Although we are not yet at the end of September, there is already much for me to share with you. I hope and pray that your Fall is starting well, and that all those beginning new endeavors—at school, work, or in life—are finding this to be a fruitful and life-giving season.
As I settle into my new role, Sunday visitations are a source of much joy. Wherever I am in our diocese, I see congregations that are engaged and making a difference in their neighborhoods. I meet people whose lives have been changed by the grace of God, through the Holy Spirit at work in our faith communities. I have visited congregations of all types and sizes and circumstances, and every single one of these churches has had something to celebrate, some gift or ministry that makes a difference to its members and to the world—thanks be to God, and well done, people of the Diocese of New Jersey!
As we have congregations and ministries to celebrate, we also have some challenges. As a diocese, we’re spending a lot more than we should. This year, our draw from our endowments, reserve funds, and trust accounts is more than $1,300,000. Last year, it was more than $900,000. This is not sustainable. While we are still discerning together some of the details about where God is calling us to focus, it is clear that part of our common call in the near future is toward fiscal stability.
As we work toward the Special Budget Convention on December 9, 2023, the diocesan Finance and Budget Committee is preparing the 2024 budget. While there is still much to be done, it is my hope that we will be able to take some substantial steps toward closing the gap between our income and our expenses. We are already taking steps to decrease expenditures in some key areas.
The largest item on the Diocese of New Jersey budget is staffing expenses. We are not a small diocese, and we function with a relatively small staff compared to other dioceses of a comparable size. We have not always had staff in place to provide some of the support that our congregations are asking for. With this in mind, I am working both to decrease the overall staff budget and expand support for our congregations and leaders, both lay and ordained. It is my expectation that we will be able to decrease diocesan staffing expenses by $100,000 or more in the 2024 budget, while creating new positions to address the current needs and concerns of our churches.
This is necessary, and it is hard and sometimes painful work. As part of this process, the Rev. Canon Dr. Rob Droste, Canon for Congregational Vitality and Mission, will be beginning a sabbatical next month. At the conclusion of his sabbatical he will not be returning to his position. This is not a reflection on his work or his gifts, but it is a difficult reality in a diocese where the budget is challenged beyond our capacity. Canon Droste has been in his own discernment in this season, and it is my hope and prayer that he will remain in our diocese as a valued member of the clergy, as he departs from my staff. There is more information on our Web site about this transition and another one.
We know our congregations need support and I am committed to providing you with what you need to be the church in the Diocese of New Jersey, to do God’s work and remain faithful to your call. In the weeks ahead, we will be hiring for a new position, someone who will serve as a bridge and support for our parishes, missions, and chaplaincies, equipped to respond quickly in times of need. Our congregations are a priority for us, and I am committed to strengthening our offerings to support all our communities, while being mindful of our ongoing financial realities.
One of our greatest gifts as a diocese is our diversity. Congregations in the Diocese of New Jersey offer worship each week in Spanish, French, Haitian Kreyol, Igbo, and English, and we are located in one of the most multicultural states in the country. This diversity is a strength, and as I continue to be mindful of our call to take steps toward fiscal stability, I remain committed to strengthening our support for our diverse and multicultural communities with staff, programs, and resources.
If you have questions or concerns, I’d welcome the opportunity to connect. Please pray for me, for your clergy, and for all our diocesan and church staff and leaders as we continue this hard and holy work. And please pray especially for all those facing transitions in this season, in the Diocese of New Jersey and elsewhere.
Faithfully in Christ,
Bishop Sally French
The Right Reverend Sally French
Bishop of New Jersey