By Karen Kingma, Ambler Mennonite Church Ministry Team Administrator
Ambler Mennonite Church (AMC) sits on a beautiful, large corner lot in the borough of Ambler, Pennsylvania. Environmental stewardship of that property is important to the congregation, and in September, we took a big step towards improving our green infrastructure with the installation of a large rain garden.
Previously, storm water runoff from our parking lot and yard made its way to the lowest corner of the property, making it soggy, muddy, and generally unattractive. This runoff also contributed to downstream flooding of the Wissahickon Creek that occasionally caused flooding for our neighbors. In an effort to be good neighbors and good stewards, AMC reached out to Ambler’s Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) for assistance and expertise, knowing that they had initiated the installation of dozens of rain gardens on private and public property throughout the borough.
The EAC was excited to collaborate with us. They brought in Red Tail Land Restoration & Land Management to do the soil remediation and Tannery Run Brew Works to provide volunteer labor and financial support. We all saw the potential in this soggy corner for a garden that would filter pollutants, have better drainage, reduce downstream flooding of the Wissahickon Creek, and be a source of beauty and enjoyment for the congregation and the neighborhood. Due to the visibility of our property, the EAC also saw opportunities for using the garden to educate the community about storm water management, rain gardens, native plants, and environmental stewardship.
AMC and community members dug deep (literally) in their own gardens to supply a variety of plants and shrubs. On a crisp fall morning in late September, dozens of church and community volunteers came together to plant the new rain garden. Local business donated coffee and pastries to keep the volunteers energized.
Working all together was a tremendous blessing, as connections with neighbors and new friends were made. The end result is a beautiful space that arose from neighbors who care for each other and the environment.
I was reminded again during my morning devotions, from Deuteronomy 10:14 that everything belongs to God, the heavens, the earth and everything in it. Exodus 9:29, Psalm 24:1, and 1 Corinthians 10:26 reiterate this theme.
So what. What does this mean for us? Matthew 25:14-30, which the NIV subtitles “The Parable of the Bags of Gold,” gives us a brief glimpse of what this could mean. We are all given some part of God’s creation, each according to our abilities, to steward on His behalf. We ultimately must realize that whatever we have been given, must be returned to the one who gave it to us. So what are we doing with it in the meantime?
Luke 12:48b (NIV) also gives us the charge that “…from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” The “much” in this verse isn’t quantified, so can we assume that what we have been given is as much as our abilities can handle? And that if we steward what we have been given wisely, our abilities can grow and more will be given to us to steward?
Mark Vincent in his publication, A Stewardship Manifesto, delves deeply into the study of stewardship, defining a steward as someone entrusted to take care of someone else’s assets. So since everything belongs to God, the ultimate steward is someone who cares for God’s assets, even to the point of treating these assets as if they were one’s very own — although seeing how some people treat the assets they call their own, I might wonder about that.
Vincent goes on to say that stewardship is the act of willingly and responsibly caring for this charge. He also lists four assumptions for being a steward and carrying out good stewardship:
it requires my service
it is the highest level of personal fulfillment
it is done in community (we are not alone in this)
it is done willingly
What is our motivation for stewardship? Vincent give four possible answers:
Obligation, done out of some religious mandate, possibly even out of guilt or fear
Philanthropy, done out of love for mankind, to be a better person or a concern for one’s own well-being
Prosperity, done out of the belief that by managing God’s resources wisely, one will gain a material blessing
Worship, rooted in grace as a response to a generous God; it isn’t something you do, but rather it is something you become. Vincent quotes Lynn Miller in saying that stewardship is “organizing life so God can give you away”
So, what is your motivation for stewardship? Are you being a good steward?
