Adventures in Generosity

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

Archive for congregation

Trouble brewing ?

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 ? we thought so and had a brief titter – but then, someone else asked – why the concern over such trivial matters and why do they seem to blow out of all proportion so very often ? And why, while we are on the subject is the coffee generally served up by churches so woefully awful ?

Tweep after Tweep seemed to join the throng, observing that not only was the coffee generally awful, but the tea and biccies were usually fairly low rent too, and while we’re at it – why do churches insist on sticking up badly designed posters all wonky on scruffy looking noticeboards, what’s with all those old piles of dusty parish mags at the back and why, in short was the church so generally determined that ‘that’ll do’ would do ?

As the conversation continued it seemed the original problem arose because ‘proper’ coffee was all too expensive and that whilst ‘young folk’ could fritter their money on such frivolity as ‘posh coffee’ the church ought to be above such pointless frippery and stand up for… what exactly? bland, second rate beverages?

So now we see – this isn’t about coffee at all ! this is about piety ! self denial ! we are shonky and a bit amateurish because it is what God wants! Away with your warm hospitality, we don’t want to offer the best we can afford to our brothers and sisters, even less to occasional visitors – what God really wants is for us to offer a grudging mug of luke warm sludge and a broken digestive to our guests – right ?

Erm, well, not exactly.

The Bible is fairly clear on the subject of hospitality – my current bible study plan covers passage after passage in the OT commanding Israel to offer the best of their hospitality, to welcome all comers with the very best they have to offer.

Jesus didn’t turn water into any old cheap plonk – He saved the best for last. The prodigal son does not return to a warmed over pot noodle.

The bible exhorts us again and again to treat others with the generosity, love and welcome that we would wish to receive – why ? Because when we honour each other we honour our Creator – because “when you do this to the least of these, you do it to me” .

So what are we saying when we offer less than the best of ourselves ? Whose money, exactly, are we saving ? And what message does our welcome give about the Gospel we proclaim ? Are we guilty of perpetuating an image of the church as cheap, scruffy and deteriorating ?

There is much more to be said following todays discussion – about how this ‘second best is good enough’ attitude spills into our financial stewardship, about attitudes to change and attitudes to the young, about Fair Trade, about our image of ourselves and of God – but for now I would like to exhort each of us with the words of a fellow twitterer @crimperman:

Lets give up bad coffee for Lent !

In our time of preparation lets prepare our churches for Easter morning by throwing open our doors, welcoming all comers with warm and open arms, tidying up a bit and putting on a decent cuppa.

Given the cost of Good Friday I’d say a couple of quid on a packet of Fair Trade Costa Rican was a small price to pay.

Advertisements

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.

Exit Poll

Well it’s taken a while but I’ve finally finished crunching numbers.  There’s quite a few stragglers left to mop up but I’ve been through every Parish Return I can get my sticky mits on and can reveal some enlightening facts and figures:

Our average weekly gift is £8

83% of the electoral roll take part in planned giving of some sort and 74% of those give tax efficiently

64.5% of donated income to our churches comes via planned giving, 23% from Fundraising and 12% from plate collections

54% of total church income comes direct from the people in the pews.

It seems common these days for there to be much hand wringing about levels of giving in the church and this Diocese is no exception  – average giving is down (again) and as a percentage of income giving now stands at 3% (as opposed to the ‘First to the Lord’ target of 5%). 

And don’t get me wrong – we could and should do a whole lot better. But….

According to the latest national report on giving http://www.cafonline.org/pdf/UK_Giving_2009.pdf  national figures should give us some cause for  hope, if not out right celebration.

Nationally, giving is down by a little over 11% – according to my stats our giving is down by 1% – Church giving is very resilient even in times of economic meltdown.

54% of the general population give to charity in any given month and only 37% give regularly – makes our 83% of regular givers look fairly amazing really. 

The fact is, most charities would give their eye teeth for the opportunity given to our Churches –  direct, face to face contact with the majority of our regular, committed and engaged donors – a chance to speak to them on issues that matter to our cause for 20 minutes every single Sunday.   Most donors get news on what their chosen charity is up to once or twice a year, our supporters get to hear about, and engage in, our work once or twice A WEEK. 

God presents his Church with a golden opportunity – to present His case, to share His plan and to inspire His people to open up and respond in generosity. 

 If we let ourselves lose Hope because our reality doesn’t quite meet our aspirations, we dishonour the many people in our Church who give regularly and sacrifically, we also miss an opportunity to grow in our own faith – God never said this was going to be easy;   the instruction ‘do not be afraid’ appears 366 times in the Bible – being disheartened when things don’t go according to our plan ? Really ?  

Yes, giving is down. Yes, people aren’t as generous as they could be.  Yes, the recession is a bit of a handy excuse for some. 

The question is, what are you going to do about it ?

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.

Let yourself be built ?

Hmmmmmm the parish church. Ancient monument, architectural gem, heritage site, place of worship or money sucking millstone strangling the life blood of the C of E ?

I used to be 100% sure exactly where I stood on this one. Yup, burn the font cover, pull down the rood screen and above all tell those nosey parker ‘pickle it in aspic’ hideous stained glass adoring anoraks at the Victorian Society where they could stick their butt numbing pews !

But …

We live in a spiritually hungry age. Yes I know, secularisation is rampant, Dickie Dawkins and his buddies are taking over the airwaves. But despite what the Daily Mail says, people are seeking.

And if they are seeking – where will they look ? What does Christianity ‘look’ like to the average wanderer in the street ?

The fact is, ask any 4 year old to draw a church and they won’t produce a sandstone, single storey, glass vestibuled, double glazed and fully DDA compliant ‘church in a box’.

To many, the Parish church is Christianity – that leeky tower, those bells, those b!**dy pews and all that stained glass are Christs ‘brand image’ – as powerful a symbol as the Golden Arches of Mcdonalds.

Looking back at ‘The Diana Effect’ it was clear that people needed a place to run to in times of uncertainty. So where did they go ? you guessed it …

The argument that flogging the lot and starting over, would release vast chunks of funding to ‘real’ mission is all well and good but isn’t it just further evidence of our loss of confidence ? We’ve bought into the tabloid myth that ‘if the church sold all its buildings it could do some good in the world’.  Instead of being proud of what we’ve inherited and making the most of it, we’ve become embarrased by it.

But …

 What if we actually started using the buildings iconic status as a draw, combine the shiny and alluring ideas about opening up the church hall for community use and instead  open the church doors – surrender ‘our worship space’ and make it an exciting and interesting space to be used.  Perhaps if we can get the community thinking of the inside of the church as relevant, useable, an enjoyable place to be they might stick around after aerobics and find out what else is going on ? 

Mission doesn’t have to be all about new and shiny, it can be about taking the best of the old, combining it with the best of the new and producing something that honours our inheritance as well as our vision. 

One thing I will never change my mind on though ….

The Victorian Society can have the pews !

New Presentation

Just finished updating this 

parish financial overview

after last nights Stewardship Campaign meeting.  May need amending again once the PCC have had time to mess with it some more.  Its a good one for discussing the state of the church finances as a whole congregation – compares the cost of running the church with the cost of living generally.

This particular PCC have asked for more graphs rather than the text that’s there now so I’ll update it when we’ve finished fiddling. 

For now, feel free to amend and let me know what you think.