As we move into 2020, signs abound of financial trouble at Grace church. These include further declines in pledging, which I believe are due in large part to a growing awareness of just how toxic Grace Church has become.
Over the past two weeks, the number of pledging units has stalled out at 160, for a total just shy of $561,560. That’s a bad sign, for a variety of reasons:
- In the past, pledges have continued to come in throughout the final weeks of the year. The lack of an increase during the past two weeks suggests that the pledge campaign has largely run its course.
- While there are always a few additional pledges in the new year, the increase historically has ranged from 20-40 units. In recent years, the number of pledges has tended towards the lower end of that range. Moreover, late pledges tend to be smaller pledges. Thus, even assuming 30 additional pledges at an average of $3966, that’s only $118,980, for a total of $680,540. That’s a far cry from the $895,000 or more of past years, and leaves the church with gross annual revenue of approximately $830,540. Thus, the parish faces the prospect of draconian cuts to an already tight budget.
- The underlying causes of the church’s decline remain unaddressed, which include a systemic culture of toxicity evinced by behavior that includes:
- Bob Malm’s perjury
- Suing members and calling them “domestic terrorists”
- Sugarland Chiow’s multiple courtroom fabrications
- Trying to drag a dying woman into court
- The childish, malicious conduct of people like Alison Campbell and Lisa Medley
- Members urging others to commit suicide
- Unhealthy ways at every level of dealing with conflict
- It will not be possible to begin the process of addressing these issues any time soon, as it will take some time for Michael Guy to settle in.
- The legacy of 30 years of Bob Malm’s feckless and dysfunctional “leadership” won’t be erased overnight, or even in a year.
- The transition process isn’t cheap, and Grace really needs to bring in paid outside experts to address its toxic culture. Even then, Bob Malm’s various misrepresentations about the underlying issues make change problematic, for it is hard to parse the challenges facing the church when prior leadership has engaged in manipulative conduct.
- Real leadership is perilously thin in the parish. Indeed, when confronted with a toxic culture like that of Grace church, real leaders typically move on, versus turning a blind eye to unethical conduct such as bullying. And even those regarded as leaders in the parish have no qualms in talking about other people, versus talking to other people. That’s a big problem, and one has only to look at some of the comments from Kemp Williams and Jean Reed to see use how bad things have become in that department.
- It can be difficult to ask members to increase giving when so much money has been squandered in the past on Bob Malm’s inflated salary, his $100,000 bonus, the tear-down of the rectory, his overly generous leave, and silliness like taking $3,000 from savings for a farewell party for Chris Byrnes—a Head of School that many teaching professionals do not regard as having been particularly effective, and who spent much of her time engaging in divisive empire building.
- Things are complicated by well-intentioned but disingenuous comments like Jason Roberson’s statement in the November edition of Grace Notes, in which he falsely claimed that the church is “growing and flourishing.” It is doing neither, and such comments undercut confidence in the messaging coming from church leadership.
- As discussed in previous posts, if the church really is to be a center for “outreach and healing,” it could start by contributing its fair share to the diocese. $80K a year is ridiculously low and far beneath the norms established by the diocese. Going forward, less money wasted on feckless clergy and more spent on outreach would be a good start.
Of course, financial issues are just one small outward manifestation of larger, structural issues. In other words, the church’s financial woes will only be resolved when it solves its spiritual and ethical woes. And with diocesan leadership that is prepared to support Bob Malm and Sugarland Chiow in their misconduct, it’s unlikely that this is going to happen.
The future looks grim indeed for Grace Church.