Adventures in Generosity

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

Archive for mission

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

All things come from you …

I was wondering what would move me to blog – having got well and truly out of the habit I was resigned to the fact that this little corner would sit forever collecting cyberdust and cobwebs, a neglected relic of more inspired times.  But at last ! a glimmer of inspiration.

The Church of England has revamped its website.  Hurrah ! in fact, bugs and teething problems last week aside, it’s a good looking site. Integrated well with a church near you , like the prayer stuff, think ‘being a Christian’ could be a bit more inspiring but maybe that will come.  On first pass the site is, if not awe inspiring, at least navigable, intelligible and pleasing on the eye (and browser).

But then I begin to look a little closer, with the eye of a professional employed by the CofE to ‘Support, encourage and inspire a spirit of giving and generosity’ in the members of this church.

Let me set you a challenge – whether you are an old hand or a new broom – spend 5 minutes perusing the site and then come back and tell me everything you have learned about Stewardship.

Have you, perhaps, learned that as Christians we are called to give of our ‘First Fruits’ to further the Kingdom of God, that what we do with our time, our talents and our treasures are as much an act of worship as Prayer or Praise ?  That Stewardship is fundamental to our Discipleship, that sacrificially serving others with all that we have is what being a Christian is all about ?

Should you be lucky enough to stumble across the single page which deals with such issues you would find this paragraph:

with regard to Christian Stewardship. Too many still regard it as a means of extricating a parish from its financial problems, as a “crash diet” for a week or two, and not as a way of life in response to God, a steady programme of growth in Christian discipleship.

I cannot argue with one syllable, absolutely 100% agree that Stewardship is catagorically not about funding the church, it is first and foremost about an individuals committment to and trust in God.  Our Journey deeper into faith must be accompanied by a journey away from reliance on our own wits and skills to maintain us.  If we cling to our material wealth as a life raft, if we squander our talents on accumulating endless shiny trinkets like over grown magpies, if we hang on to donations for dear life and spend every penny on maintaining the roof when outside people cry out in despair we can never lay claim to be living Life in Abundance.

So, if this paragraph is correct, if all of that is true and Stewardship is “a way of life in response to God, a steady programme of growth in Christian Discipleship” WHY is the single page dealing with the issue buried deep, under About Us, Under Facts and Stats (yawn), Under Research and Statistics (won’t be reading that) and, finally, under FUNDING THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND ????????

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.

Latest Updates

Just added a whole host of helpful links.

We’ve got resources for planning stewardship campaignsSpecial accounts to make your own personal giving simpler.  Study materials for individuals or house groups and one or two blogs for entertainment

Personal favourites at the minute are my good friends at Christians Against Poverty – awesome what they do to support those who get into financial trouble – especially at the moment.  If your church isn’t already engaged with them please take a look – they have a great financial training programme that you could deliver – brilliant outreach and at the same time a gentle way to reach out to those within your congregation who might just be suffering in silence.