The office of bishop is called to oversight of all our synodical ministries, including Briarwood Retreat Center. This oversight includes communicating key decisions to the synod. I write today to inform you the Rev. Phil Geleske has chosen to retire as Executive Director of Briarwood.
This decision is strategic, has come after much prayer and conversation, and demonstrates Phil’s continued commitment and leadership. It is no secret throughout its history Briarwood has continually dealt with financial challenges, particularly cash flow. I became intimately aware of these challenges prior to my election when I served as Briarwood board chair, as well as the many efforts to address them. Through the years, programming has been improved, marketing efforts increased, generous donors have supported new facilities and resources (such as the leadership center and climbing wall). However, at the end of each year, the trend of expenses outpacing even increasing revenues continued.
Examining this challenge, Phil, along with staff and board, discerned the best strategy for Briarwood’s future sustainability is for him to retire. This retirement allows the board to combine the operations and executive director positions, achieving significant cost savings in staffing, while minimizing impact to day to day operations. Matt Baumhardt has been named Acting Director.
This decision is a bold move recognizing that the staffing model at Briarwood needed to be changed and sized more appropriately. By prioritizing operations, this decision commits us to continuing to grow and provide excellent programming for all our guests throughout the year. It also allows the ministry to be a faithful steward of the past, current, and future gifts of supporters.
I have expressed my thanks to Phil personally and now do so publically for his leadership. We will miss his considerable gifts in managing the staff, increasing notoriety of Briarwood in the community, and strong relations with donors and supporters. Addressing these areas will require increased commitment by the board, as well as from myself and synod staff. We are prepared to do so.
Adaptive change requires us to think differently. We cannot apply the same solutions and expect different results. This decision, partnered with your continued support of Briarwood, gives me great hope for the future. Please know I am committed to the outcome that soon we will be able to say that Briarwood has achieved a model for financial sustainability that mirrors its excellence in programs.
Please express your gratitude and support to Phil, the Briarwood Board, and staff for this faithful work. Please also show your unwavering commitment to the people, of all ages, who experience God in this unique setting by continuing to participate in the programming and financially supporting Briarwood.
Disciples of Christ are called to faithful stewardship of the resources we have been entrusted with. This decision is another example of such faithful stewardship. May God bless you, thank you for your support, and as always, we are…
In Mission Together,
Bishop Erik K. J. Gronberg, PhD
After weeks of prayer, reflection and conversations with Bishop Gronberg, Synod leaders and the Executive Committee of the Briarwood Board, It is with a very heavy heart that I announce I will be retiring on March 1, 2018, as Executive Director of Briarwood.
I was so pleased to share with everyone that we began last year with such promise and midway through the year it appeared growth in both program and hosted ministries were starting to have a positive impact on the financial position of Briarwood. As the year drew to a close, however once again our expenses outpaced our revenue and the annual cash flow challenge returned.
Our cash flow challenges are truly unacceptable and steps are being taken to “right size” our ministry so that expenses are more in line with revenue. To that end we are increasing our marketing efforts to reach out to others so our surrounding community is given every opportunity to experience the love of God within the beauty of Briarwood. We are offering only 4 weeks of overnight camp this summer and 3 weeks of day camp in congregations and reducing our summer staff. We are also selling 10 acres of land that is not currently used to pay off remaining debt.
While I remain hopeful that this “right sizing” effort will sufficiently address the cash flow needs, I am concerned that failure to hit our goals in the near future will seriously jeopardize the future sustainability of our ministry. Since the expense of my compensation, both salary and benefits, is not only significant but is also the only expense that is not critical to the day-to-day tasks of this ministry, I have decided to save Briarwood the expenses of my compensation and retire. This reduction in expenses should be more than adequate to meet our cash flow needs and give the Briarwood Board the opportunity to reorganize our entire administrative staff to fit within the constraints of our anticipated revenue.
I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the ministry at Briarwood. I have had the honor and privilege of working with wonderful people who serve on the Briarwood Ministry Team and countless volunteers who have given their time, talent and treasures in support of this life changing ministry. I will miss my daily involvement with this ministry but I will continue to offer my prayers and support for this ministry in any way deemed appropriate.
I have every confidence that I am leaving the ministry in good and capable hands. While we are currently undergoing change to our program team, the people who remain in place are extremely talented, committed and hard working. I do invite your prayers for, and encourage your continued support of, the team at Briarwood and our overall ministry.
I want to be clear that my decision to retire is a decision I am making for what I believe is in the best interest of Briarwood’s ministry. I want to assure the Board, our Bishop and our many supporters that I remain committed to this ministry. I will be available to share information, answer questions and provide whatever assistance is helpful as Briarwood moves forward. I also want to offer assurances that I will remain an advocate for Briarwood’s ministry as I continue my service in the church as retired clergy.
I want to thank everyone, particularly the current and former members of our Board of Directors, Bishop Erik Gronberg, retired Bishop Kevin Kanouse and all of our supporters for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime to serve a ministry that I dearly love and for the opportunity to work daily with people devoted to sharing God’s love in life changing ways.
I pray that God bless the ministry at Briarwood and guide us all as we continue lives of faith and service.