Finding Our Common Wealth: Stewardship as Transformational Ministry (II)
The second session of this workshop began with the Rev. Cecilia Kingman continuing the story of John Murray who was now rowing toward shore in search of food and water for himself and his shipmates who were stranded off shore.
The Rev. Sherman Logan shared the economic traditions of his Afro-American Baptist Church background. He said about giving to his church, “We believe we are spiritually obligated to give.” He went on to say that giving to a church is an act of worship. Historically these Afro-American churches have provided support and mutual aid to congregants including financial help with healthcare—they have had to take care of their own.
One of their top economic priorities is giving to the church; there is an expectation that members tithe. They not only expect members to tithe, they teach it to new members, they preach about it and those who didn’t tithe couldn’t be a leader in the church. Logan quipped when asked if the 10% should be of the net or the gross, he said, “Do you want a net blessing or a gross blessing?”
One of the advantages of tithing is that the congregation doesn’t have to hold car washes, auctions or chicken dinners in order to meet the budget. He spoke about donating the three T’s: Time, Talent and Treasure. Unitarian Universalists (UUs) sometimes use volunteerism as a way out of donating their treasure. Money in Afro-American communities is given entirely to the church and it is through the focus of the mission of the church, through this lens that they decide how the money will be spent in the larger community.
We have acted as if stewardship can only be done the way it has always been done, a part of the old story we tell ourselves. It is as if this particular way was sent down from Charles Darwin. Some will be adverse to this new culture and may feel that we are “cutting off our nose to spite our faith,” but there is both a great need, opportunity and, in these troubling economic times, an obligation to talk about money in our churches.
Part of our church work is the creation of a new story, to provide training in financial matters to whoever needs it. We need to teach people how to manage the 90% of their income in order to tithe and be able to donate 10% to their church. Many people are not in control of their own spending; they don’t have a budget and they are unable to track their spending. This is an opportunity for us to reevaluate the old story and create a new one in terms of economic ministry.
In some faith traditions, the actual amount of people’s pledges is openly shared. Another, perhaps more fair way, is to share what percentage of your income you donate to the church, putting people on a more even playing field. Talk about why you give, provide concrete details of the reasons you support your faith community and then be bold enough to state what percentage of your income you donated. This message will embolden others to discover the depth of their faith and can create a ripple effect even in these tough economic times. In turbulent time, the place to invest is in your community.
The best moment in a church service, insists Kingman, is the offering. She said money represents labor and that currency is a tool. We are ambivalent about money and are scared to use our power. Invite members of your congregation to use that power by learning how to tithe out of right relationship and out of integrity. Start small with encouraging a donation of 2% from church leadership and work your way from there. Some members may be able to afford or wish to donate more than 10%. Grow your pledges—tithing is a huge cultural shift for UUs. Offer financial mentoring, give workshops on debt reduction and how to develop, plan and stick to a budget, offer shame-free help as part of your church ministry. Give a “class pass” to those people who are trying to keep up with the financial means of their fellow congregants.
In order to change our culture about money and giving, we first have to change ourselves. Pay your pledge as an act of faith. Take the average income of your congregants and multiply it by 2% and that should be what your church budget ought to be. Talk about pledges in terms of percentages instead of dollars; print on pledge cards the following statement: “This pledge represents ___% of my income.” Have people sign it and trust their self reporting.
Don’t be afraid to approach members of your congregation who are able to give and ask them to increase their pledge for the health and well being of the congregation. Ask them to help keep your church not only open but actually ministering. Don’t make money be something that is only discussed during the canvass. Don’t make new members wait until the next canvass cycle in order to pledge. Make it easy for new people to know who to talk with about making a pledge. Teach people how to be spiritually generous and how to give without any expectation of return. Provide long time members, who perhaps aren’t as active as they used to be, an opportunity to fall in love with the congregation again.
Giving is part of our faith journey and part of our faith development. We, as leaders, have failed to invite them into this level of giving—focus on the spiritual aspect of giving. Resources and notes including a list of recommended books will be available online at the UU University website.
Congregations need to have a short, easy to memorize, short enough to fit on a bumper sticker mission statement by which they can chart their journey. They need to know where they are headed and create scale-able goals of how to get there. The mission statement is a navigational tool and the star by which to steer.
The workshop closed with the telling of the end of the John Murray story. He got in the pulpit and preached the gospel of Universalism. In the telling of this new story, Murray himself was transformed; his heart was restored. He went on to build a faith telling the new story that is part of our history, part of our story. Now, we are being challenged to be the tellers of a story, the new story which we will create together since we’re all in this boat together.
Reported by Krissa Palmer; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.