Adventures in Generosity

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

Archive for faith

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.

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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.

 

 

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.

Ahhhhhh that’s better

 The reason I am a follower of Jesus Christ is simply this. In him I see what God means by humanity, and what humanity means by God. For ever self-giving, and donating his power. Doing for us that which we couldn’t do for ourselves. Immersing himself in our humanity and rescuing us from shame, pollution and transience. Dying for us, without us, and with us. It is in his death on the Cross that God discloses the essence of what it is to be God: self-sacrifice and not self-assertion. This is the right way to get involved and not merely participate.

Thank you Bishop Sentamu

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.