The Rev. Dr. Joe Clifford of First Presbyterian, Dallas. photography by Elizabeth Lavin

Big Churches, Big Business

Religion is a big deal in North Texas, and these major local congregations prove it with multimillion-dollar decisions.

Executive Director Christopher Thomas and Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson of The Cathedral of Hope. photography by Elizabeth Lavin

The Cathedral of Hope, Dallas

Members: 4,000
Staff: 35
Budget: $2.5 million-$3 million

Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson knows all about facing challenges in her chosen profession. The Southern Methodist University Perkins School of Theology graduate is one of the few female senior pastors in North Texas and leads her 4,000-member church, the world’s largest predominantly GLBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people) congregation.

After taking over from popular 20-year senior pastor Michael Piazzi in 2005, Hudson found she was sailing into financial storms by late 2007.
“I could tell we would be facing hard times, so I formed a church committee and put everything on the table to be cut, including The Peace Center,” she says, referring to a $5.2 million church facility that survived and is scheduled to open later this year.

Ultimately Hudson was forced to impose layoffs in both 2008 and 2009, along with pay cuts­—some very large—for most of the employees who remained.

“We try to be professional, yet compassionate,” she says. ”The difference between churches and business is that we wait longer than most would have before coming to that decision. And then we were always asking, is there another way? Sadly, for us, there wasn’t.

“To a person, the people laid off were really hurt, so I don’t know if there is a really good spiritual way to do it,” Hudson says.

Christopher Thomas, a Texas Christian University Brite Seminary degree student who serves as executive director, said that online giving has saved Cathedral of Hope from even worse financial trouble.

“We are almost at 50 percent online giving now, and that has greatly helped us,” Thomas says. “We are loath to cancel services because of the summertime slump, but the online givers allow us a consistent stream of income when we do.”

While both Thomas and Hudson said the outlook for Cathedral of Hope is cautiously optimistic, Hudson admits that getting the finances in line is an ongoing challenge.

“Every morning coming into work, I’m listening to the news on NPR,” she says. “Sometimes I’m listening so hard to the business outlook, I can hardly drive.”