Did you know that Franconia Mennonite Conference (FMC) owns a shopping center in Souderton and a farm in Harleysville? Okay technically, FMC doesn’t own any property. Property ownership belongs to Franconia Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (FMBMC). Yes, that organization founded in 1918 to buy church properties for planting churches and to send missionaries to foreign countries still exists. Its mission has evolved over the years, and while it no longer sends missionaries, it still owns properties. The missionary-sending component of FMBMC was incorporated into the mission of the conference and its member congregations in the 1990s and the FMBMC board was brought under the authority of the conference board, to function as a captive corporation of FMC. The purpose of FMBMC these days is to manage real estate on behalf of the conference and support the conference financially, and therefore its “doing business as” name is “FMC Properties”.
FMBMC continues to hold the ownership of a couple of church properties, Whitehall Mennonite Church being one of those churches. The other church property — the former Peace Mennonite Church in East Greenville, PA — is being used by Project Haven, a ministry from the partnership of a few FMC and Eastern District Conference churches.
FMBMC purchased the Indian Creek Road farm in 1954 and established the Mission of Mercy, a ministry of rehabilitation for alcoholic men. This continued until 1967 when a mission to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities was begun on the farm. This ministry evolved into Indian Creek Haven, which then became Indian Creek Foundation (ICF). ICF eventually outgrew the farm, and in 2003 it became the birthing grounds for MCC Material Resource Center of Harleysville (MRC). When MRC outgrew the farm in 2010, the conference decided to make the property a permanent farm. The development rights for the farm were sold in 2012 and a local Community-Supported Agriculture organization, called Living Hope Farm, was established and began to rent the farm and has continued to grow since then. As a connection with the past, an ICF group home continues to operate on the farm. In keeping with its farming heritage, the Indian Creek Road farm has provided a seed bed for the startup of several organizations over the many years of FMBMC ownership.
FMBMC purchased the Souderton Center from a partnership of four Mennonite businessmen. This group had initially purchased the shopping center property in 1986 to both provide a home for the conference offices, and to support the conference financially. They renovated the entire center and in 2001 sold the property to FMBMC. While the conference offices have relocated elsewhere since 2001, the Souderton Center continues to provide financial support to the conference. When you shop at any one of the businesses of the shopping center — Care & Share Shoppes, Weaver Reckner & Reinhart Dentistry, TriValley Primary Care, ParmaJohn’s, or Ten Thousand Villages — you support the ministries of the Franconia Mennonite Conference.
In 1996, the conference board developed a statement providing rationale for continuing to own property, concluding that “some property is necessary and even advantageous for carrying out the work of the church”. The statement also ensures that “all decisions about property ownership and the management thereof should reflect the priorities of the church” and that property ownership and use of funds should “reflect the best interests of the congregations of the conference and their mission“. Keeping property ownership with FMBMC frees the conference board and staff to focus their energies on the mission of the church, leaving property management decisions to the properties board, consisting of persons with experience in property management.
As tax season is upon us, it is important to be aware of two things a church does that may affect the taxable income for congregational employees/pastors — one taxable and one a pre-tax deduction.
Love Gifts/ Offerings
Some churches give their pastor(s) a “love gift” or “love offering” in special appreciation for the many things they do for their congregation. These gifts come from either the pastor’s employing church or from individual members of the church. Sometimes these gifts come from a special offering taken by the congregation for their pastor. Sometimes an individual member will feel the need to show their appreciation personally in a financial way, sometimes even unbeknownst to the congregation. In almost every case, the IRS will view “love gifts” as compensation for services rendered and therefore taxable. If coming from the church as the employer, the church needs to either include the love gift in the calculation of the W-2 or issue a 1099-MISC to the pastor. If coming from an individual, the pastor needs to include the gift in their taxable income. If you need further clarification, consult your tax accountant.
Section 125 Flex Plan
If your congregation offers a medical insurance plan to their employees and also charges them a portion of the cost for the premium, those employee premium costs may be deductible from the employees’ taxable income. If your congregation offers as part of their medical insurance plan a Health Savings Account (HSA), the employees may contribute personally into their HSA through payroll deductions and those payroll deductions may be deductible from the employees’ taxable income. The key is, the church needs to have a Section 125 Flexible Benefits Plan documented. Sometimes this is called a Cafeteria Plan. Whatever it is called, it must be documented. There are many companies that can write such a plan for your church, one of which is Everence. Contact your local Everence Stewardship Consultant for more information.
