California state convention eliminates six staff positions mid-year

FRESNO, Calif. (BP)—At the behest of the executive board of the California Southern Baptist Convention (CSBC), Executive Director Pete Ramirez initiated conversations with CSBC staff members in January, explaining the realities of the state’s financial situation. On Monday, June 17, Ramirez announced that six positions were being eliminated, two by voluntary retirement.

Ramirez had previously held one-on-one meetings with approximately a dozen convention staff members to inform them that if Cooperative Program (CP) giving trends did not increase, they would be at risk of elimination while assuring them that there would be sufficient lead time for those who would prefer to retire or pursue other employment.

Year-to-date CP income has fallen short of the goal by $170,000 or 7%.

In his response to the staff reduction, Ramirez shared, “We have used reserves the last 3 years to cover CP decline. The current [layoffs] will assist us in 2025 to assure that, as long as CP stays the same, we will not have to continue to depend on these reserves. The stewardship that God has given me as the executive director in assuring we continue to have a healthy and sustainable future is a heavy burden. If it were not for CP, our ability to support the church, and support other CSBC organizations would suffer.”

While staff cuts are always difficult, a new path may emerge for Ramirez in light of the “Hear the Heart” listening sessions, which are still in the works and whose fruit is not yet fully discovered.

“We may be running lean and nimble for now, but I have confidence in the CSBC team to resource our churches in migrant work, missions, disaster relief, church health & compliance, evangelism, and I am sure we are the strongest partner for Send Network California and church planting,” Ramirez continued.

Richard Spring, pastor of Living Hope Church in Hesperia and Chair of the finance committee of the executive board, spoke to the CP shortfall. “The reality is that [the] Cooperative Program has been declining, but the Lord provided through investment income with the Foundation. We cannot always, nor should we, rely on those returns to be enough to bridge the gap. We know that many churches are struggling financially due to the economy and the CSBC is being proactive in response to the reduced amount given. We would ask them to prayerfully consider continuing to give to the Cooperative Program. It is the life blood of our mission to reach California with the gospel. We ARE better together, not only in mission, but financially as well.”

Karen Ehrlich, who has served as the convention receptionist in the Business Services Department for 16 years, voluntarily chose to retire. That position will not be refilled. “CSBC has been tremendously blessed to have had Karen serve at our convention for all these years. She was the first voice you heard either on the phone or when you walked into the building, and she made everyone, guests and staff alike, feel welcome. I know I speak for everyone when I say she will be missed,” said Marc Tempesta, CSBC’s Chief Financial Officer.

Katheryn Vana, Ministry Assistant for the Church Matters department, has also decided to retire to care for a family member requiring assistance. This position will not be filled. Of Vana’s announcement, Jason Robertson said, “Occasionally, you encounter someone in an organization who is not only highly competent but also possesses deep organizational knowledge. Katheryn is one such person. She is capable of accomplishing any task and seems to know something about every church’s context and legacy within the CSBC. Her wisdom, energy, and joyful attitude fueled our mission. She made our team feel empowered to bless everyone.”

The four other positions being eliminated in the restructure will include:

  1. Send Network California Ministry Assistant
  2. Business Services Ministry Assistant
  3. Disaster Relief Coordinator
  4. Communications Department Marketing Coordinator

With these six positions, along with the retirement of Beth Ketcheside, executive assistant to the executive office, which was not a scheduled cut but replaced with a part-time assistant, the board is hopeful this will help balance the ratio between income and expenditures for 2024. Reflecting on Ketcheside’s tenure, Ramirez said, “Beth had the purest of servant’s heart. She always did. It didn’t matter who you were. She was always quick and ready to help. Whether you were from inside or outside of the building, it didn’t matter. It was one of the most beautiful things about her.”

Shawn Beaty, Pastor of Clovis Hills Church and chair of the executive board, has expressed a clear commitment to being open with California Southern Baptist leaders regarding the economic state of the convention while also being prayerful for those in the family affected by the financial realities.

“As a chair of the CSBC executive board, we are committed to fiscal responsibility and transparency. It’s with an incredibly heavy heart that we make difficult decisions about our brother’s and sister’s ministry, and livelihood. Because of the drop in CP giving, we have to respond. It is our prayer and hope for everyone affected by these decisions that the Lord moves them to an even better assignment as they serve Him with their lives. We are incredibly grateful for the service that they’ve given this convention and even more so to the kingdom.”

CSBC ministry teams are now being tasked to consider cost-saving alternatives to staffing, which could include part-time, student internship programs, or recruiting volunteer help.

At the September 2023 meeting, the executive board began discussing budgetary concerns resulting from decreasing CP income.

The 2023 anticipated budget totaled $6,000.000, while actual income fell by $660,570, netting CSBC only $5,339,430. The most significant decrease in CP came in the fourth quarter of 2023. Earnings from CSBC’s investments managed by the Baptist Foundation of California helped bridge the gap in 2023. Still, according to Tempesta, “the reality is CSBC must adapt to live within the means provided by the CP. This means creating a budget that is sustainable and not dependent on market performance and other income sources.”

The 2024 CP budget of $5,700,000 was accepted by the Board in September 2023 and by the Messengers that October.

Tempesta further explained, “The 2024 CSBC Budget includes $5,700,000 of CP, as well as approximately $300,000 of reserves with the hope that CP would increase in 2024. Given the fourth quarter 2023 CP results as well as the year-to-date receipts in 2024, it became clear that changes needed to be made.”

In addition to layoffs, the executive board has spoken publicly about the potential of reducing the national percentage of Cooperative Giving funds. However, a final decision has yet to be made.

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