John's World: Advice for a New Trustee

September 26, 2015 02:16 AM
John's World: Advice for a New Trustee

If you’re a conscientious church member, especially in a membership-challenged rural congregation, one day you will inevitably be asked to serve as a trustee of the church. Even if you’ve done nothing wrong.

Trustees take care of the physical assets of the church. In most cases this means maintaining a building considerably older than you realize with a budget considerably smaller than you expect. You might celebrate escaping more onerous duties—membership, finance, Sunday school superintendent, etc.—but the obligations you now assume are more subtle than you might think.

Consider this hallowed joke about being a church trustee:

Q: How many trustees does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Change the light bulb?! My grandmother donated that light bulb!

In truth, that was quoted verbatim from the Trustees Minutes in January 1992.

I’m nearly eligible for parole from the trustees and offer this advice to newcomers:

  • Emigrate. Australia is a nice country, and anywhere closer would still leave you qualified to be called in when the basement floods. But if some attachment to your location prevents this option, read on.
  • Use discretion displaying any working knowledge of computers or copiers. After lavish admiration for your expertise, your cell number will be taped to the side of both, and all problems deferred to your self-proclaimed know-how. Stick to furrowing your brow and asking, “Have you tried turning it off and then on again?”
  • Avoid being the interface with the memorial committee. Although thoughtful remembrances of beloved former members can be touching and add much to the worship setting, you’re likely to struggle with funds sitting idle waiting for appropriately dignified monuments with large inscriptions at center stage even as the roof leaks after heavy dews. After all, there’s no place to put a brass plaque if you use Uncle Hank’s memorial fund to finally clean the tree roots from the storm drains. Also keep in mind the tree was a memorial to his mother. 

My massive memorial will be designated for pest control. The irony will be a subject of perpetual amusement.

  • Study up on the roosting habits of bats. I can only speak for Midwestern churches, but perhaps it applies to other regions. Nothing will perk up a sleepy morning worship service like the unique flutter of little bat wings. Long after the belfry jokes have gone stale, a congregation can remain traumatized and feel the need to check often—even daily—on trustee actions to remedy the situation. 

These charming creatures are almost always endangered species, making control difficult and expensive. Nothing will drain the building fund quicker than prolonged eviction proceedings with a few bats. In the end, the best strategy is to try to keep the doors shut in the evening, pray for cold weather to trigger hibernation and enjoy the winter. 

  • Prepare for the church facilities “arms race.” The minute your brethren across town add an elevator/big screen/van/highway sign, begin researching estimates. It won’t be long before the need for something just a little better is obvious in your congregation.
  • I now suspect suppliers actually charge churches more for identical products and services than they would for businesses. Even a fair price, however, will seem too high for some members. This will never be forgotten. We have a furnace everyone associates with one deceased member who endlessly argued the extravagance. In a way, it might be the most effective memorial of all.

I wish you well. You will find camaraderie can grow among your fellow members as you collectively eye the ceiling corners for signs of plaster failure during sermons and wake up during thunderstorms fearful of overflowing gutters. This burden can be hard to lay down after many years. 

But you’ll get over that.  

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