Signs of the Times

Here in Michigan, we're about as hard-hit as it gets with this recession, and in our county here in Jackson, we're worse off than state average in terms of unemployment, despite our proximity to the employment star of the state, Ann Arbor. Unemployment in Jackson, Michigan, reached 11% in December. Meanwhile, our local community is buzzing over the news of a pay raise for Jackson Community College President Dan Phelan. It was probably a necessary move for the college, because, like with churches, the search process can be expensive and the pay is usually increased to move up to going rates for the new hire. It comes as a hard pill for the community to swallow, however, in the same week as the unemployment rate was announced and while faculty (and adjuncts like myself) have no contract. It makes the college board look out-of-touch with the living reality of its students, faculty, staff, and the community that surrounds and supports it. Personally, I think the board's decision was probably sound, but, unfortunately, really poor timing and unfortunate circumstances makes it look unseemly.

It's a good model to keep in mind for our churches and association, this balancing of sometimes necessary increases versus keeping in touch with our community. Our UUA board has voted to hold our dues steady for next year, rather than executing the planned increase. The Heartland District Board is predicted to do the same at their February meeting. Of course, they're also predicting revenue drops, as more and more churches fail to live up to their fair share dues. This means that they're going to have to make cuts in services, and possibly in jobs, in the long run. It's not what we want from our association and district, to have to cut what they can provide. However, a dues increase, even while planned, would be hard for our churches to manage, too. The association and denomination have chosen the harder route, but one which gives them their community's good will. Let's all try to remember that if our favorite thing is something to fall under the ax.

Individual churches will need to make the same choices. Can our members afford to pay more to cover the always increasing costs of doing business and giving small raises to cover our staff's increased cost of living, or will we also, like the UUA and Heartland District, be looking for ways to cut? One presumes it'll probably be the latter with many churches, particularly ones like ours in economically depressed regions.

Needless to say, there are some tough cuts being made out there at denominational, district, and individual church levels. No doubt we will have some hard decisions to make, as well. Over at Philocrites' blog, he writes about how one of the largest churches in our association, in a state with 9% unemployment is handling it: they're closing their doors for the month of July.

Hard times mean hard decisions. I only hope we can all be as open to thinking outside the box and coming up with creative, although difficult, decisions like Portland.


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