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Do you pay under the table?

The fire inspector has ordered some costly upgrades at the financially struggling church where you work as an administrator. A parishioner who has been unemployed for several months offers to do the work at a good price. But he wants to be paid in cash so his employment insurance benefits aren’t affected. Do you agree?

By Connie denBok and Bob Giuliano

The church is broke. My job is teetering on the edge of the budget. The property committee has gone AWOL. The trustees are inactive. Members of the church are unemployed and struggling to pay their own bills. Just as things couldn’t get any worse,
a solution has dropped into my
lap. Employment insurance fraud doesn’t count if it helps the church, right? And it would be way better than trying to bribe the fire inspector with leftover bazaar cookies, which was my fallback plan.

Oh dear, so much is wrong with this scenario. I’m working in the middle of a total systems breakdown. What the fire inspector found is just the outer manifestation of deeper malaise. New crash bars on the fire doors can’t cure what ails us.

The macro issue is years of dwindling membership and an aging congregation. I am going to urge my minister, the elders and anyone else who has a spark of life left in them to investigate some of the processes designed to re-engineer health into a congregation’s life and mission.

On a micro level, I’m willing to initiate a meeting of the Board chair, treasurer, trustees and property committee to talk about functional structures that will bring people, resources and problems together. Ethics is part of a healthy system, not a quick fix.

I think hiring this church member is good for everyone. But there are ways to increase his income legally over and above his employment insurance claim. We can pay for part-time work up to a limit, or we can pay a weekly full-time wage so the number of weeks in his claim will not be affected. He wins, the church wins, the building is safer, the fire inspector is satisfied — and maybe we can recapture the vision of what God has placed us in this community to do. I’m pretty sure it’s something more than running an EI scam to keep the building open.

Author's photo
Rev. Bob Giuliano is a retired minister who lives in Owen Sound, Ont.

Yikes!” I say to him. “What a deal and what a conflict you have created for me.”

I tell him that I know employment insurance is barely enough to live on. If his wife weren’t working, they would be in a cold sweat. I know that not working drives him crazy. And I know that he would do a
good job.

I want him to know that there are two other guys in the church who are unemployed. One of these men is so ashamed that he won’t come to church. There may be others who are concealing their unemployment.

I ask how we might involve those guys in this project. If he would consider a low-paying job for everyone within the limits of the EI guidelines, that might put all our unemployed people to work.

Yesterday, I was talking to a small business contractor who is also a member of our church. He has seven young people working for him. He is having a hard time getting jobs to keep them employed. He wondered about the work that has to be done on the church and whether we were going to take bids on it.

This is a church. We make decisions together, exploring not only how to get the job done right, but how this opportunity for work can be shared.

I tell him that I want to call these people together to see how they might resolve not only the work to be done, but how the church can do business in a fair and equitable way. It will take time, but it is an important opportunity for us to think and to work together like a church.

Ultimately, I will take their suggestions to the property committee and tell them what I recommend. We will take that decision to the congregation.

Then we will have a dance with our band and a potluck dinner to celebrate the work being done. It will be a party for everyone with a celebration of the Eucharist.

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