Adventures in Generosity

The occasionally coherent ramblings of a Stewardship Advisor in the Church of England

Archive for Financial Matters

Help ! send money now !

I read a letter today that made me angry and sad in equal measure.

The letter was from a vicar, writing to a Parish in another Diocese  as a plea for financial support.

The problem was, the first page of the letter outlined all the heartfelt frustrations of the parochial share system.  This system was in turn characterised as unjust, cumbersome, un democratic and impossibly demanding.  It then went on to outline the ever rising costs of the staff team and the endless need to pay the bills of the church and set these in opposition to the paying of the dreaded ‘Diocesan Tax’. The letter finally invited congregation members to contribute to the church on the basis that this was a distasteful reality that nevertheless had to be faced.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand frustrations around the share system, I am no wholehearted apologist and I do believe that too many Diocese communicate the share principle appalingly badly and provide an inadequate vision of what being a Diocese is.  But at the same time I passionatly believe that the underlying message of mutual support  is a positive one that we should spend serious time and concerted effort reviewing and improving.

To publicly air essentially political frustrations to church members, some of whom may be new to the church, or blissfully unaware of the administrative arrangements of the Church  is in my view deeply damaging for the church concerned and can only lead to disillusionment with the Church as an institution.

But this wasn’t really what upset me, or even surprised me.  What I found so tragic was that here was a letter from a member of the clergy that equated giving to the church wholly and entirely with paying the bills.

It reduced the offeratory to an exercise in taxation.

Lets be clear.  Christian Stewardship has nothing whatsoever to do with ‘keeping the show on the road’.  If Bill Gates turned up tomorrow and agreed carte blanch to pay the entire running costs of every parish church in the country forever more, not one member of the church would be absolved of the responsibility to give, and give sacrificially.

Stewardship is about partnership.  It isn’t just about an occasional donation of cash, it’s about offering all that we are into a relationship with God.

In Genesis 12  Abraham is told by God ‘I will bless you’  that ‘all peoples on earth will be blessed through you’.  Our gifts, be they financial, spiritual or practical are given to us for a purpose.  That purpose is to live out the life that God has called us to and to use our gifts to bring about the transformation in our world that we receive for free through Grace.

When a letter goes out to a congregation that leaves them with the idea that giving is an exercise in paying the bills or is brought about by external demands for tax, it diminishes the discipleship of everyone who reads it.  It is a call, not just to financial disaster, but also to missional mediocrity – in ‘giving to need, rather than needing to give’ we refuse the offer of partnership in the Kingdom that is offered us.

So I have a plea – to any clergy currently pondering an ‘ask’ letter.  Please,  share your frustrations, air them at the deanery, shout at the Archdeacon, bring your concerns to Synod and fight for change, even call your friendly Stewardship Advisor for a good moan and a bit of support.

But please, when you communicate the call to generous living to your congregation, make it about life, make it about love and make it about bringing Gods Kingdom to every corner of His creation.

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Investing or Giving ?

I’m in a quandry.

Other Half is a local councillor and as such is approached from time to time to get involved in all sorts of community action.  It’s one of the great priviledges of the job..

He’s just been sent some information on a new local charity that’s wanting to set up to support the education of children in the care of our local authority.  Starting with the little ones being provided with additional books and pre school support, the fund will aim to provide opportunities to keep cared for children in education as they grow up, and ultimatly support them with bursarys for university. A worthy cause indeed given that less than 4% of looked after children go on to higher education.

We’re being approached as ‘prominent local people’ (sorry, it makes me cringe too!) to become ‘founder donors’ of the new fund.

And there’s the rub.

When we decided to commit to planned regular giving we set up an account, some of the money goes every month to the same causes but we decided to keep some back so that we could give to special appeals when they happened, and we could support this, in fact would love to.

But.

It has to be said that being a ‘founder donor’ of a charity that’s targetting the local great and the good would do no harm at all to OH’s political profile, especially when the basis of the appeal is that founder donors ‘will be invited to a special gala launch’.

SO …

Is is really a charitable gift? should we be using part of our Tithe, which after all is supposed to be sacrificial, or is it in fact an investment for us as much as for the charity ?

We could give anonymously.  There’s a thought, problem solved.

But.

As a fundraiser I understand that for the charity, the fact that we are supporting it is as important (in fact probably more important) as the gift, and I know how I would feel as a fundraiser if an opportunity for raising the profile of my cause was lost because of pompous and abstract moralising.

I’m pretty much sold on the fund being a good idea, and I’m certain that I’d want to support it regardless of it’s political benefits for OH – am I deluding myself ? Am I just being a pompous arse ?  I just can’t shake the image of the rich bloke rattling up to the temple with trumpet fanfares, silently followed by that widow ….