Any time you have questions about your church finances, contact Conrad Martin at the conference office and he will help direct you to the answer.
A federal judge in Texas issued an injunction last week blocking the December 1 implementation of a new salary threshold that would have made millions of more workers, including nonministerial church employees who meet certain criteria, eligible for overtime pay.
The injunction puts the threshold change on hold until its legality can be determined by the judge. Some speculate the new threshold likely won’t survive, but the outcome remains uncertain. The current threshold for the “white-collar exemption” of $455 per week, or $23,660 per year, remains in effect in the meantime.
There is a new law regarding overtime pay which will take effect December 1, 2016. Are you aware of how it affects your congregation? Here is the latest information we have on that new ruling.
Non-credentialed employees: All employees (see exceptions below) who work over 40 hours a week are to be paid overtime. Previously, this did not include executive, administrative or professional persons paid by a salary and those who were making over a certain threshold. The new ruling now includes all of these categories and significantly raises the threshold to $47,476, including bonuses and commissions. What this means is that every employee paid less than $47,476, regardless of whether they are hourly or salaried, are eligible for overtime.
Congregations have three options with regard to this law:
Limit non-credentialed employees’ hours to 40 hours per week.
Increase their employees’ pay to the $47,476/year threshold, to be exempt from paying overtime.
Pay employees time and half for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week. For those who are salaried, the employer needs to calculate what the hourly rate would be.
Special Notes: All employees (salaried or hourly) who are paid less than the threshold should be required by their employer to track their time, to be able to verify the number of hours worked over 40 per week. Church employees cannot get around this ruling by volunteering some of their time, unless they are volunteering for duties that are not part of their regular job. Some employers offer their employees time-off in a later pay period as compensation for the hours worked over 40 per week. This is not allowed by the new law. Any time worked over 40 hours per week, must be paid in that pay period as overtime.
Ministerial Exemption: If you have credentialed persons employed at your church, this new ruling does not affect them. Credentialed persons include pastors, ministers, chaplains, LEADership ministers, etc.; anyone who has received their credentialing from Franconia Conference is included in this category. They are covered under what is called the Ministerial Exemption and are, therefore, not subject to Federal Labor regulations. This will continue to be the case until the government changes the ministerial exemption clause. Employees who are not credentialed do not qualify for the ministerial exemption.
BREAKING NEWS: This is a constantly changing issue. The most recent information indicates that two separate lawsuits have been brought against the US Department of Labor, challenging this ruling. While it is unlikely that these lawsuits will change the ruling, they may delay its effective date. We will try to keep you informed as new information becomes available.
If you have questions concerning this ruling or other congregational financial matters, feel free to contact the Franconia Conference Director of Finance, Conrad Martin, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The subject of giving comes up many times in the scriptures, but do you know how we are supposed to give? Here are just a few of the scriptures on how we are to give:
Cheerfully – 2 Corinthians 9:7 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Expectantly – Luke 6:38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.
Extravagantly – Mark 12:41-44 Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”
Freely – Proverbs 11:24 One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.
Honorably – Psalms 112:9 They give freely to the poor. The things they do are right and will continue forever. They will be given great honor.
Joyfully – 2 Corinthians 8:2 They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.
Proportionately – Deuteronomy 16:17 All must give as they are able, according to the blessings given to them by the Lord your God.
Regularly – 1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. Don’t wait until I get there and then try to collect it all at once.
Reverently – Matthew 2:11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Secretly – Matthew 6:3-4 But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
Willingly – 2 Corinthians 8:12 If a man is ready and willing to give, he should give of what he has, not of what he does not have.
Eternally – Matthew 6:19-20 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal.
