It has been a long tradition at First Reformed Church that the pastor shares every year at the April of Consistory a Report on the Future of the Church. My predecessors chose this date because it constitutes the first Consistory meeting of the year with newly installed members. With the following, I would like to share some lightly edited passages from this year’s report. I do so, because pondering the future of our church is good for all of us and not just the Consistory.
Results of our Reconfiguration Project
With the completion of the reconfiguration of our church building, we are entering unique circumstances in 2016:
- On one hand, we will use almost 75% of the building permanently and not only on Sunday mornings for a mission cause that most of our church members not only tolerate but with which they, actually, identify.
- On the other hand, we are about to receive a new sanctuary that has been adjusted to our size and will soon be completely renovated – with the exception of the historic pews, perhaps. The sanctuary will also feature air-conditioning for the first time in its 200 year-old history.
With the reconfigured church building, we have unique tools for the future at our hands. To newcomers, we offer involvement in a social cause like the fight against domestic violence. Newcomers can join the work of our Town Clock CDC or represent us directly in various New Brunswick groups dedicated to this cause. In addition, all our former community outreach beyond the fight against domestic violence offers opportunities to those who want to get involved. To name a few:
- The Interfaith Rotating Homeless Men’s Shelter
- The Lunchtime Recital Series
- The annual Crossroads concert
- The Interfaith Coexistence Thanksgiving
The new sanctuary will contribute in its own way to attract newcomers who seek the ambience of a historic church that is well taken care of.
Staff and Volunteers
There are concerns, however. The small size of our congregation allows only for a limited pool of volunteer church leaders and paid staff. The work of the Property Committee could be greatly enhanced, if we had a professional building manager and not just a pastor who feels that he is sometimes neglecting his pastoral duties due to building demands. However, due to budget constraints, this is not likely to change. (…)
And nine hours per week for the church secretary is not enough to fulfill the demands of the office and the expectations of our volunteer leaders. However, given our annual budget deficit, it is not likely that we can change these things soon. I am grateful for several church members who have taken responsibility off the new secretary’s shoulders: Lolly Schenck has taken on the bulletin boards and showcases, and Sherri Novack is now not only editing the newsletter but also managing article solicitations and final distribution.
It is widely understood that membership increase cannot and should not be pursued with the primary goal of bringing us back into financial stability. It is practically not feasible, because it would require 200 members giving at a very high level when the new sanctuary cannot even seat that many people. It would also theologically be wrong to try to grow the church for financial reasons. Instead, we will have to continue to expand income from building usage, grants and fundraising events like the Crossroads concert.
Nevertheless, we need to grow, because our community and the world at large depend on the voice of a strong, educated mainline Protestantism. It is our recipe for peace and understanding within the city of New Brunswick and elsewhere. Besides, we are uniquely situated to expect at least some future growth. Matrix is completing a complex of 393 new apartments in our immediate vicinity, and, according to the official website of the City of New Brunswick, our church is located within walking distance to over 5,000 New Brunswick residents! Following the re-dedication of our sanctuary in June, we should therefore renew our efforts for outreach and congregational growth.
It will be of help that our Classis has adopted a corresponding program, the Focus Church Program. Each Classis church is eligible to apply for the position of “focus church” for one year. During that year, the successful applicant will receive help from the Classis Community Development Corporation to develop its own membership growth campaign. Since I helped launch this program during my term as Classis president, I am not sure we should apply for this already during the first year of this new program. It would look a bit self-serving. However, I continue to be actively involved in this program and hope to bring some of the program experiences back to the church. It will prepare us for a possible application when the second program cycle begins in the spring of 2017.
Here ends my report. I hope that it helps all of us recognize the important paradigm shift that takes place in these weeks, as we leave the years of historic preservation and then new construction behind and venture into a new period of time. May God continue to bless our congregation!
With fond wishes, Pastor Hartmut