Adventures in Generosity

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

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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.

An awesome week closes with a rude awakening

So clearly the week was a great success – I’ve not had chance to put digit to keyboard since Tuesday, and I was certainly looking forward to getting home and reflecting on some of the inspiring, insightful and challenging topics that have been filling my week.

I was particularly excited to share with you  my new favourite phrase – Reckless  Generosity and tell you how moved and inspired I was hearing about the experience of Christians working in Africa – with people who have little in the way of material wealth but are truly and joyfully, some might say insanely generous with everything they have.

I was also inspired to hear about the mission of churches in this country and challenged to take the message of mission focused stewardship back to my parishes.

But instead I find myself sat before you unable to express any of this joy, in fact unable to write about anything but deep unease and outright distress having discovered just how shallow my own generosity really is.

Our Careforce worker, Beth, is leaving after a year with us and I attended a family bring and share supper down at Church last night.  As you will know, Bring and Share always produces a table heaving with more food than any of us could hope to finish and we were just beginning to tuck into the banquet when we were joined be an unexpected guest.

I could tell you that my (our) response was down to genuine fear – the Vicar informed me quietly that he had been involved with the gentleman in the past and that he had just had a short term in prison as a result of a fight.  I could tell you that I feared that engaging with him as he sat at our table would place my children and those of my friends in danger.  But lets face it, if anyone had genuinly felt a real threat, with all those children present, we would have acted.

So no, we allowed the man (who’s name I maynever know) to help himself (gosh aren’t we gracious Christians) and we allowed him to take a seat.  We also allowed him to return to the table and leave with half a quiche after he’d emptied his plate.

But no – one, not one person, the whole time he was with us, spoke to him, acknowledged him, offered him a smile or even eye contact to recognise that here was a man clearly in need.

In need of food yes, in need of warmth and shelter on a wet night, in need, no doubt, of the warm cuppa that no-one offered him. But above all else, in need of acknowledgment of his humanity.  In need of someone to smile and say hello and offer him fellowship despite his grubby clothes, grizzled beard and hair and eyes that spoke of several hard lives lived.

But there he sat, and there he went, out into the night. unacknowledged, spiritually unfed and unwelcome.

Could we have been a worse example of a community living the gospel ?  Well, in fact yes.  As well as our church friends, several teens from the local high school, kids who Beth has been working with and who have not yet found a faith were there.  They saw what we saw, they saw what we didn’t say or do, they saw this from a merry and well fed group of shoddy Christians that should have done much much better – and they saw it from me.

Reckless Generosity ? More like Spineless.  Never again will I sit merrily bemoaning the lack of true Christian Generosity in some parishes I visit, never again will I throw the stone that ‘they just don’t get it’ – because I now know that I live in a very fragile glasshouse.

I just thank God that Sunday is coming and that The One who has shown so much faith in me will never turn away, no matter that I spent last night ignoring His Son.  Can I be better than this – please God tell me I can.

Families eh ?

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ – we need to have a little chat …

Congratulations on holding fundraising events every week for a year – great fun, much jam sold, and I’m sure we all feel terribly united.  Now, lets all go back into church on Sunday and chuck a quid coin in the collection plate. Such a shame the community doesn’t support us more …

And as for you lot over there ….

What an amazing investment portfolio, so glad to see you put those  generous legacies to such great use and they are yielding such a marvelous rate of return, safely tucked away for a rainy day, and such a relief not to have to worry about income – especially as the average gift from the congregation is 50p !

First Fruits ? no just give what falls out of your pocket – the stock market will keep us safe and warm – won’t it ???

And then ..

Ageing congregations are such a worry. The financial burden is too great and ‘these young ones just don’t give like we do’. 

Bye the way – well done on that separate service in the hall for families with children I’m sure you’re right that the little ones would just be bored in church (and they can be so distracting).

There’s a thanksgiving event in a few weeks to celebrate Gods gifts to the congregation and encourage take up of the planned giving scheme – the family service will still take place in the hall (it’s just not appropriate for young children you see) – families have been written to though – they’ve been asked to consider giving more – they just haven’t been invited to the Thanksgiving – maybe we could do a separate one for them in the hall ?

Giving is about Discipleship people – If we demonstrate our own commitment, the community will follow.  If we dare to risk security for vision, our faith will be rewarded.  If we are open and generous our congregation will thrive.

Manifesto

Welcome to Adventures in Generosity.  A place to share thoughts on what it means to be a generous Christian at a time when any mention of  giving in church generally elicits a cry of “Theres a recession on you know” ! 

I wouldn’t be doing this job if I believed that every member of the church thinks like that- in fact I believe that most Christians are in fact already unbelievably generous with all that God has given them. A quick look at the national statistics shows that church members give on average twice as much as non church types – it’s just that as a nation that bar is set so tragically low (2% of income nationally is given – most of that in collection tins and at charity shops).

To have a truly generous and giving spirit – one that gives for the joy of sharing, one that thinks first of the needs of others and doesn’t worry about the mortgage, car loan, council tax or mobile phone bill, is truly counter cultural today.

 We are led to believe that we are unfortunate, that we should be afraid of losing what little we have, and should constantly strive to aquire more, more, more. And yet most of the worlds population look upon our heaving shop windows and marvel at the wealth, the abundance, the blessing that we take so much for granted .

And surely ‘countercultural’ is what the church should be; what it has ALWAYS been ?  We should be leading the way, supporting those who genuinely have need, in our own country and abroad.  Not just giving to fix the leaky roof or repair the ancient boiler, but giving in recognition of the Amazing Grace we have been freely given.  Giving to fulfil St Pauls instruction:

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2)

If, like me, you imagine a time when faith seeps not only into our hearts and souls but into our wallets as well then please join me on this adventure. Who knows; we may even lighten each others burdens along the way.