The Parable of Three Stated Clerks, by Barb Zubler, Treasurer

You are all aware that for the past several years, the presbytery has spent more money than it has taken in.  We have passed budgets that do not match our income with our expenses, and this type of budget is called a “deficit budget.”  Last month Brad Munroe, our presbytery pastor, introduced the idea of using adaptive change to create a sustainable budget that will keep us going well into the future.  So how do we do that?  Well, for starters, remember our presbytery mission statement?

“The mission of the Presbytery of Grand Canyon is to celebrate and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ by:

  • Nurturing each congregation and minister member,
  • Assisting and challenging each congregation to engage in ministry and mission with other congregations and denominations,
  • Developing and redeveloping worship communities, and
  • Being a connectional, communicative link in the Presbyterian Church (USA).”

Whew!  Once you wrap your brain around that, Brad wants us to take a look at our budget and identify three types of line items:  what we are constitutionally required to do (Book of Order), what our “core commitments” are (mission statement) and“other considerations,” things that are nice to do, but not necessary to our purpose.

Now, at the November presbytery meeting in Pinetop, I witnessed hundreds of beautiful eyes widen in fear as the Resources Committee plowed through their budget presentation.  I am a numbers person myself;however, I understand not everyone is. So, with Jesus as my role model, we will do this through a story . . .

The Parable of the Three Stated Clerks

Three stated clerks from different presbyteries attended a meeting in Tucson.  Each clerk was assigned a task that necessitated driving to Phoenix by lunchtime, and each clerk’s vehicle suffered a flat tire during the drive.

The first stated clerk was a middle-aged, well-dressed woman in a Mercedes.  She immediately whipped out her smartphone, notified the office, and within five minutes the presbytery helicopter arrived to whisk her away.  Just as the helicopter was landing, two young men in a pickup stopped to help her fix the tire.  The clerk kindly but firmly dispatched them to another stalled vehicle seen further up the road. Two commissioned elders (retired Marines) took command of the Mercedes and had the tire changed in seconds.  Over the helicopter radio, a request for help came in.  A dust devil had just blown through Sacaton Flats, wiping out their water supply.  The stated clerk’s helicopter immediately diverted to Yarnell, picked up a few thousand water bottles from their spare supply, and dropped them gently in Sacaton Flats within the hour.  The stated clerk and her staff were in Phoenix by lunchtime with not one, but three missions accomplished.

The second stated clerk was a “sweet young thing” who owned the car stalled further up the road.  When the two young men in the pickup arrived to help her change her flat tire, she warmly accepted their offer before she realized they only spoke Yiddish.  Communication was difficult, especially with the words “right” and “left.”  Fortunately, this “sweet young thing” had taken a photo of the flat tire with her smartphone and posted it on Facebook, where it was seen by one of her 500 friends, a cousin who attended U of A and was on his way up to Phoenix with some buddies.  They stopped to assist her.  The sight of four Wildcats exiting a mini Cooper was too much for the young men with the pickup truck, and they moved off quickly.  Not only did the Wildcats fix the tire situation, they also escorted the stated clerk to her destination, even stopping to gas up her car and buy her a soda.  She arrived in Phoenix by 3 PM.

The third stated clerk was a middle-aged gentleman who had his flat tire on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere because he was taking a “shortcut.”  He put on his hat and rolled down his sleeves (it was summer) and exited the pickup truck to change the tire himself.  Unfortunately, the spare tire was stored in the back of the pickup.  This necessitated moving around some boxes of presbytery records, because this stated clerk did not have an office and worked out of his vehicle.  The dust devil that ravaged Sacaton Flats found him and he was forced to wait out the storm in his pickup.  Eventually, this clerk made it to Phoenix by lunchtime too – but the next day.

Now, how does this parable addressour presbytery budget and Brad’s questions?

The third stated clerk in the story is our “constitutional” clerk.  The Book of Order requires our presbytery to have a stated clerk and that is it; no guarantee of pay, an office, or anything other than the requirement to maintain certain records (constitutional) and pay per capita to the Synod and General Assembly (constitutional).  This clerk has no assistance (volunteer or professional) or resources to help him execute his duties.

The second stated clerk, our “sweet young thing” has some resources in the form of volunteers (core) and some technology (other considerations).  She cannot pick and choose her helpers; thus the mission goals of her presbytery, as well as the constitutional requirements, may or may not be met.  The Wildcats bought her gas for the car (core commitments) and a soda (other considerations). She was able to complete her mission (core), but she was hindered by the first group of volunteers and thus did not complete her task on time.  This clerk’s presbytery budget looks something like this:

Our first stated clerk has it all – resources (core), professional paid help (core) and competent volunteers (core).  This presbytery not only carries out its own mission tasks (constitutional), but can flex and change quickly to meet emergent needs (core).  This clerk was able to fulfill her assigned mission (constitutional), delegate volunteers to assist the “sweet young thing” (other considerations) and bring relief to Sacaton Flats in the form of disaster assistance within an hour (core).

Now dig through your paperwork and pull out a copy of our 2016 budget (our office manager Carolyn McBurney can email you one if you ask her at pbyoffice@gmail.com). Which line items do you think are “constitutional” and must stay in?  What line items are “core commitments” and must be included to carry out the work of mission?  What line items are just plain nice to have (soda for the clerk) but not really necessary to fulfill our mission (“other considerations”)?Not everyone will agree; for example, in the above scenarios, mission work was identified as “constitutional” by the first clerk and as “core” by the second clerk.This difference in opinion is what will make future discussions exciting.  Please, mark those budgets up and bring them with you to our April 2016 presbytery meeting so we can continue this discussion live and in person.

Until next time, may you be blessed!

Barbara Zubler