Who would have thought?
There are so many superlatives to describe the current times. While we have all been forced to re-learn, re-trench and re-think how we live our daily lives, the one true constant is Christ’s love. When I wrote this note last year, I referenced the progress we had made against three priorities that I called The Three Ships: Membership, Stewardship and Kindership (children and youth ministries). In spite of an environment that would hinder less robust ministries, we have continued to take significant steps in all three areas, many of which will be highlighted in this annual report.
Our congregation has been forced to reckon with a new reality that has made us nimbler, more creative, and in need of Christ’s word now more than ever. Our faith has been tested by our inability to meet in-person as a community and the sacrifices we have made to distance ourselves from friends and family. Yet, we are getting stronger. If 2019 was described as a year of growth and change, including necessary maintenance on the physical plant of the building, 2020 has been a year of virtual and digital growth and change. We have seen growth in our ability to reach our members through new and enhanced digital media, the curation and care of our growing and progressive children’s ministry and youth programs, and the development of ministries and programs of the church.
In times of crisis, people who are called rise to the occasion. To add another nautical reference, there is an expression in rowing called “The Swing.” The easiest definition of The Swing is the synchronicity of the eight crew members rowing in complete unison to the beat of the coxswain’s voice. It is the rhythm that allows fast boats to go even faster and glide effortlessly over the water to win races. Ironically, in this time of crisis, the ministers, the staff, the Executive Committee, and the Board of Trustees were at their best. We worked together to achieve The Swing as we dealt with difficult issues including the pandemic. I owe them all a debt of gratitude for their effort.
As you read through this annual report for updates on our key ministries, programs and committees, please consider joining a committee or serving as a volunteer for whatever passion you would like to pursue. We have many opportunities to serve the church, our community, and the Lord.
The Business Operations report recaps the church’s financial health, which is in solid condition. We ended the fiscal year-end June 30, 2020 with a modest surplus, which we transferred entirely to the Operating Reserve out of caution for the unknowns in the year ahead. I would like to thank the staff, ministers, and Business Committee for their oversight and stewardship of the church’s finances. And a special thank you to John Sharp, our Director of Business Operations, for shepherding us through the budget process and for his oversight of the church’s operations. Over the summer, the staff, Business Committee, and Executive Committee worked to once again navigate a budget deficit caused by operational cost increases, increased insurance costs, a slight shortfall in our annual stewardship goal of $2.2 million from fiscal 2020, and the economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. But with some belt tightening and sacrifice, we’ve entered fiscal 2021 with a balanced budget that has been approved by the trustees. We now look to the future with congregational resolve in the face of difficult times to support the Church financially—it’s each of our responsibilities.
One of the highlights this year was stewardship. George Wishart and the stewardship committee, working with our stewardship consultant Ami Campbell, took on the mantle of leadership that involves handing the wonderful legacy of the past to the promise of future generations. In the “All of Me, All of Us” campaign, the committee described the investment of spiritual giving, time, and financial engagement that happens all year round. The numbers speak for themselves. We had a 9% increase in family units giving and grew our pledge dollars received by 7% versus last year. We will be maintaining our stewardship goal of $2.2 million for fiscal 2021. We will maintain the goal in spite of the challenges we face, so that we can continue to underwrite the expenditures needed to sustain the ongoing high-quality worship, fellowship, and other ministries we have come to expect. While our ministers, staff, and board are frugal and thoughtful with church expenses, we must continue to invest in all aspects of the church.
The energy and creativity of our beloved Reverends Evertsberg, Forrest, and Lancaster have been taken to a new level this year. In addition to the daily attention to church matters for the benefit of us all, we have been blessed with their dedication and skills to address the new challenges this year has created. The spiritual heart of Kenilworth Union Church remains stronger than ever, even if it is being broadcast on a video monitor in your home. As the resources needed for our ministers to serve us so meaningfully continue to evolve, we will be contemplating the digital and physical structure changes that will be necessary to carry on the ministry of our church.
The committee reports provide details on the year’s activities, which have been extensive and meaningful. Great work has been happening in all areas of the congregation. To give you a sense of magnitude, a few are worth a special mention.
Children and Youth Ministry
Under the strong leadership of the Reverend Lancaster; Silvi Pirn, our Director of Youth Ministry; and the Reverend Christine Hides, our Director of Christian Education, our Children and Youth Ministries are thriving against all odds and in spite of the pandemic. Both ministries have gone virtual using Zoom and digital forms of communication to reach our young families and youth.
Under the direction of the Reverend Hides, the transformation in Children and Family Ministry has continued in our Sunday School. We have seen the success in this effort with enrollment up 9% before COVID-19 and a full roster of teachers. Greta Connor, the Associate Director of Children and Family Ministry, has also been instrumental in the success of the program and keeping our communication to young families strong and vibrant.
A Joyful Noise Preschool
A Joyful Noise was enjoying outsize success before COVID-19 under the leadership of Amy Castino, Board Chair Abby O’Brien, Vice Chair Beth Hoffmann, and the teachers. When the pandemic hit, the school was forced to go digital. As you would expect, however, digital communication with the pre-toddler set is difficult and the school continues to work through these challenges. The relationship between AJN Preschool and the Kenilworth Union Trustees is strong thanks to the collaboration and commitment of the AJN Preschool senior leadership and its board. Through consistent communication, we continue to foster the means to support each other for the benefit of all to grow the missions of AJN Preschool and Kenilworth Union Church.