Did you know that churches are automatically a charitable organization (or a 501c3 organization) and do not need to apply for their own 501c3 status? According to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) the only requirements for a church to be considered a charity is that they be organized and operating exclusively for charitable or religious purposes, not sharing earnings with individuals, and not influencing legislation. So in simple terms, if your church is following the above then your church is a charity.
Sometimes donors want proof that a church is indeed a charity. How can you prove that your church is a charity? If your church is a member congregation of Franconia Conference, conference staff can provide your church with a document stating that your church is in fact a church as defined by the IRS and therefore a charity. This document works to satisfy the needs of donors.
What is a ministers housing allowance, who is eligible to claim this, and how much can be claimed?
Did you know that ministers, as defined by the IRS, can designate a portion of their gross salary as a housing allowance which is not subject to federal income taxes? In the past churches used to provide housing for their ministers, however in more recent years ministers often have their own housing arrangements. Therefore a housing allowance was created to provide a similar benefit for those ministers.
Who is a minister as defined by the IRS? A person who: 1) is ordained, commissioned or licensed, 2) administers the sacraments of the church, 3) conducts religious worship, 4) has management responsibilities in the local church or parent denomination, and 5) is considered to be a religious leader by the church or parent denomination. Number 1 is definitely required and some balance of the other four is factored in.
How much can a minister claim for housing allowance? If the minister rents their home, then the fair market rental value can be included. If they own their own home, then the down payment, mortgage payments, real estate taxes, and property insurance can be included. Also included in the calculation of housing allowance can be utilities, furnishings and appliances, structural repairs and remodeling, yard maintenance and improvements, maintenance items and homeowners association dues.
Who designates this housing allowance? The governing body of the church designates how much of the minister(s) income is allowed to be designated for housing. This is to be done by official action prior to January 1. If a church fails to do this in a timely manner, housing allowance deductions are not retroactive, but can be applied from the approval date forward. How does the governing body know how much to declare? The minister should calculate their housing costs, as mentioned above, and submit this request to the governing body.
For more details on these and other legal and financial tidbits, contact Conrad Martin, Director of Finance, Franconia Mennonite Conference.
A decade ago, Franconia Mennonite Conference leadership noticed a critical problem: seminary-trained leaders were increasingly in short supply. So when Delaware Valley Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), a conference-related ministry, turned over a well-funded college tuition scholarship program to the conference, a solution soon emerged.
Conrad Martin and Donella Clemens of Franconia Conference partnered with Henry Rosenberger and Dave Landis of MEDA to form a committee charged with developing a plan for the use of the newly-received asset. According to Rosenberger, it became quickly apparent that continuing to use the fund for its previous purpose of providing small college tuition scholarships was becoming less meaningful in light of the meteoric rise of college costs.
“At the same time in our Conference history, there seemed to be an increasing number of pastors being called to congregations with little or no Anabaptist training or cultural knowledge of Mennonites,” said Rosenberger. “Concern for the effects this lack of training had in our congregations, I believe, prompted the Board of MEDA to see this fund as a way to enhance the training for persons moving into leadership.”
As a result, the Area Conference Leadership Fund (ACLF) was born. Future leaders from both the Franconia and Eastern District conferences now had a new financial option to help address the costs of seminary and higher education. The committee chose to accept ACLF applications from members in both the Franconia and Eastern District conferences to recognize the involvement of the two conferences in Delaware Valley MEDA.
In 2002, the first scholarships were disbursed and over the past decade, 60 leaders have received financial assistance from the fund. Soon, scholarship recipients began to reflect emerging shifts in the leadership demographics of Franconia Conference: twenty percent of recipients were people of color and one-third of recipients were women. The ACLF allowed Franconia Conference to invest in the future.
As Franconia Conference’s director of communication and leadership cultivation, Stephen Kriss immediately recognized the value of ACLF. “The amazing thing is how many people ACLF assisted who are serving the church both within and beyond Franconia and Eastern District conferences. These gifts were amazing investments in current and future leadership. ACLF enabled us to call forth, train, and equip dozens of leaders effectively, generously, open-handedly,” said Kriss.
