Servant of All?

Pleasanton’s Strategic Plan

I took a day off to have an extended email conversation with a parishioner from Pleasanton. Said parishioner sent along a scanned copy of the long-awaited Parish strategic plan, which I have reviewed. I had wanted to write a long screed on what I saw there, specifically what the document lacks and ultimately how disappointed I was with the effort. In the end, the parishioner and I agreed to leave my comments at that under the condition that the parishioner was going to take the matter up alone. This is after all this parishioner’s parish. The parishioner did agree to get back with me after their own internal conversations were complete.

Organization Charts?

I do want to briefly take up one portion of the document which, unfortunately has become all too common amongst churches in general these days. The strategic plan (as it were) contained an organization chart for the parish. On the surface, nothing really new there. The chart has the same pyramid shape, with the Pastor at the top and the parish below. Many of us have seen so many organization charts it is hard to think of an organization any other way. There is a very good reason that Catholic church insiders refer to the leaders of the universal Church as a “hierarchy”. One could almost be forgiven for publishing a document that stratifies clergy and laity into a hierachical reporting structure. I did say “almost forgiven” though.

First I would like to note that structurally the organization chart published by Pleasanton is canonically incorrect. The chart is showing what this Pastor thinks is operationally occurring and that is a bit dangerous. The chart shows the parish councils “reporting in” to the Pastor when in fact they do not (nor should they) have a subordinate or functionally submissive role. Parish councils, and specifically finance councils, have a consultative role. To properly show this in org chart parlance would have the councils in a “dotted line” relationship with the Pastor, at the same level. As shown, this organization chart at once diminishes and negates the consultative function these councils provide. This is an error.

Beyond that specific observation, my opinion is that Catholic organization charts with Pastors, Bishops and Popes in ever ascending levels of visual importance is rank clericalism. A pyramid shaped organization is the ego-produced product of someone who has taken ontological change to mean “operationally superior”—that is to say: clericalism writ large. This is definitively NOT the teaching we were given and I am constantly surprised how what we were taught was not, indeed has not been put into practice:

Sitting down, He called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)

Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, “Lord, do You wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.” (John 13:5)

So we learn from classic organization charts published by churches that in fact our pastors have not “understood hereafter”. A Jesus centric community is built on an organization chart that is an inverted pyramid, thereby visually attesting to the teaching that pastors, bishops and popes are in fact “servants of all”.

Show me someone publishing an organization chart like that and I will show you someone ontologically changed.

CCOP Organization Chart

A review of CCOP’s “financial” data

I have already provided a quick over view of parish finances from the standpoint of cash flows. I talked about how the structure of a parish works. Today I want to use that background to look at what the Catholic’s of Pleasanton have posted on their website. It is not very good financial data (in fact it tries too hard to be a narrative and not an accounting).

I have taken time to review the fall town hall meeting slides posted on their website. Bar charts are no substitute for balance sheets, but perhaps their finance council does not not know they should, at least in the spirit of the canon, be sharing that level of detail with their fellow parishioners. Nevertheless I think we can gather a few grains to eat as we wander through the grain fields of finance after sabbath.

Catholics of Pleasanton

First, you have a looming $10M capital campaign. Looming is an apt word. You effectively had negative cash flow in 2013. You barely broke even the previous year. You are not publishing real financial data. I am not saying you’re hiding anything, but you sure are trying hard to tell a story. It certainly looks like CCOPers will be suffering under never-ending capital campaign weariness.

CCOP: your overhead costs look large to me. Fully .45 on every dollar coming in goes to administration, clergy, rectory and the diocese. Why so much?

And speaking of your rectory, why is it repeatedly featured so prominently in your financials? There is “rectory project” under expenses and then rectory again in your pie chart. For a church looking for $5,000 to fix what looks like ground level electrical hazards (which is extremely serious), one hopes the rectory is the last thing to be fixed. Ground level hazard means “children hazard”. More on this in a moment as if you skip forward and look at the fall expenses list you will see rectory mentioned yet again. Odd.

