I was recently asked to explain what our endowment was and how it worked. In trying to come up with a non-technical explanation, I compared it to digging a well to provide you with water. Most of the water stays in the well (we don’t want to take out too much, so the well doesn’t run dry), but each year we draw out a few buckets of “water” for the operating budget. This image captured my imagination! I can picture our church forbears sitting around, discussing how church would have enough water to meet its needs each year, and then going to all the hard work to build the well— knowing that their gifts would keep on giving to the church far into the future.
Now, imagine that the church budget is a water tower. It holds all the resources we need for the coming year. When we pledge, we each contribute towards filling up that water tower (I picture each of us bringing forward a cup or a gallon jug, climbing the ladder, opening the hatch at the top and pouring water in). Most of the water in the water tower comes from the congregation, some of it comes from building rentals, or the parking lot, and some of it comes from the endowment. The quantity of water in the water tower helps us plan what we can accomplish in the coming year.
But we also have a pantry, and inside the pantry are jars and pints and quarts and buckets that we’ve set aside with a specific use in mind. Each year, we fill some jars with water from the well (the endowment) and we carefully label them “Love and Justice Revolving Account” or “Ostrander Preaching and Teaching Fund” or “Funds for Distribution from the Music Endowment” and we set them on the pantry shelf to use or save for later. During the Imagine Capital Campaign, we filled a portable plastic water tank labeled “Gathering Ground” and each year we ration out a little bit of the water we set aside to help that program flourish. Sometimes there’s extra water left over in the water tower at the end of each year, and we use it to fill some jars and jugs and set them aside for a special project or a future need. There’s a container that says “women’s retreat” and when we need to reserve space at Pilgrim Firs we pour water out of that container, and then your registration fees fill it back up again. Sometimes a special gift will be given to the church, and we’ll carefully pour water into a mason jar, write “sign language interpretation” on the lid, and set it on the Worship & Music shelf in the pantry.
This year, we’ll have less water coming into the water tank from parking lot revenue and rentals. And we have a lot of things that we need water for! We have the new costs of producing an online worship service; increased costs for new software, tech support, and cyber security to support the church staff working from home; improvements to make the building safer; and our commitment to being a fair and just employer. Our ministries of Christian Formation, Love & Justice, and Calling, Engagement & Community are doing vital work to keep us connected and to live out our mission in the world. As we check the water levels in the water tank for 2021, we are asking each of our ministries to take a close look at the resources set aside in the pantry, and to offset cuts in the operating budget by making use of some designated funds and revolving accounts. We may have less water in the water tank this year, but thanks to the resources we’ve stored from abundant times in our past, we can still support our ministries— we’re just getting some of that water from another source.