Salient elements in our long-term financial narrative
In weaving a long-term financial narrative the parish leadership is seeking to be transparent and to communicate both hopefulness about our untapped financial potential, as well as sounding a caution in areas for concern. The truth is always double-edged. We have not yet reached the upper margins of our financial resources. Yet our financial base, represented by the number of pledges is now too small to fund who we long to become. Herein lies our imperative for growth!
Our Theology of Stewardship
Gratitude – the first felt response in the spiritual life
Stewardship is an umbrella term that focuses our attention on our total relationship to God. The spiritual value of gratitude best expresses the feel of this relationship. The theology that underpins Stewardship is that of covenant. God has throughout history invited us into a mutual relationship. Covenant defines that relationship as having two parts. The first part is God’s work. In it, God invites us into a model of relationship that reflects and becomes an extension of the relationships enjoyed within the Trinity between Creator, Divine Word, and Holy Spirit. For a covenant to come into existence more than an invitation is required. In the meeting of invitation with response, covenant comes to life. Therefore, the second part of covenant is our response without which God can only keep repeating his invitation. This theological understanding of covenant is a fundamental hallmark of the way we as Episcopalian Christians of the Anglican Tradition understand the meaning of the Incarnation, the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, and the descent of the Holy Spirit as recorded in the Gospels. Ours is a participative theology that pictures the actions of God in history as invitations to participate together with God in mutual concern for the ongoing care of the world.
Generosity – the expression of gratitude
In our tradition, membership is extended to all who wish to consider themselves through baptism a part of the Body of Christ. Pledging is one of the clear responsibilities of membership. While we encourage members to give generously – one 90-year-old Christian woman recently attributed her longevity to never having resisted for long a generous urge – pledging is a form of giving that stipulates an annual amount at the outset, thus enabling us to budget more effectively. The pledge being an officially recorded amount attracts the benefits of tax deduction.
The Biblical guidance on pledging remains the tithe – or 10% of personal earnings. At St Martin’s, we recommend a concept known as percentage giving. This allows any of us to start small and gradually increase the percentage we pledge as our gratitude to God strengthens with the deepening of the sense of being in covenant with God. A good rule of thumb is the first hour of our weekly salary is given to God. The first decision to pledge is often accompanied by the concern – ‘if I commit to this will I be able to remain faithful?’ We begin small and as both our gratitude to God and confidence in our ability to remain faithful to our promises increases, we are able to review the percentage of our giving on an annual basis with a view to year-by-year increase.
Service – the concrete situating of gratitude and generosity
At St Martin’s we use the term membership to denote those who wish to be considered a part of the congregation. Membership carries a responsibility to support the life of the community by pledging. However, our theology of stewardship as a response to God’s invitation into covenant speaks of discipleship as the fruit of being in relationship with God. Discipleship is therefore, more than membership of a church as an institution.
Compare the following statements:
• The goal of Stewardship is to raise enough money to pay next year’s bills.
• Stewardship encourages us in deepening our covenant relationship with God through a renewed commitment of the time, talents, and finances that God has entrusted to us.
Members are concerned with supporting the organization to which they belong. They support others i.e. the clergy and others to do ministry. They ensure that enough money comes in to continue operations. The demands of membership are intentionally kept low so as not to discourage people from joining. Members notoriously vote with their pocket books and ultimately with their feet.
Disciples see themselves as active participants in the Church’s ministry and not just supporters of the organization. Giving becomes a response of generosity in gratitude for a relationship with God. Disciples build themselves into a strong church in order to better meet the needs of a wider world in which they feel deeply involved. Disciples practice lives of prayer, study, and reflection. They experience deep gratitude and express that gratitude by being generous with their use of time, talent and money as instruments for advancing the mission of the Church.
Discipleship is a deeper and richer experience when compared with membership. The intention that lies behind moving to a 12-month program for Stewardship Ministry is to break out of the membership mindset and into the fertile ground of discipleship.
The contours of discipleship vary from person to person because God calls us through being the people we already are, which is only ever who we are in the process of becoming when viewed from within any particular moment. Our temperament, our gifts, our passions and concerns are the lenses through which God’s call to service the world is illuminated. We respond to our call through loving God and loving the people in whose company we live-out our lives -moment by moment, day by day, one breath at a time.