breathe

A long time ago, I helped a friend and her fiancé move house. Whoops. I wasn’t supposed to say that. I helped a friend’s fiancé move house. She never lived there. No, not at all… (‘yes, Mrs Mother, it was lovely to see so much of your daughter all those weekends she stayed with me. What a white wedding it’s been.’)

But my enduring memory of the moving day, after all the boxes were unpacked and the stairs climbed, is of dinner arriving. My friend snatched her fiancé’s wallet, pried it open and waved it about saying, ‘breathe, breathe!’:  a subtle comment on how seldom his wallet saw the light of day and how liberating he would find it to buy us all dinner.

Thankfully, he laughed. He was, at heart, generous; though by habit very cautious with money. He knew it was good for him that his beloved would, just occasionally, wave his wallet around with great abandon. She gave him a sense of freedom and of joy.

Giving should be like that.

I spent much of today thinking about church finance. You will all know, or be able to guess by now, that finance is neither my love nor my strength. I’m sure that’s why I always hated Monopoly. (Once I had obtained Park Avenue and all the other lovely dark blues, why on earth would I want property in Pennsylvania?)

So, to think and talk about giving and church finance makes me think of people who are better at it than I am. My friend and her fiancé. The school chaplain who very matter-of-factly said, ‘I’ve learned that if I give 10% away even when there is no way I can reasonably afford to, God makes it work out.’ The then French-teacher who would get all stressed in late November, looking for more people to send money to since she hadn’t given enough away.

I am thankful for these people who were unembarrassed to speak of giving. Who thought tithing was natural. Who could wave wallets and cheque-books around freely saying ‘breathe, breathe.’

A few deep breaths like that, and we might even be able to avoid the sharp gasp that comes of seeing treasurer’s balance sheet.

9 thoughts on “breathe

  1. Ten percent – um, yes, and probably more than. But not much of it to the church. More to other charities.

  2. Rosemary, you will be glad to know that I have a firm policy never to know who gives what to the church– and I therefore refuse to listen to those who try to tell me. So you are off the hook with that second sentence, which I haven’t seen at all, and couldn’t possibly question you on.

  3. No this is a serious point for discussion. Where should our money go? What is the right use of the spare we can spare – or even the spare we cannot!

  4. I’m going to give an idealized response, rather than a practical one.

    The first fruits go to God. The spare can go anywhere you like.

    And no, I don’t mean to imply that that first fruits have to go through the church coffers.

    On the other hand, there is an unfortunate cycle in terms of money given to church and the apparent good it seems to do. Because people tend to give a fairly small amount to church (last I checked it was about £5 a week, which is nothing given Piskie demographics), that means that what is given to church evaporates immediately in maintenance costs. Therefore, it’s easy for us to think of the money we give to the church as payment for services rendered, instead of ‘free gift of thanks to God’. And since all the money disappears so quickly, we may feel that it isn’t really giving at all since so little money is left to help those in need… which makes us all the more reluctant to give to the church… which means the church find it harder and harder to serve the community… which means the community sees less and less need for the church…

    If, on the other hand, people gave a higher proportion of their income to the church, the church would be freed to live out out its beliefs in terms of mission, ministry and service to the community. We would see that the church makes a difference in the life of the community, and we would be able to rejoice in being a part of that through our giving.

    There will always be both a need and a desire for individuals to give money directly to charities and worthy causes, but imagine what the church could look like if people were to give even half of their tithe to the church for its life and mission.

  5. The problem, or part of it seems to me to be just that: imagine what the church could look like. Mrs X, giving her envelope, devoutly asks the Almighty to make it possible for her to see an inclusive church where all are welcomed ‘aid those projects, O Lord!’ Mrs Y, slipping hers along the pew, begs that the church will focus on all that is best and dearest in its tradition ‘help us to stand firm against conforming to this age, dear Jesus’ she begs ‘and help us to focus on really right teaching!’ Meanwhile Mr P gives his money and prays that we can save that wonderful Butterfield church, so beautiful, so much part of our history. Mr Q, in the pew ahead of his, is fingering his little blue paper and fervently beseeching the Lord to be aware of the need for the furtherance of fair trade.

    Now one might say that all these noble aims could be met – indeed they could. It is however highly likely that they will come into conflict. ISTM that this is one reason why church giving is so low. People would rather give to (let us say) the Art Fund or Oxfam.

    Or to put it in a third form, there are some congregations and some priests and some bishops I would trust with the results of two hours scrubbing somebody else’s floors. But some I wouldn’t give it to on any account.

  6. But the decision is not for the priest or the bishop. It is for the whole church together to decide how to best live out its calling.

    And that does mean we have to trust people we can’t vet, do things that wouldn’t be our first choice, and live together with God long enough that our collective decision says more about God’s priorities than ours.

    If your next to last paragraph is right, does that mean that people basically neither like nor trust ‘the church’?

  7. Well, I don’t know everybody, but having been in different congregations of different denominations, I would say, ‘yes, people don’t much trust the church’. You can like something without trusting it.

  8. This debate interests me on all sorts of levels. I have my own personal suspiscions of tithing based, I suspect, largely on my grandparents’ fear of poverty and the vicar’s need to get a collection at times when money was scarse. I was then brought up by parents who didn’t believe in church – who saw it as an oppressive rather than a liberating organization.

    I also struggle with giving money to any organization that discriminates on grounds of sexuality, gender, race, age etc. And I do not trust the Anglican Communion where these issues are concerned. At the moment this influences my decision most when considering regular payments.

    But I also think that I do owe some sort of ‘tax’ to a church I regularly attend and this might well be proportionate to what that church needs at any given time as well as relevant to my income. In a way this second belief doesn’t really depend on trust as much as it does a belief that I gain much from liturgy, pastoral care, community etc and sometimes that gain might not be from an obviously honest or good natured member of the clergy, rather it comes from less tangible experiences. Having said that, I can only hold this belief now because I am not in poverty and perhaps poverty is actually at the crux of the debate. How do we ensure a regular church income without impoverishing further those who already struggle financially?

  9. It’s interesting to hear of different approaches to giving.

    I suspect Vicki is right, and a lot of people give to church as a sort of ‘tax’ — and as with taxes & NHS assume that others will give similarly and it will all work out.

    There is a lot of common sense in that approach, and I suppose it is inevitable that church giving will be linked to ‘services rendered’.

    But that wasn’t what I had in mind when I began the post. It seems to me that all Christians, of whatever income, are called to offer back what they have been given by God. There are some for whom this will always be an offering of time and not money. But for most people in Britain, it will be a combination of the two. I can only think of a handful of people that I’ve known (of) in Piskie churches who were actually so poor that they had nothing to give. And they were the very ones who, when money came, instinctively gave some of it away.

    The bigger assumption I made was that there could be a correlation between giving to God and giving to the church. By right of ordination, I have committed myself to the sort of naivete that says that church matters, has a future, and (while it will never, in this world, be perfect) can be better than it is. And that means, I guess, having to try to hold out the idea that it is worth taking the risk of giving some of what is owed to God to the church.

    This whole conversation makes me happier than ever that I am neither a treasurer nor a stewardship officer!

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