Adventures in Generosity

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

An excellent post and a model for all our churches – whether minsters, tiny rural or UPA – generosity isn’t just a privilege of the succesful – it’s for everyone

Discipleship Blog

  
I believe The Belfrey is called by God to be a resource church. Some people call that a MinsterChurch. Others use different language. The phraseology isn’t crucial. The important thing is that we resource others. To be a resource church, certain values need to be in place. And the most important one is the value of generosity.

Here’s what Proverbs 11:24-25 says about generosity:

‘One person gives freely, yet gains more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.’

I had a meeting with John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York earlier in the year where we talked about the vision of The Belfrey. We chatted about the kind of church we’ve been in the past and the kind of church we should be in the future. We particularly talked about us increasingly becoming a resource…

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Give up Bad Coffee for Lent – again !

It has been suggested that now might be a good time to resurrect last years #GUBC4L campaign.
I couldn’t agree more – so here, by way of a reminder is my original post on all things hospitable (or not) in church.

https://parishgiving.wordpress.com/2011/03/09/trouble-brewing/
Last night I was dividing up our ‘Herman the German’ friendship cake with my 6 year old – who was curious to find out where the first Herman came from, and how the original ‘starter’ was made – when I told him this was a great mystery and nobody seems to know he came up with what to him seemed the obvious answer:
God made the first friendship cake of course – and all the many thousands of little baby Hermans currently circulating are in fact born of that one proto Herman – gifted to us by our Creator as an opportunity to share friendship, a little generosity and a big slab of fruit cake with our friends.
So, this morning I made a decision – we have 3 Hermans to give away – two will be going to friends, but I think the third might well find it’s way to a neighbour I don’t know particularly well – who knows where one simple gesture of hospitality and sharing might lead ?

Adventures in Generosity

Ever had one of those conversations where you thought you were talking about one thing but it turned out that what you were actually talking about was something else entirely ?

Twitter went a bit manic today when a seemingly inoccuous discussion about Coffee and its general quality in church uncovered a seemingly bottomless well of discontent and frustration – which it turns out isn’t really about coffee at all !

The collective conversation which ensued is too lengthy to repeat here – suffice to say that the potential for a book exploring the subject in-depth was mooted as a possibility. But in a nutshell the flow of the conversation went something like this:

A Rev. twitter buddy of mine was in trouble with member or members of her church because the coffee being served at lent groups had been switched from instant to ‘proper coffee’ !!!

Trivial, yes ?…

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Storing up trouble …

Those who follow my twitter stream may have witnessed me getting somewhat ‘snippy’ at Scope last night.  Having been chugged on my doorstep at 8.50pm on the coldest night of the year I suggested to them, via Twitter that this might not be the best way to build relationships with potential donors.  I got a response from them almost immediately apologising for ‘disturbing me’ and asking me for my address so that they could avoid doing so in future.

Which somewhat misses the point.

I wasn’t upset at the disturbance – let’s face it 30 seconds on the doorstep was hardly going to make an impact on my evening. What I was trying to say was that seeing a clearly idealistic 20 yr old freezing to death on my doorstep for what I assume is a commission does nothing to enhance my opinion of Scope.  The fact that the girl then started telling me about Scope ‘working with disabled children’ – clearly from a script designed to appeal to the emotional buttons of someone who has children (note the children’s toys in our yard) created still further disappointment.  Ok I’m unusual because I’m ‘in the trade’ as it were, but I am also informed enough to know that Scope do excellent work with people of all ages – and I therefore know that this script is designed to emphasise the emotionally and socially acceptable work of Scope without troubling the potential donor with anything like, you know, the facts, the underlying issues or indeed the cause for which Scope stands (and which might turn off a potential donor).

You see, we have a problem which has been growing worse over the last decade and which impacts directly on my work , and is exemplified by my encounter last night.  We have allowed fundraising to become an industry in its own right, and as industrial practices have come in, and we have become more and more strategically sophisticated in our understanding of what makes people give – we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture.

We know that emotional and engaging stories motivate people to give, we know that chugging produces a rate of return for the charity which is predictable and measurable and we know that the loss of good will that accompanies these practices is outweighed, at least in the short term, by the financial returns which Fundraising Managers and Directors can then gleefully report to their trustees as success.

But we have grasped these short term measurable gains at the cost, in my opinion, of the long term health and generosity of our nation.

We have trained donors that charity is only worth supporting if it pushes our emotional buttons.  That giving is something we do to make us feel good about ourselves when we hear a sad story or see a doe eyed picture of a starving ‘victim’.  We have also allowed potential donors – and therefore everyone, to believe that a small token gesture somehow ‘solves’ underlying problems, when rather it ‘absolves’ us of having to truly consider the issues.  “ a small gift of £2 per month” allows us to retreat from our duty to our communities without the inconvenience of having to consider how what we have, and what we choose to give and to keep, impacts on the rest of our world.  There is no sense in this transaction that giving is a benefit to the giver, no sense that how we give, how much we give and why we give is something we should take seriously if we are to build a better society and improve our relationship with our material wealth.

