Fixing the Cracks

The ground didn’t open up, but the senior warden finally listened to Andy, an adult parishioner with a developmental disability who continued to say “There’s cracks! There’s cracks!” and point to the mortar between the concrete blocks in the Parish Hall at St. Richard’s Church. That was in 2010 before I arrived as Rector. At that time the church housed a school that was partly independent and partly dependent on the church, and a congregation of faithful people who had been in a 5-year rebuilding process after a series of rectors and interims overseeing and guiding their lives together.

Before I dive deep into the subsequent years, I want to thank God for the wise interim rector who walked into my office upon my arrival and handed me my first copy of the Finance Resource Guide from the Episcopal Church Foundation. With almost 20 years of listening to Pledge Drive talks, my sense was that I had a good handle on the theological connection with money, so I almost skipped it. However, my experience with the high-quality publications that come out of the Episcopal Church Foundation has always been valuable, so I started to read and found it well worth my time.

How does receiving the Finance Resource Guide tie into a story about cracks in the walls at St. Richard’s? For that, you’ll need to know the whole story…

The cracks were the result of a sink hole, weakening the limestone rock beneath our buildings that most of Florida is built on. Major remediation was commenced which necessitated that the school relocate and all the classrooms, storage rooms, kitchen, Parish Hall, and offices be emptied and readied for structural work on the concrete block walls. Additional supports were being installed between rooms and in the ceilings, and sidewalks were being raised and leveled. Eighty truckloads of cement were pumped into the ground under the Parish Hall building and Classroom wing. Only the worship space which is on one huge concrete slab all its own was not affected. It was an $800,000 fix. Thank God for good insurance.

My incumbency began at the end of this remediation and the end of a one-year period when an interim rector was helping out after the previous rector had retired and just after the sink hole activity was discovered. Lots of change and stress was in our congregational system.

The interim rector, a retired Canon to the Ordinary, was a detail oriented person and discovered with the help of the senior warden, junior warden, and a new treasurer that the finances were a mess in addition to the financial strain all the repairs were placing on the congregation. The volunteer Parish Administrator was doing the jobs of both the treasurer and the bookkeeper and his system of income and expenses was one all his own.

With the help of the previous rector, his daughter who is the chief financial officer in a neighboring diocese, the interim rector, and the new treasurer, St. Richard’s started over with new accounting software and committed to becoming financially transparent. They achieved their goal and discovered that the school was a major drain on the finances of the church. The difficult decision to sever the relationship with the school that had yet to move back into the newly remediated buildings was made. And I began my tenure with a clean financial slate, although the emotional wounds were still very present.

For eight years I was blessed to have three forward-thinking treasurers who could not only read financial reports but interpret them clearly for others on the vestry and in the parish, but in 2018 I was persuaded to accept the retirement of the dedicated treasurer and invite another person into the important position.
This new volunteer was taking on arguably the most difficult and time-consuming volunteer job at St. Richard’s, but was unskilled at creating simple financial reports, and missed more vestry meetings than she attended. For the first time I found myself in the uncomfortable position of having to know the details of the budget, the order of reports, and the budget process.

Now back to that moment when the interim rector handed me my copy of the Finance Resource Guide…

Reading the FRG, which focuses on theology and leadership around money and finances, reminded me that while I was the rector, the finances of the church are truly a team effort to manage, grow, and continually put in perspective. It was just the focus I needed to remember that money and numbers and reports have a way of striking fear into our hearts, especially when there has been such a history of mis-management and strain as in the case of St. Richards. Using the FRG with the Vestry and church leadership guided our conversations and allowed us to understand that we need not let financial stressors scare us, intimidate us into not having hard conversations, or cause sleepless worried nights. With God, we are called to manage his resources, not our own, and work together as a community in Christ toward that end.

Today our newest treasurer received both her Vestry Handbook and the Finance Resource Guide the very day she agreed to take the job. She has already found it abundantly helpful, and as her rector it is wonderful to have such a vital resource available to pass along. Thanks to Episcopal Church Foundation for using its resources to be a resource for all of us in the church today and giving us a tool that will help us handle money in ways that we are called to by God.

Learn more about the Finance Resource guide here.

The Rev. Alison Harrity, Rector
"The kingdom of God is like..." What the kingdom of God was like existed for me in parables and abstractions until my ministry began at St. Richard's in 2011. The kingdom of God is the gay and the straight, the young and the old, the disabled and strong, the gritty and the gentle, the slow and the wise, and all those who gather to worship the creator of all that is and love each other in very many ways. I am lucky to not only serve this congregation but to have been wrapped in love in this place.

Miami is my place of origin. Coral Gables Senior High School launched me in 1995 to Hobart and William Smith Colleges where I found deep and abiding friendships. My ordination process started by senior year of college and as a postulant in the Diocese of Southeast Florida, I took the job of Youth Minister at St. David's (Radnor) Church in Wayne, PA. I served there for two years before going to Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, CA. Southeast Florida made a place for me as an assistant priest at St. Gregory's, Boca Raton where both of my children were born; Spencer (2001) and Libby (2003). After four years in South Florida I ventured back to St. David's as associate rector in 2004 and then on to St. Richard's in 2011. My home church, St. Thomas in Coral Gables continues to be a special place for me.