where together, we can plan our own burial services. We can pick the music, the readings, and then pass this on to our family to let them know our preferences, as well as lift the burden of planning a service from grieving loved ones. The reality is, most of our children no longer attend Episcopal churches, and it is hard for them to know how best to plan an Episcopal burial. This plan can be taken with you to any church you choose to attend.

What are the actual financial projections? 

  • FT Clergy thru 2025 when all assets, liquid and investment, will be depleted.
  • FT Clergy thru 2024: All liquid assets used. In 2025, the parish must raise $88K-$100K/year, and move to Supply Clergy and reduce staffing to break even, or dip into investment accounts.
  • FT Clergy in 2023, PT Clergy ($40K/year) in 2024. Liquid assets used up by 2026.
  • FT Clergy in 2023, Supply clergy ($12k/year) in 2024. This will not touch investment assets at all until 2028, and if other staffing is reduced, could be stretched further.
  • These figures do not include ANY funding of significant building repairs. For example, we know the roof needs repair (~$60-$75K).
What about money in savings?

Our financial forecast includes both our liquid (bank checking and savings) and investment (diocesan investment fund) assets. Any assets that remain after closing over will be handed to the diocese, who will take seriously our requests to use them for a legacy we choose.

How did we get to this place?

We were here 5 years ago. And we were here 10 years ago. Part-time clergy was funded by EBOF. We were only able to have full-time clergy due to the grant from the diocesen Board of Trustees. The last payment on the grant will be in December of 2024. The pandemic accelerated our decline, and made it extremely difficult to engage in new redevelopment efforts.

How much do we need a year to keep clergy?

A FT $200K/year. Less for PT.

How much will repairing the roof cost?


How much will it cost to completely upgrade our building to be accessible, secure, and usable by the community?

$750K. We can make a breakdown of all suggested projects and estimated costs available. Please contact the office if you would like to see this information.

How long can you expect Rev. Maria to be here?

All the financial projections below except the first one include retaining full-time clergy through 2023. Full-time clergy beyond 2023 depends on decisions we make as a community over the next 6-9 months.

Can we move to a part-time clergy?

If the Vestry decides to pursue this option, they will need to discuss this with Rev’d Maria, reach out to the diocese, and likely create a search committee and parish profile. At the moment, there is a general clergy shortage so finding a gifted part-time clergy person is getting more difficult.  

How long can we continue with just a supply priest?

Indefinitely. However, getting consistent supply is difficult, there is a shortage of available priests at the moment. In addition, all tasks except leading services will fall to members of the congregation. This means planning services, music, locking and unlocking doors, paying bills, cleaning up the building, managing staff (if any). Generally, parishes that move to supply priests are not developing new ministries, they are simply doing the minimum until closing becomes inevitable. In theory, a vibrant congregation can do everything except the sacraments so a supply clergy could work in such a situation. However, this takes fully engaged lay-leadership and active cooperation and participation of all members (which, to be honest, is ideal whether clergy is full- or part-time). The question is, will supply clergy help us to be a vital presence in the community?