April Letter from Coordinating Team

April 27, 2023


Dear Follen Members and Friends,

Spring is in the air and we are writing to share updates from meetings of the Program Council (“PC” – the operational governing board of the church) on April 10  and Parish Board (“PB” – responsible for church policy and financial oversight) on April 24.

Parish Board is assembling a team of creative, thoughtful, and committed members to lead development of a long-range plan for Follen Church, to be approved next year at the May 2024 Annual Meeting. We are reaching out to nominated individuals to join the team tasked with stewarding this exciting project.  During the 2023–2024 church year, the team will engage the congregation in a process of discernment and dialogue to consider important fundamental questions, for example: Who are we as a faith community? What does our faith call us to do? What is Follen’s context — social, economic, political, and geographic (real and virtual)?   What a fertile time for us to think big and to craft a vision of who we are and who we aspire to be that will serve as a touchstone for our spiritual community now and in the years ahead. We plan to introduce the team at the May 25 annual meeting at Follen from 7-9 pm.  We like this framing, from Holy Conversations, by Gil Rendle and Alice Mann:

Planning is conversation because it is truly dialogue. People explore their differences and their perceptions. People risk saying what they believe to be important. The talk is full of stories, memories, and hopes — the kind of conversation that strengthens and transforms people.  

Program Council voted to approve the proposed church budget for the 2023/2024 church year.  The Finance and Human Resources Action Team (FHRAT) has been working with staff and Action Team leaders on the budget for several months.  The proposed budget will be voted on by the members at the Annual Meeting on May 25.  FHRAT Chair Maggie Pax shared that on the plus side, this budget will be Follen’s largest ever at over $800K.  Some other very bright spots include a significant increase in rental revenues and the continued strong growth from fundraisers — especially the sale of the Christmas trees and the annual auction. The Trustees have reflected on a sustainable distribution rate from our endowment funds, and they have agreed to a higher than usual dollar distribution for next year.  We are also very pleased to bring forward a budget proposal that meets our goal of adjusting wages upward in line with new guidance from the UUA. It’s critical both for equity and for staff retention to pay fair wages, especially during an inflationary period.  There are also challenges with this budget. Our pledge commitments actually declined this year by over 3%. Since pledges make up about 80% of our revenues, this is a significant factor. Some of the reasons for the decline include a COVID ‘hangover’ where folks may have rearranged their lives outside of Follen. The inflationary situation also hit some people with less current earning power. 

Because of the pledge situation, we have had to trim many so-called discretionary spending areas and generally tighten our belts across spend categories. While this is not ideal, we do believe we have a strong financial foundation at Follen. You’ll hear more about this at the Annual Meeting, so we encourage you to attend.

At both the PC and PB meetings, Follen Trustee Kyle Johnson asked for support for two proposals.  First, both PC and PB voted to update the investment policy for the Louise Curtis Fund to conform the composition of the administrative committee responsible for approving Fund withdrawals to Follen’s current governance structure.  PB appointed Kyle to serve as the Trustee representative to the committee.  The committee will consider a request from Music Director Chris Eastburn to withdraw $1,500 from the Fund to support the spring youth musical event “Indigo Girls.”

Second, both PC and PB voted to support a warrant article proposed by the Trustees at the May 25 annual meeting.  The warrant article rescinds a 1993 spending policy for the Follen Program Fund (one of Follen’s 7 endowment funds), as inconsistent with both the governing 1980 Trust and best endowment management practice.  The Trustees, PC and PB all urge Follen’s members to vote to approve this article at Annual Meeting.      

Additionally, both PC and PB voted to support three proposed amendments to the Follen bylaws, to be considered and voted on by the members at the May 25 annual meeting:  (1)  authorize Follen teams and committees to conduct synchronous audio/video, in person, or hybrid meetings, and asynchronous email votes, without the need for an initial in person meeting; (2) remove the business manager role from the coordinating team; and (3) make minor edits to the bylaws to include gender neutral language.  

Finally, we have created a new Housing Transition Team to work with the International Institute of New England (IINE) and the Afghan family living in the Marshman Center to support the family’s next steps in resettlement, finding affordable long term housing by July 1.  The Team is optimistic that suitable housing will be found for the family.  

The next Program Council meeting is Monday, May 8 at 7:30 pm. And the next Parish Board Meeting is Monday, May 15  at 7:30 pm.  Both meetings are in the Anne Smith Room and all are welcome to attend.  Feel free to email Nick Hart at president@follen.org or Lisa Snellings at parishboardchair@follen.org with questions. 

If you want to know more about what is happening at Follen or why, you are encouraged to reach out to any of us or Reverend Claire for a conversation. Follen members and friends are welcome to attend monthly Action Team, Program Council and Parish Board meetings. Check the calendar at Follen.org for upcoming meeting dates. 

Yours in Faith,

Follen Coordinating Team
Nick Hart, Program Council President
Jen Vandiver, Program Council Vice President
Lisa Snellings, Parish Board Chair
Anne Kelly, Parish Board Vice Chair
Reverend Claire Feingold Thoryn