Youth Ministry continues to be a pillar of strength at Kenilworth Union Church. Director Silvi Pirn is providing essential communication and a haven of peace, spirituality, and reflection for our youth in these uncertain times. This year’s annual mission trip was scheduled to have a strong showing of participants to aid the people of the Bahamas, but unfortunately had to be canceled due to the pandemic. Despite this setback, the IMPACT program continued and our youth were given opportunities to volunteer and serve in our local community. As we look to the future, we need to make sure we are providing support and space to grow the Youth Ministry. This will be a focus of our upcoming fundraising effort. In the past year, we have been blessed with the enthusiasm, spirituality, and unbridled positive energy of Silvi’s assistant, Claire Revord. Since coming to Kenilworth Union Church, Claire has had a huge impact on the youth program. She recently made the difficult decision to return to graduate school. We wish her well and are grateful for her contributions to Kenilworth Union.
Kenilworth Union’s inspiring choir continues to be a source of consistent joy for our congregation. This ministry has been severely tested over the past five months, but with the reverence, diligence, thoughtfulness, and incredible agility of Lisa Bond and the Kenilworth Union music staff, we have been able to enjoy beautiful music on Sunday mornings via live stream. The online harmonies have been truly awesome and organist Susan Klotzbach has provided comfort as a pillar of Sunday morning services. A special note of thanks to Joel Fox who has worked closely with Lisa, Alyssa Bennett, and Miya Higashiyama to edit and combine the stellar voices of our choir and fill Sunday mornings with choral joy. It is a labor of love and passion and we are grateful to Lisa and the music staff for their dedication, creativity, and teamwork.
Outreach and Rummage
This year Outreach contributed grants totaling $450,000 to 39 not-for-profit agencies. This generous giving was made possible through the results of our annual Outreach Benefit, which for the first time was delivered digitally thorough auctions online. A debt of thanks goes to Outreach Co-Chairs Peter Schaff and Christine Cole and the Outreach Committee for the coordination and execution of the benefit and the time invested to allocate the funds to our very deserving recipients.
Because of COVID-19, the Rummage Sale was not held this year. Members responded by supporting the alternative fundraising activities during the Outreach Benefit and providing much-needed financial resources to fuel the outreach programs that are so meaningful to our supported agencies. We are hopeful Rummage will return next year. It is an important ministry of Kenilworth Union and we support the need, the benefits, and the blessings Rummage provides for so many church members, the community, and our Outreach Program. Rummage provides for so many church members, the community, and our Outreach Program.
In addition to the highlights with our current ministries at Kenilworth Union, it is also important that we share the areas of focus where your ministers, staff, and trustees are investing their energies for the future.
As COVID-19 hit, the Reverend Forrest led us in what could be described as the most important move to digital communication in the church’s history. Jo had already been leading us down this path, but what started out as walk became a sprint when we recognized that in-person meetings of the congregation would no longer be possible. The sermons on Sundays, fireside and garden side chats from our ministers, and virtual meetings with the staff and committees on Zoom have been very successful and represent the connective tissue that has allowed the church to thrive in these difficult times. Online communication like the Reverend Lancaster’s 100 days of prayer and the Reverend Forrest’s Pilgrimage to Pentecost have also expanded the spiritual reach of the church.
Building and Grounds
Earlier this year, with the oversight of your Building and Grounds Committee and through the extraordinary effort of Ann Carey and partners Bulley & Andrews, HKS Architects, and Elara engineering, we addressed deferred maintenance including the roof, the HVAC systems, and the retaining wall at the back of the Church.
There is more to be accomplished. The polling of multiple constituencies in the Church and church members clearly signaled significant interest in a capital campaign to set the Church on a course to navigate the rest of the 21st century. COVID-19 has slowed these plans, but we will resume as soon as the time is right. Fortunately and ironically, the pandemic has taught us that the improvements to the Church will require physical and digital upgrades to meet the needs of all of our members as we move forward and fulfill the obligation of a church that serves its members 24/7.
Learn more about the state of the church in the 2020 Annual Report.
Board of Trustees
My term as President has been filled with abundant support. It is with humility and gratitude that I thank our ministers, the immediate Past President Bruce Linger, Vice President Meg Revord, a list of other past presidents too long to name, the staff, the board of trustees, and the executive committee for their dedication, help, and bountiful talent. I also want to thank our Secretary Scott Fowkes, our General Counsel Kelly Kenney, and Treasurer David Crossgrove who round out the executive committee.
With gratitude we would also like to thank two trustees who are retiring from the board: Herb Jordan, who served on the board for 6 years and whose term expired; and Robert Norfleet, who served for 5 years and recently moved to North Carolina. Their wisdom and passion will be greatly missed, and their contributions to our church are deeply appreciated.
I would also like to thank the extraordinary John Sharp who took over for Bev Lang as Kenilworth Union’s Director of Business Operations in September of 2019. To say that John hit the ground running would understate the speed at which he moved. It was an awesome spectacle to see the positive impact that John had in only his first weeks and months on the job. John has navigated us through the uncharted waters of the PPP loans, the need for an ERP system, and updated computers for the staff. We look forward to his continued leadership on the senior staff.
Finally, as this is my last report as President of the Board of Trustees, I want to thank my wonderful wife Julianna and our boys Ken and James for providing the support and flexibility that allowed me to take on this role and serve the church. They inspire me every day.
I hope to see you at our annual meeting in the Sanctuary on Sunday, September 27 following the 10:30 Worship in the Sanctuary. We will be sending instructions on how to participate in this year’s meeting either in-person or online.
Who would have thought?
President, Board of Trustees
Kenilworth Union Church