The more people are encouraged to ‘Give £5 to save the world’, the more they give on the doorstep out of sympathy for the freezing chugger, or because they like the latest script; the less engaged they will become in how much we actually have, how much we could actually do if we acted in a truly generous way.  Instead the new donor, having filled in the direct debit, closes the door on the problem and experiences a short lived warm glow which divorces her still further from the real need and the real sacrifice needed to heal our world.

True generosity does not start with sympathy for the victim, it starts with ourselves.  It is a recognition that we have been given much and that the truly human, the truly fulfilling response to that gift is to share it whole heartedly in pursuit of building better relationships with one another –  rather than simply in response to a growing sense of guilt and disconnection from our fellow man.

I hope that we as fundraising professionals will come to recognise the long term impact of what we do, and I hope we do it before it is too late and we are faced with a generation of ‘donors’ only capable of generosity when they are guilted into it.

Entering the debate.

I was asked two questions this week at PCC’s that stuck out for me:

The first; “but there’s only a few of us, even if we give much more we can’t keep this place going – what we really need is bums on seats – so how do we get that ?”

The second; “how can we possibly talk about giving money away in a recession ?”

The two might not seem all that closely related, but actually I think they might be – and I think, watching current developments in and around St Paul’s Cathedral this week – it’s time we put two and two together.

You see, I think that now is the perfect time to be talking about giving.  The current recession/depression/economic meltdown – whatever you call it, is final, concrete, proof of what happens when we place our faith in the material.  Easy credit, pensions, life savings, stuff – it promises so very very much security – and can deliver none of it.  So, isn’t now the time to declare our independence – to put money back in it’s place and say – thanks, but no thanks.  And a good place to start is by taking some of that cold, unfeeling cash – and giving it away – to those who need it more than we do.

This week, with the eyes of the worlds media focused upon it, the Church establishment had an opportunity to widen the debate and offer another possibility.  That we might have got it horribly wrong.  That the answer is neither anti-capitalism, anarchy, free sandals for all (as the protesters might have it) nor is it more quantitative easing, austerity measures and the IMF as the politicians want us to believe, nor is it more capitalism, freedom from regulation and bigger better hedge funds, as the City claims – the answer is, in fact, in where we place our trust – in the fickle hands of Mammon or in the loving embrace of God ?

Perhaps, if we were less timid, and less willing to hang on to our own establishment credentials, we might actually have something positive to bring to this debate – and perhaps then we might see a few more bums on seats; not in our churches, but in the Kingdom we so badly need to bring to our world.

A risky business

Sacrifice – it’s an interesting word and one that I come back to a lot in my line of work.  We talk about ‘Sacrificial’ giving all the time, but this weekend at Greenbelt I’ve had cause to reflect on what it actually means, both to me personally, in my work and to the parishes I support.

It’s a big word.  It’s a scary word and the tendency is to downplay it – Sacrifice, we tell ourselves, means how much a thing inconveniences us.  My giving is sacrificial because it means I go without some of the material pleasures  of life.  My volunteering is sacrificial because it is time that I could have given to my friends, my family or to catching up with Dr Who on iplayer.

But what I have heard time and time again this weekend isn’t about inconvenience, it isn’t about how many hours I spend in terminally dull PCC meetings, it isn’t about getting up at stupid o clock to be at a church on the other side of the Diocese for their 9.30 Mass, it isn’t about the percentage of my income I give away.

True sacrifice costs more, and less, than that.  True sacrifice exposes us, it opens up our very being and offers it to others – it costs us, at the very core of our soul.  Living sacrificially isn’t about time, or talents, or treasure.  Sacrificial living calls us to expose ourselves, to show the Self that God sees to the world and to offer it, to invite others to share in it.

This is true generosity, the generosity of the spirit, the generosity that risks all of ourselves and offers it, not just to God, but to each other.  When we are truly ourselves, when we place that true self in Gods hands, we are freed from the day to day inconveniences and, though it is risky, it might hurt, it might terrify and it WILL cost – we are freed to fully experience the person God has given us to be in sharing it with others.

Greenbelt for me this weekend was a very ‘raw’ place – where masks were dropped, where risks were taken and where, through the sacrificial generosity of one another, we took small steps closer to the God who dwells in the core of each of us.

 

 

Greenbelt – there’s no place like Home

There is so very much to say about my Greenbelt 11 experience this weekend that I find myself almost lost for words (a miracle in itself, I know).  Much of the experience has been so very intensly personal and game changing that I’m not quite ready to put it out there yet.  But I just wanted to get some initial thoughts down before my head explodes completely.