You spent $344k on buildings and maintenance in 2013, outside of personnel this looks like it might be your largest single line item. But it is a large increase over the previous year, enough that I hope you parishioners discussed what the priorities were with your treasure. You did ask for a breakdown of maintenance expenses and timing didn’t you good laypeople?

Worrisome is the mention of “maintenance accounting change“. What does that mean? We hate to see a tacit footnote like this without clear explanation or notations as to what such consequences such a change might have had on previous year’s results. Such a note gives the appearance of changing measurement criteria on the fly. This is poor practice, even optically.

And then there is the wonderful parishioner who bequeathed her estate to the parish netting you fortunate people $1.4M. I am assuming some of the assets were illiquid and needed to be sold. Stocks, bonds, real estate require licensed agents to act on the behalf of a seller. Additional legal services are required. While it is not clear what assets were being sold the use of the language on the slide suggests third parties were involved. I want you to notice the phrasing used in the presentation because it is carefully worded: “over the course of 2013 her [Ms. Smith’s] estate was liquidated and CCOP received $1.4M in proceeds”. Which likely means that commissions were paid to third parties to dispose of the assets and that the estate was worth more, but the “net” (less commissions and fees) was $1.4M. So how much  was paid out and to whom? Perhaps you had parishioners who did it pro-Bono, if so great. If not, what process was used to determine who should get your business? Did people bid? My good people, the phrasing on this slide is so careful as to make me concerned.

Barring my questions about the process I think it is safe to say that your parish would be facing cut backs without Ms. Smith’s bequest to help shore things up. You have more cash flowing out than flowing in if you remove the bequest. It is no surprise that over 20% of those proceeds went into savings which allows a higher degree of latitude on what it can be spent on.  Based on these numbers about 45% of that will be spent on overhead in your parish.


Here is a summary checklist for you to ask your finance council and Pastor. I would ask (in fact I am asking), but so far I am being ignored:

1. Please break down by maintenance item and date what Parish buildings were fixed and/or improved? What process was used to determine the priority of the fixes and/or improvements? What process was used to defer items?

2. What is the “maintenance accounting change” and why was this change implemented now?

3. What commissions and fees were paid to liquidate Ms. Smith’s estate? To whom were they paid and what process was used to determine who should get the parish’s business?

Tomorrow we will turn back to the diocese as a whole as there are some other interesting areas in their financials to delve into, particularly the bond. After that I will return to Pleasanton’s Capital Campaign as the Fall Town Hall slides create more questions than not.

Whither Pleasanton?

Really confused as to why my request to Pleasanton has gone ignored… maybe I am in the spam folder of the parish council chair and the Pastor!

As I hinted at in last week’s post, some calls around the Diocese have moved the goings on at the Catholic Community of Pleasanton to the top of my study list as I try to put together a full picture of Diocesis Quercopolitana’s health. And right my friends were for suggesting I look at the fair city as an economic indicator of the overall diocese: it appears they are running the second largest capital campaign in the Oakland Diocese and doing so right at the time the Oakland Bishop is raising funds for his own campaign.  And Pleasanton is not just raising any money, it is seeking $10,000,000.00 (I included the zeroes to make the point!) from it’s Parishioners.

You read that right: $10M.

I cannot figure out if this is a second capital campaign in the past three years, or an expansion of one that was already started (this is only generally done when a campaign is going so well there is comfort in raising more). $10M is a staggeringly large sum, even for one of America’s wealthiest cities. To raise this amount, coming out of a recession and  as the Pastor’s own boss runs his own campaign is not just bold, it is brave.

As mentioned previously, I have heard rumors that Pleasanton put together an A-list team of Silicon Valley Executives that met for over a year and a half crafting a strategic plan. That plan, now apparently available, underpins this campaign so I emailed the Pastor and Parish Council Chair asking for a copy. So far silence.

While I try to figure out out to get a copy of the plan (feel free to email me a copy if you have one!) I have been organizing my thoughts around the data from Pleasanton’s two Town Hall meetings from last spring and fall. There are some interesting data points there which I will put in a forthcoming posting.  Things I would like to see from Pleasanton are a clean set of financial statements (just like the Diocese provides) and a copy of the strategic plan, if one exists. If I cannot even get the courtesy of a email reply, this may be a lot to ask though.