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Bishop Rhyne's message concerning budgetary shortfalls

Message on Financial Situation during Covid-19

Allegheny Synod, ELCA

For the last several weeks the finance committee of the Allegheny Synod has been monitoring mission support received and the budget passed by the Allegheny Synod Assembly for the fiscal year 2020-2021. Concerns were raised in the finance committee about making our budgetary commitments this year due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. After several meetings, the finance committee made recommendations to the Synod Council to amend the budget and make appropriate cuts in order to do so.

The recommendations came from projections of what this year’s mission support for the Synod might look like. It will be no surprise that our mission support has been behind previous years in 2020. Through April we were 18% behind normal giving levels. Though we have begun to see a rebound in May, the finance committee thought it important to prepare for a worst-case scenario. In that worst-case scenario, if we were to do nothing and mission support trends did not change, the Synod could be facing a deficit of over $130,000 for the coming year.

The recommendations presented by the finance committee were as follows:

Michelle Bossler, the office manager of the Allegheny Synod, would remain in place at full pay and benefits. Should the bishop-elect wish to make a change, Michelle would be able to negotiate severance at that time.

Any employee who resigns voluntarily should not be provided severance.

Pastor Paula Schmitt, Assistant to the Bishop, would be half-time beginning July 1 and would be eligible for the approved severance package stated in the Allegheny Synod personnel policy of two months salary and three months benefits which would begin following the end of her term on December 31, 2020.

Because Bishop Rhyne announced his desire not to seek another term, which was seen as a voluntary resignation, it was decided that he will not be eligible for severance following the end of his term, December 31, 2020.

Pastor Becca Ehrlich, Interim Director For Evangelical Mission, will complete her term at her same hours and rate of pay through August 31, 2020 (her original end date before extension of the term by the Synod Council). The ELCA will negotiate severance with Pastor Becca.

It was advised by the finance committee that the Allegheny Synod reduce mission support to the ELCA from 50% to 44.1%. Various other cuts to the Synod budget were proposed and considered.

The Synod Council heard the recommendations of the finance committee at its meeting on May 16, 2020. The Synod Council thanked the finance committee for their hard work in dealing with a difficult financial situation. Given the gravity of the recommendations, the Synod Council scheduled another meeting for Wednesday, May 20, 2020 to more fully consider the recommendations.

The Allegheny Synod staff created a counter proposal for consideration by the Allegheny Synod Council which included selling the Synod car, restoring some of the ELCA mission support, and a more balanced approach to some of the proposed cuts.

After hearing the proposal, the Allegheny Synod Council voted to make no change to Michelle Bossler’s package; have Pastor Becca Ehrlich be contracted through Dec. 31, 2020 (the end of the staff term), remove the offer of severance for Bishop Michael Rhyne that was passed at its September 2019 Council meeting, and to move Pastor Paula Schmitt to three-quarter time as of July 1, 2020 with the original recommendation of severance according to the personnel policy. The Synod car will be retained. ELCA Mission Support will drop from 50% to 45% for this budget year. Partner support will be reduced as well as various other programmatic and administrative costs. The staff, Council, and finance committee thought it important to maintain our support for Camp Sequanota and PSU Campus Ministry at current levels.

These cuts made it possible to eliminate the possible deficit due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Council will continue to monitor the financial situation of the Synod. If Mission Support levels begin to rise, the Council will evaluate restoring support for the ELCA, our partners, and revisit the staff reductions.

Because the staff is working to reduce travel costs through the end of the year, we will be doing more meetings via Zoom even when we are able to return to in-person meetings.

What does this mean for you? The most noticeable difference will be in the reduction of hours for Pastor Paula. She will not be available for Synod business two days a week. While still performing the essential parts of her position, we are discerning together what pieces will have to be let go in this new configuration. Because this is the least amount of staff hours the office has ever had to do its ministry, we are evaluating what is essential. We do know that Pastor Paula has carried numerous responsibilities for Synod Assembly that were outside her normal scope of work. Therefore, it will be imperative that we have additional volunteers from the Synod to assist in the preparation and planning for Synod Assembly.

The finance committee and the Synod Council affirmed that new staffing and ministry models will need to be examined by the Bishop-elect. It is the recommendation of the current staff that the Bishop, a full-time assistant, and a full-time office manager would be the ideal staffing model.

In these unusual times we all are being asked to re-evaluate our processes and procedures for doing ministry together. While these decisions are challenging, we continue to pray for the Holy Spirit’s presence and guidance moving forward. We ask for your prayers and for your patience as we live into this new way of being church together.

Faithfully,

+Bishop Michael Rhyne

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