From the moment I arrived (late) to the Blessed eucharist, just in time for communion, and heard the strains of my favourite ‘you’ve got the love’ I knew that I was Home.  Others have already mentioned how amazing that opener was but just to add to the general clamour – can we do that again next year please please please with a cherry on top?

And the theme of Home this year could not have been more perfect – as someone just pointed out on Twitter – I feel the need for a pair of ruby slippers because 12 months just seems like a tragically long time to be separated from that slightly soggy field in Cheltenham and from the crazy family of oddball relatives who ‘live’ there.

Every talk, random or planned, has resonated this weekend, I’ve not heard a bad piece of music, the random conversations with strangers (and the even randomer ones with friends) have been a joy, I’ve reconnected with my family, I’ve reconnected with myself and, most significantly I’ve reconnected with God through the amazing, diverse, bizarre, wonderful, random and; lets be honest; by Monday; slightly smelly, collection of 23,000 people with whom I shared the experience.

You’re all bloody lovely – now get in the bath because your making the place look untidy.

See you next year.

Stewardship Soundings

To blog or not to blog – actually, I’d like to ask a question.

On Tuesday of this week I had a meeting, which could best be described as ‘possibly the most depressing conversation of my career’.

I have now moved on however and, ever the optimist, have chosen to take from it a selection of possible ways forward with regards to how we approach this whole giving thing here in the Jolly old Diocese of Wakefield ™.

OPTION 1

My initial suggestion was that in the 12 months leading to our 125 Anniversay we ought to have a focus on Stewardship, or more broadly on Generosity; based on recent years of Mission Action Planning, which have borne much fruit but which have now begun to wane a little (due to lack of resources amongst other things) .  Our year would not simply focus on the ‘paying the bills’ ‘getting more cash’ approach but would look at what it means to be a generous Christian, the theme could be looked at through the lense of our work in the community, our links with Africa, through building up and developing our volunteer force, through thanksgiving, through liturgy and study and, yes, through campaigns to help parishes find the resources to fulfil their dreams, it would bring together the mission team, finance, communications, liturgy, prayer and spirituality and the lovely volunteer PGO’s  -and underpinning it all would be a year of prayer for growing Generosity in all aspects of our discipleship.

Knowing that ‘Diocesan Initiative Fatigue’ is an ailment virulent on my patch I did however recognise that in order to be of any use the theme would have to be broad and the options for engagement many so as to meet each parish on its own terms. A challenging year lay ahead to pull these threads together – or so I thought.

However, for some, in these depressing and negative times, even this was at risk of being dismissed as overburdensome and centralised – and another way forward was requested.

So lets look at option 2 –  what if I shift focus away from ‘the Big Diocesan Picture’ and instead focus energy on specific parishes, spending most of my time working one to one on campaigns.  To be honest, I like this idea because such campaigns always have an impact, the planning process is great fun (I love meeting parishes) and when it’s all over I can point to a tick in a box as evidence of a job well done.  The major problem with the approach is the average campaign requires 6 visits, often more, from me, I still have other elements of the day job todo and in most cases, colleagues in other Diocese  reckon on a comforable maximum of 25 – 30 such campaigns in a year.  The campaigns have an impact in the parish, but barely scratch the surface at a Diocesan level and can only really happen once every 5 years or so if I am to cover the whole patch and still see the bigger picture.

Option 3 came from a most unexpected quarter, and appeals greatly to me – what if, it was suggested, I book a WHOLE WEEK in one parish ? spending time with clergy,wardens,pcc,volunteers, maybe a Sunday sermon slot – pulling together mission, vision, budget and communication (and a selection of other goodies) – I could really ‘get along side’ the parish ‘make them feel loved’ – and the often daunting thought of 6 months of planning a campaign could be condensed into an enticing fortnight of focus.  Again, bonus for me, time in the parishes, measurable results, boxes ticked – but again, lets say, 20 parishes a year (I do need to see my desk occasionally, not to mention my family).

When I took on this job it was with a remit to provide resources to enable the whole Diocese to grow in its giving – Parish Giving Officers Networks, training seminars and conferences, newsletters, website, deliberatly fewer campaigns – all focused up to now on a Diocese wide, strategic approach – this week was the first time that I’ve heard that remit challenged – and it’s interesting because it chimes with something that came up last week at the National Stewardship Conference – perhaps the time has come to take stock and reflect a little …

So, I’m putting it out there – I know fellow Stewardship types occasionally pass this way, and I always value the opinion of the punters in the pews (and, ok, I admit it, the clergy often come out with some sense) what would you say was your favourite option of the 3 ? do you have any other suggestions to offer ?

Please bear in mind that if the answer is ‘all of the above’ (as it was here at CH towers ) then I would truly appreciate the blueprints to the TARDIS which I will assume must be in your possession.

I look forward to hearing from you.