Dear People’s people,
Many of you received an email on Christmas morning from someone pretending to be me.
‘Good morning, are you available?
Email me as soon as you get my message.
Rev. Rachel Lonberg’
Those of you who responded were then asked
to buy iTunes gift cards and send the codes from them, supposedly to cheer ‘a friend’ in the hospital undergoing treatment for cancer.
This scam makes me furious. It undermines the trust you have in me and in the role of minister.
I think very carefully about how and why I invite you to be generous with your time and money and whose talents might best meet a particular need—and this scam preys upon that. It makes me sad that the integrity of our relationship can be used to take advantage of your trust and cost you money.
This scam also made me deeply worried about the security of our email systems and databases at the church. How did these scammers get so many of your email addresses anyway? After conversations with people wiser about technology than me, I can say with confidence that People’s databases were not hacked. The information you entrust to us, including your addresses and the details of how you contribute money to the church, are secure.
How do we know this? One of the people who reached out to me to ask about the strange email she received was the adult child of a church member. She and I have never communicated by email (only by phone). No one else on the church staff has communicated with her by email and we have no record of her email address anywhere.
This leads us to suspect that a People’s person’s email was hacked and contact list copied. Once the scammers saw a ‘Rev.’ in the contact list, they waited until Christmas morning to send out the scam email to everyone else in the contact list. The People’s people (and at least one adult child of a People’s person) who received that email tried to figure out if it was real, while the non-People’s people ignored it like we ignore so much of the spam email that comes our way.
Going forward, I hope you all continue to be the question-asking people that you are, making sure that something is real before you respond. If you ever get an email from me (or anyone else) that seems off, please call me (or them) to check in. Know that I will never ask you for gift cards. We have a minister’s discretionary fund that I access to help people in difficult situations when small amounts of money could make a big difference. Should someone in our church have an urgent need, I will turn to that fund. And thanks to so many of you who generously contributed to the minister’s discretionary fund at our Christmas Eve service.
While it was nice to receive emails and phone calls from a few dozen of you on Christmas and the days after, I hope our church is never hit by such a scam again.
See you in church,
P.S. I will be out of town January 29-February 4, visiting my grandmother. I will be away from email, but can be reached by phone if you need me.
People’s Church by the Numbers
We just did our annual member count (which the UUA requires us to submit every February).
Our membership is 256, up from 254 at this time last year. Over the past year, we lost 15 members (3 deaths, 4 resignations, and 8 “fade aways” – people who haven’t participated in congregational life in 18 months). We had 17 people sign the Bond of Union and join the church. (An average “churn rate” for church membership is 5-10% a year. We are at 6%.)
Our religious education enrollment increased from 150 to 155. About 50 children and youth attend church each week. (This is the first year child and youth attendance was asked for.)
Overall, Sunday attendance is down slightly, from an average of 199 last year to 192 this year.
We were also asked to submit financial information, about the fiscal year that ended in June 2019. Comparisons of note include that our pledge income was down slightly, from $282,000 to $277,000 while our pledging units (the number of individuals and families making formal pledges) increased from 160 to 164. Our endowment and reserves increased from $592,000 to $623,000 and our long-term debt decreased from $302,000 to $275,000.
To me, this looks like a portrait of a healthy church.