Would really appreciate your thoughts.

Parish Funding Newsletter

Latest newsletter for Parish Giving Officers et al is available Parish Funding News January 2011.

Bit of a dry edition I’m afraid – much information about tax to be got out at this time of year (and especially this year !) , but feel free to nick any of the info for your own purposes if it will help.

Headline I guess is the end of Gift Aid Transitional Relief – if your PCC don’t already know this they need to know it now !

On wedding lists …

It is very common among my peer group (middle class, university educated, professional types) for couples to get married in their late twenties or early thirties.  It seems to make sense,  to take time to get to know our own minds, develop a career and a network of friends and establish our own identities before we share them with another.  More often than not, when we do get married, we’ve been living with our intended for some time, getting to know each other and setting up home together with all that entails.

For all the advantages though, the cohabitation ‘try before you buy’ approach does rather leave ones family with a bit of a conundrum.  What do you buy the couple who have everything ?  The traditional wedding list was designed specifically to provide all those essentials that a newly wed couple would need in their new home.  But frankly, by the time most of us tied the knot we already had quite enough towels, pots, pans, cutlery, dinner plates, glasses (lots of those in our case !) etc.

There are alternatives – some I know went for the ‘we can’t afford a honeymoon’ wedding list – the extortion racket that is the modern wedding industry generally means that by the time you’ve paid for a half decent venue, a frock, some flowers and a bit of cake you’ve probably got enough left for a wet weekend in Bognor – so guests were encouraged to purchase holiday vouchers to ensure the newlyweds got away from it all for a suitably romantic start to married life.

But not everyone has this problem, and frankly, the whole ‘wedding gifts for the sake of it’ thing isn’t very in keeping with the current Zeitgeist now is it.

So I was thinking, and would like to suggest to any couples currently contemplating nuptials, why not buck the trend and set a new kind of example ?  I heard recently of a couple who asked their guests to make a donation to charity water.  Or perhaps in lieu of those dreadful sugared almonds go for Oxfam unwrapped gifts as table favours.

If the happy couple were lucky enough to have guests with the finanical wherewithall they could even suggest a modest contribution to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – especially if they had a particular fondness for Africa.

Just a thought …

Conspiracy of Freedom

Was put onto this site yesterday by the ever lovely Changing Worship.  Fabulous videos asking some searching questions about the way we live today.  Thought provoking materials presented in an accesible format to really get the conversation started.

Event news

Attended a ‘Community Cascade’ event today on ‘Resourcing your faith building’.

Have to admit a tad of scepticism before hand – CC is a partnership between all the CVS’s in West Yorks (thats councils for voluntary services to those fortunate enough not to have to know these things).

CVS’s not in my experience all that good at dealing with Faith organisations unless said groups keep fairly quite about the Faith in question.

However, an excellent and informative day.  Morning Workshop was on Energy Sustainability and was full of incredibly useful stuff on how to monitor, audit, manage and reduce energy costs.  The chap giving the presentation had experience of energy audits in churches so clearly had an understanding of the limits and idiosyncracies involved in historic and archaic buildings.  I will post his presentation up when I get a copy.

He’s also agreed to come to our Autumn Training day so watch this space.

Afternoon session was on Marketing – got some good pointers and materials but presenter seemed a bit phased by the whole ‘faith building’ thing – so no specific strategies there – and she managed to alienate half the room (the Anglican half anyway) by saying that our message should make it clear that ‘you’re not just safe and comfortable’ hmmmmmmmmm.

Lies, damn lies and ….

Statistics.
I’ve started following @YouGov (the poll people) on Twitter. So far today I have learned two things:

First; 20% of consumers aspire to own something made by Prada – they do not specify what, which I think tells you all you need to know about ‘designer’ culture.

Second;10% of us can no longer afford to buy organic.

The poll appears to be silent on the percentage of people who couldn’t afford to buy organic in the first instance and does not elucidate on how many of these ‘organic’ consumers have instead switched to buying the seed and growing organic instead.

I’ve also learned that more women than men have bought a smartphone in the last 6 months – pressumably as consolation for not being able to afford the Prada.

These statistics are of course meaningless in isolation, but the fact that such questions are being posed during what the papers now call

‘THE WORST FINANCIAL CRISIS IN GLOBAL HISTORY EVER AND THAT INCLUDES THE GREAT DEPRESSION’

suggests to me that poverty is a somewhat relative term and that I should listen far less when people tell me that the reason giving is down is because everyone is broke.