A Country Church’s Journey to Financial Wellness

Bishop Mary will tell you that not so very long ago our little church in the Laurentians was a mission church that needed financial help, even with the oil bills. It came very close to closing, but today Holy Trinity Church, Lakefield, not only pays its way without any assistance from the Diocese, but it also operates consistently in the black, and it has accomplished a great deal over the past few years.  Despite the fact that we have only a handful of parishioners in the pews on any given Sunday morning, we have become a financially confident church.

How did that happen?  We believe the key elements to this turn-around to be:

  • faith in God and in ourselves,
  • combining with other small churches to form a community that has become mutually supportive and has made each of us stronger,
  • the sharing of a priestand the leadership of several strong Lay Readers,
  •  a multi-year plan that includes goals and dates, 
  • joint financing of major projects with local levels of government,
  • an excellent relationship with our municipality,
  • visibility in the community,  
  • strong, regular communications, 
  • making use of the gifts God provides,
  • living out of a sense of abundance,
  • a loyal and generous extended family with strong emotional ties that date back generations,
  • careful and detailed bookkeeping and
  • the recent establishment of the Laurentian Regional Ministry.

Faith in God and in Ourselves

We changed from being frozen in fear to moving forward in faith.  Prayer and discernment are an essential part of such a process but the Diocese also played a role when they provided the services of a Congregational Development Officer – Janet Marshall.  She helped us to see so many positives that we were overlooking and instilled hope in our future.  We took our responsibility as stewards of this 156 year old church and its graveyard seriously. The first step was to assess what needed to be done to enable it to continue for at least another century and a half.   We checked within, listening for God’s encouragement and when we felt it, we trusted it.

The Formation of the Parish of the Lower Laurentians, the Sharing of a Priest and Strong Leadership from Lay Readers

Combining with three other small churches in the area to form what is now known as the Parish of the Lower Laurentians (PLL) was the beginning of a sense of well-being.  By sharing the services of a priest on a 25% contract, and with the help and leadership of three gifted Lay Readers, we were finally able to afford the cost of ministry and to operate Holy Trinity without assistance.  The PLL has become a family which cares about one another and understands that its overall health depends upon each church doing well.  This sense of community is the result of being sensitive to one another’s needs and being mutually supportive.  

The presence and dedication of three gifted Lay Readers have held us together during the stretches without clergy.  The periodic absence of a priest has forced us to be self-reliant, resourceful and self-motivated.  Each church has gained a sense of self confidence that continues to serve us well.

Long Term Plans

Instead of focusing on what we thought we could not do, we created a five to seven year plan that outlined our needs and our wishes for Holy Trinity Church.  We then attached dates to those dreams so that they became goals with an identified time line.  We estimated our costs for each need and began to fund raise to pay for each project one at a time. THIS IS AN ESSENTIAL COMPONENT TO SUCCESS.

In the past six years, we have installed a new furnace, redone the eaves and soffits, rewired the church bringing the building up to code electrically,  completely restored all the windows and doors, installed a vapor barrier under the floor and by the end of this summer we will have repainted the lovely red roof.  We have also completely mapped the cemetery, with photos and   digital records.   We did not borrow any money, we did not ask for or receive any assistance from the Diocese and we have no debt.  Apart from some cosmetic upkeep inside, all major restoration and repairs are nearly done, leaving the church ready to stand and serve for several generations to come.  

Clearly we need to build a contingency fund for future needs.  In this instance at least, the fact that we have no water in the building is a blessing and we are spared the worries that might accompany its presence.  We will be careful not to let our commitment to look after the building overshadow our desire to serve the needs of this community. 

Visibility andMaking a Discernible Difference in the Community

Physically, Holy Trinity, the stone church with the bright red roof, is a landmark in the area.  Nestled on the shore of Lake Dawson, it is clearly visible from the highway between Lachute and Morin Heights. Beautiful new outside lighting cascading down the stone at night is breathtaking and makes the church visible even after dark.  

In the community, we enjoy frequent coverage in our two local papers, The Gore Express and The MainStreet.  We make a deliberate effort to keep the surrounding communities aware of the activities and projects supported by the church both through these local publications and with the help of a new signboard at the road.  

We are also visible through community outreach.  In collaboration with the municipality, Christmas Baskets and fully supplied school bags are distributed annually to more than 30 families in Gore.  Additionally the Prayer Shawl Ministry is very active and appreciated, giving out an average of 120 shawls a year since 2007.  We offer a full Christmas dinner following our Christmas Eve Service, free of charge to all – whether or not they have attended the service.  Last year we served over 90 people.

Our Summer Concert Series also brings visibility to this church by offering high quality events right here in our own neighbourhood.  These concerts are fundraisers for the church and for the community outreach with which we are associated.  The church is nearly always full and people express great appreciation for the quality of the performances as well as the convenience of having such events occur locally.