Recipients of ACLF scholarships appreciate the confidence and support of the broader church community. For Angela Moyer, a member of the pastoral team of Ripple congregation, (Allentown, Pa.), the support of ACLF provided the freedom to explore seminary at a comfortable pace. “I never thought I would go to seminary. I started by just taking two classes at a time—I just had a few questions… I had no interest in pursuing a graduate degree. Little did I know how formative seminary would be in finding my identity as a pastor. Receiving funds from the ACLF was the broader church community nudging me, telling me it was okay to pursue this call even when I didn’t believe it myself.”
As the Lead Pastor of Salford congregation (Harleysville, Pa.), Joe Hackman believes that his leadership abilities have been significantly nurtured by the ACLF scholarship. “The ACLF fund allowed me to feel the support of the wider church community. The financial investment the church made for my education has helped me enter into my current leadership role with a greater sense of preparedness and confidence.”
In the words of Rosenberger, a core aspect of the original ACLF vision is to ensure that emerging “leadership was firmly based in Anabaptist theology and nonresistance.” This vision is coming to fruition in the work of Beny Krisbianto, Lead Pastor of Nations Worship Center (Philadelphia). “ACLF is helping me to finish my Capstone Project at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. My capstone project has taught me how to believe that ‘The Culture of Peace’ is still possible,” says Krisbianto. “Inspired by the struggles, prejudices, and broken relationships in my context of ministry in Philadelphia, peace is not theory, too big or unrealistic, but it is God’s calling and it does still work today.”
Despite occasional contributions, the size of the ACLF scholarship was considerably reduced in 2012 and leaders will no longer have access to substantial ACLF scholarships. This, however, does not mean that there is no longer a need for talented future church leaders. According to the Conrad Martin, Franconia Conference’s director of finance, the need for future church leaders is still there, as is the need to assist them financially so that they can pursue a quality Anabaptist education. Contributions into the ACLF continue to be welcomed.
Due to continued reductions in congregational giving, Franconia Conference has made a number of staffing adjustments, most effective February 1, according to Executive Minister Ertell Whigham. These adjustments are in response to a call by the conference board in May of 2012 to reduce staff FTE (full-time equivalency), stewarding both financial and human resources while better aligning personnel with conference priorities. Over the course of 2013, Conference staff will be reduced from 8.5 to approximately 7.5, a total reduction of about 12%.
“We were blessed to enter this year debt-free, but paying off the mortgage on the Souderton Shopping Center did not change the economic realities we’re facing, including a pattern of decreased giving from conference churches,” Whigham said. “While it will be challenging to provide ministry support with a more limited staff, we will continue to make every effort to meet the needs of our congregations and leaders.”
Both Noah Kolb, director of ministerial leadership, and Conrad Martin, director of finance, will reduce their percentage of time employed through the Conference. Martin will reduce to three-quarters time and Kolb, who began transitioning from a full-time role last year to move toward semi-retirement, will reduce further to half-time. Some of Kolb’s responsibilities will shift to other LEADership ministers including Jenifer Eriksen Morales, who will increase her load to fulltime.
Franconia will partner with Eastern District Conference to increase Carla Ferrier, administrative assistant, from three days a week to fulltime. In addition to the new administrative work for Eastern District, Ferrier will also take over some basic bookkeeping and move into an office manager role.
Sandy Landes, conference prayer coordinator, will step down on February 28 from her conference position to focus on ministry in the Doylestown congregation, where she has been on staff for eight years. “Sandy has brought a contagious and enthusiastic spirit and perspective to prayer ministry that has helped raise prayer awareness and especially intercessory prayer ministry to another level of importance in Franconia Conference,” reflected Franconia’s minister for spiritual transformation Noel Santiago, who has worked closely with Landes since she came on staff in 2007. “Sandy has been invaluable in keeping prayer at the center of Conference work and life. While she will be greatly missed on staff, we are grateful that she will continue in ministry through her local congregation.”
