Rector's Blog: When Money Talks
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I want to warn you right out of the gates that I’m about to talk about money. Before you shut down completely, please know that I won’t be asking you for any money today. I reserve the right to ask you for money at another time. But today I will not be asking. Just talking. Talking about money has the capacity to make people feel very uncomfortable – especially in the context of their faith. And I understand that: we have all seen religious hucksters who tell us that how we give is tied directly to how we’re blessed. This is tender territory. But I have a story to tell about money, and it’s really about connection and love.
Over the last couple years, during this pandemic, it has been really difficult to know who is staying connected to our church community. We did not have regular gathered worship indoors for 15 months, then for several months after that, our worship services were severely limited by COVID protocols. Many parishioners were not ready to return to in-person worship based on their risk tolerance. Some others did not want to be required to mask at church. We have people across the spectrum at our church. Some members asked me to relax our protocols, while others told me to consider requiring proof of vaccination for entry to the building. At any rate, it was not always clear who was still calling Church of the Redeemer their community.
Then last fall we began our Annual Giving campaign. For the uninitiated, this is the time of year when we ask the members of our community to make financial commitments for the following year so that we can set our budget. We are a church, which means we are a non-profit organization. Our budget depends, then, on donations. And particularly on donations from people who call themselves members of our church. We do not have any giving requirements, no membership dues. All giving is voluntary. So, each year, we work on our budget for the following year, and we ask people to tell us how much they plan to give for that year. And last year something really powerful and beautiful happened.
We raised more money than we ever had before.
I don’t know how to say that without sounding like I’m bragging. And I just don’t mean it that way. I’m telling you for a different reason. I’m telling you because all the other ways we had grown accustomed to knowing if we were part of people’s lives had changed so drastically. Churches tend to look at the pews on Sundays to gauge if they’re doing alright. But that was not a clear indication of anything in 2021.As the leader of this church, my usual ways of taking the temperature of the community were useless. And then it was time to ask people to make their financial commitments (often called a pledge) for 2022.
It’s worth noting that pledged giving makes up over 2/3rd of the Church of the Redeemer’s budget. Our church has investments, the income from which is restricted to use in support of property upkeep and mission ministries. Everything else we do, all the ministries we undertake, and the lay and ordained ministers we employ are paid for by the financial commitment of the people who call Redeemer home. So I was justifiably anxious going into the fall last year. Our ability to run this organization directly depends on people believing they should invest in us as a community.
And last year our people spoke loudly and clearly: This is our church, we believe in it, we support it, we are excited for our shared future. The maxim “money talks” is often used for cynical purposes, but in this case, money talked and it was a blessing. Our community looks different than it did 2 years ago, it operates differently, and we connect differently. We are still getting accustomed to all these changes. We are still grieving the loss of community as we knew it prior to 2020. And we are still learning what the next chapter of our shared life will look and feel like.
If you are reading this, it matters that you understand you are essential to the life and vitality of your church. You may not even be a member of Redeemer, maybe you’re in a different state, a different denomination, maybe you belong to a synagogue or a mosque. But if you are part of a faith community, your presence and involvement in ministry matters, your heart and soul matter, and your financial commitment matters. It is a very practical way for you to support ministries that change lives. And this is a year where your gift will be especially important, as faith communities everywhere seek to account for the significant increase in cost-of-living and inflation.
Your financial commitment talks. It is a statement. And I want to be clear about this: I don’t mean it’s your way of voicing approval or disapproval. I’m not saying if you think things are going well, increase your gift, and if you’re annoyed it’s not like you’d hoped it would be, decrease your gift. As one wise parishioner used to say to me every year, “It’s a tithe, not a tip.” I’m saying your gift says you care, that this is your place, that you are invested in what it will become, that you are serious about participating in the transformation of people’s lives. When you give to your church, you make a huge difference, and you remind yourself that in fact, it’s your community.
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