Relationships with Local Government:  Especially with Our Own Municipality

Holy Trinity owns the local parish hall.  Needless to say that over time it became a financial burden and somewhat run down.  In 2007 the church entered into an agreement with the Municipality of Gore (Lakefield) whereby we rented the building to them for a nominal fee each year and the municipality took on responsibility for its renovation and upkeep.  It is now known as Trinity Community Center.  They manage the rental process and keep the proceeds.  Holy Trinity has priority in terms of its use, but we must reserve the times and dates. Thanks to this arrangement, we now have a beautiful, fully equipped hall which we can use for many events throughout the year.  Financially it has been a win-win situation.

As you can see from the photo, Holy Trinity Church is a focal point in the landscape of this town.  Its historic and landmark status have made it logical and easy to partner with the municipality when taking on major maintenance and restoration projects.  It is a happy marriage where the municipality has been both willing and generous with grants and donations of materials, time and labour.  A joint management committee was formed with members from both sides working together for the benefit of both the church and the hall.

The Municipality of Gore and the local MRC provide annual grants for our Summer Concert Series and contributions for major restoration work.  Neither the concerts nor the much-needed work would be possible without this collaboration and their generosity.

Making Use of God’s Gifts & Living Out of a Sense of Abundance

God’s gift to this church is outstanding acoustics, making it a perfect venue for musical events. Concerts are an obvious choice, but equally appreciated are the Sunday evenings of quiet time, resting in God’s presence, listening to classical music played on an amazing sound system (made possible by a GUM Grant). It has also been used several times by some well-known musical groups to record CD’s.  Every church has its own gifts.  Once we recognize what they are, they will begin to work to support and sustain us.  

We need to take notice of the people and resources that God puts in our path.  Holy Trinity benefits from the involvement of several retired people in the community who bring great expertise.  Beyond the advantages to us, they express joy at being able to put a lifetime of experience and skill to work serving the church and the community.  There has also been a wonderful passing on of knowledge and skills from these ‘wisdom people’ to local workmen.  Involvement in such projects has had the effect of bringing some of them into the congregation – either to traditional Sunday services or to our alternative worship time on Sunday evenings.

It is not by hanging on tightly to every cent that we have been able to accomplish all that is described here.  We live out of a sense of abundance.  God does indeed provide.  We feel able to lend financial support to other non-profit events and programs.  I am proud to work with a group of people who listen with their heart and quickly say yes to helping others, trusting that we will be fine.

Careful, Detailed Bookkeeping

Choosing to live out a sense of abundance does not mean that we give or spend carelessly. It creates an even greater need to be organized and thoughtful about the bookkeeping.  We make separate categories for each aspect of church life, so that at any given moment, we know how much we have for renovations, for Christmas Baskets, for general operations… It also allows us to protect those funds given for designated purposes and to be faithful to the commitment made to the donors.  It enables us to create ‘envelopes’ within our budget and accounting for anticipated needs and unforeseen expenses.  Most successful households operate just like this.  Living out of a sense of abundance means being generous, while still being responsible but trusting that we have and will have enough to share.

A Loyal and Generous Extended Family

Beginning in 1996 we began sending out an annual appeal.  That appeal now goes to more than 150 people all over North America. This newsy letter contributes to our ongoing visibility, even in distant places.  The recipients have an emotional and/or ancestral connection to Holy Trinity.  They are grateful that we are trying to be good stewards of both the church and the graveyard.  We are specific about our needs and explain clearly how and where their money is being spent.  In return, their generosity has continued to grow, allowing us to pursue our goal of putting this much-loved little church back into great condition.  We are nearly finished with this aspect and will soon begin to focus on the cemetery.  

Knowing that the generation who feel great affection for our church is aging and that the following generation will likely not feel the same commitment, emotionally or financially, it has become our mission to get the work done while we still have the support. 

The Recent Establishment of The Laurentian Regional Ministry

In our union with the other churches in the Parish of the Lower Laurentians, we felt a greater sense of security in the present, but always struggled with the issue of how to attract a priest when we could never offer a full time position. With the creation of the Laurentian Regional Ministry we are now ten churches working not only to survive, but to thrive.  We are blessed with two full time priests, possibly the best combination of priests we could have hoped for – beyond what we could ask or imagine.  One of the differences is that each church/parish in the regional ministry has a greater responsibility to be independent and resourceful, but we also have the guidance of Archdeacon Ralph Leavitt and Reverend Nick Pang as well as the support of our sister churches.  As with the PLL, we are gradually becoming a family.  We can now look with hopeful expectation into the future.

There is no question that our unique location and situation may look to many like great advantages, but it is also true that less than fifteen years ago few would have had much confidence in our ability to survive.  It is no accident that I began with an invitation to trust in God and in ourselves.  Without that, little is possible.  Be brave and step out of the boat in faith.  We wish you every blessing on your own journey.

Submitted by the Management Committee of Holy Trinity Church, Lakefield, Quebec