The prayer coordinator position, which was entirely grant-supported, will be discontinued and Santiago will oversee future conference prayer ministry.
Samantha Lioi, who was contracted last year by Franconia and Eastern District conferences as Minister of Peace and Justice, has extended her contract for another two years. Her position is supported by grants—congregations or individuals interested in supporting her work can contact conference Executive Minister Ertell Whigham.
In addition to its paid staff, Franconia Conference also benefits from the wisdom and guidance of volunteer LEADership Ministers. Randy Heacock, lead pastor of Doylestown congregation, has joined the conference’s volunteer staff and is now serving as the LEADership Minister for Wellspring Church of Skippack. Ray Yoder, who has served as one of Franconia’s volunteer LEADership Ministers for several years, will be retiring this spring.
“We’ve appreciated Ray and his work with congregations,” said Whigham, “but more importantly, he’s had a pastoral presence on our team and a level of wisdom and maturity that we all have benefitted from during his time on staff.”
Whigham also anticipates possible additional shifts in job responsibilities in the coming months to further align staff strengths and resources with conference priorities.
“As a board, we recognize the importance, reach, and depth of the work of Conference staff as we strive together to fulfill God’s vision of proclaiming Christ,” said Marta Castillo, assistant moderator, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation. “We thank our staff for their passion, flexibility, and commitment to lead in equipping leaders and congregations to be missional, formational, and intercultural Anabaptist communities of faith through the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Franconia Conference is entering the new year debt-free after receiving payment for the sale of the Indian Creek Road Farm’s development rights late last week. The proceeds of the sale were used to pay off around 90% of the mortgage on the Souderton (Pa.) Center on December 27, 2012, according to the conference’s director of finance, Conrad Martin. The remainder of the mortgage was paid using funds from the center’s Capital Improvement Fund.
This marks the fulfillment of a process set in motion in 2007 by the Vision and Finance Plan Team formed by the Franconia Conference Board to align the conference’s resources to the call for contextual and contemporary ministry. The VFP team recommended in 2009 that the conference sell the development rights for the farm (near Harleysville, Pa.) and use the proceeds to pay off the Souderton Center’s ten-year-old mortgage. With the mortgage paid off, this will free over $13,000 per month to replenish the improvement fund and support conference ministry.
The conference is positioned to start 2013 on solid financial footing, said Conference executive minister, Ertell Whigham. “Along with anticipated increased giving from our congregations, this will enable us to invest more financial resources into ministry,” Whigham reflected. “We are grateful for those who had a vision for how the Souderton Center could bless the conference. What a way to start a year and celebrate God’s ongoing provision!”
Selling the development rights to the farm acreage means that the land cannot be further developed and will likely remain in agricultural use. The Vision and Finance Plan also recommended that the Indian Creek Road Farm be leased to an organization that would use the land to develop sustainable creation-care oriented ministries that recognize the nature of the preserved open space. As a result, the property was leased in 2010 to Living Hope Farm, a non-profit sustainable agricultural CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm led by Jill Landes of Blooming Glen congregation. Franconia Conference and Living Hope Farm are currently in conversations about beginning a Conference Related Ministry relationship.
In addition to property proposals, the VFP included recommendations about increasing continuing education expectations for credentialed leaders, creating grants for missional experiments, downsizing and relocating office space, and stabilizing the conference’s annual operating budget. The repayment of the mortgage was the final step in fulfilling the VFP’s recommendations. In early 2012, the conference board and staff acknowledged the fulfillment of the Vision and Financial Plan and moved toward a new set of working priorities (described in detail here). “We are pleased that the mortgage on the Souderton Center is paid off and that Franconia Conference is now debt-free,” said John Goshow, the board chair. “This will allow us to focus even more intently on growing God’s Kingdom.”