It is embarrassing when you are the Chair of the Finance Committee and discover that your parish tops the list of those who have drastically depleted their investments. It is alarming when you take a first peek at a budget proposal for vestry and see that you are planning to go so deep in the red that the ink will start to look like blood.
When crisis comes, embarrassment and alarm may be the first response, but it is what you do with that response that matters; the question for us was: were we going to respond with concerted action or disconcerted denial? Fortunately, at St. George’s, these uncomfortable truths were a catalyst for change.
Having spent so much of our legacy, the post popular sentiment expressed by parishioners was: “we have to live within our means!” Indeed, but then the penny dropped and we also came to realize that “we have to give within our means.” In other words, stewardship is what had been largely ignored in our parish. This is not to cast aspersions on ourselves or shame parishioners’ past, it is merely to say that when you are sitting on a large investment portfolio, high above want or worry, it is easy to ignore the importance of stewardship: which is nothing less than the gracious response of the soul that comes to know how much it has been given by God.
So our response was to embark upon a stewardship campaign entitled “Living Within our Means: Giving Within our Means” as a way of committing to both sides of the stewardship coin: a critical appraisal at what we could afford to spend, and perhaps of greater significance, a more generous accounting of what we could give. In considering both these facets of stewardship, information and education were crucial to forming a plan.
In researching stewardship in the Anglican Church of Canada, we discovered that the average household giving per year is approximately $1250. We were well below that average. While that may seem discouraging, knowing that people just like us gave were able to give generously was actually helpful in determining our own stewardship goals. Often, people don’t even know what they should be giving. So armed with these and other figures we prepared a stewardship package that contained: information on giving, ways to give (such as PAR, legacies, charitable remainder trusts), a theological and scriptural account of giving, and an analysis of the budgets for the last five years with an emphasis on planned giving. However the goal of our campaign is not just to raise revenues through planned giving, but to instil the importance of pledging. In order to budget more accurately and to reinforce the importance of commitment we asked everyone in the parish to pledge. This is a real challenge for those who are uncomfortable with pledging, especially for those who fear making a promise that they may not be able to keep. However, many have risen to the challenge precisely because the culture of our church is changing into a community that communicates more clearly and transparently about all aspects of our life together, including our finances. We are becoming a church that is more generous in all that we do and the success of our stewardship campaign will be a tangible of expression of that change and of our gratitude.
For we believe that gratitude happens when the illusion of scarcity is transformed by the reality of abundance. Ours is a God who gives to us so abundantly through one another that – when we truly see how much God’s grace touches our lives – we cannot help but be inspired to give.