Talking About Money as People of Faith
This was a call-in conversation on May 14, 2018 with Kay Crider, Stewardship Consultant with Stewardship for Us, and Rev. Jan Christian, PWR Congregational Life Staff.
Our wounds are often deep when it comes to money and our sense of inherent worth and dignity. The power of money in our own lives often goes unexamined. This plays out in our congregations in all sorts of ways. What would it mean to your congregation to be able to talk about money in ways that are life-giving and healing?
Pastoral care involves a way of doing all that we do. It recognizes the hurts in our midst, meets people where they are and invites them into new insights and behaviors that are life-giving and affirming.
Pastoral care can happen in one to one conversations, in small groups, in committee check-ins, in adult religious formation classes, and in worship. It can be built into how we conduct our stewardship efforts and in the language we use in various areas of congregational life.
Contract and Consumer Culture takes a serious toll on us.
Some of the possibilities:
- Scarcity thinking.
- We are never enough.
- We can never have enough.
- We don’t know when enough is enough.
Our net worth = self worth.
We live with guilt and shame. We have more than enough while others do not have enough.
We live with blame and anger. We build walls so that our “too much” is not related to their “not enough.” We may tell ourselves: They need to work harder. I got this all on my own.
We are barely surviving in the midst of abundance. We are one paycheck away from catastrophe. Many people think it is our fault. Sometimes we may wonder if they are right.
We worked all of our lives to own stuff and now it owns us.
In most of our transactions, we come to ask: What is in it for me? We see relationships as 50/50.
Questions for Reflection: Looking at these, do any of these reflect your lived experience? Do you see evidence of these in the lives of others? Is there something that you experience that is not listed?
How does this play out in our congregations?
Talking about money evokes shame and anger, which are often directed at those doing the asking.
Members pledge based on what they are getting and what the services are “worth” to them. And congregations seek to give people what they want, playing to personal preferences rather than our mission and vision.
Members make pledges accompanied by feelings of guilt, resentment and shame.
Congregations hoard money for “a rainy day” while immediate needs go unmet.
We run our congregations as we would “for-profits” talking about bottom lines.
We underestimate the abundance in our midst.
We fail to see our budgets as moral documents, tied to our values.
We avoid talking about money as much as possible.
We forget that we owe our very existence as a religion to those who went before and that usually we owe our existence as a congregation to those who went before. We forget to “pay our own way” or to “pay it forward.”
Note: An adjunct dynamic in our congregations is that we often underestimate the real scarcity in our midst—assuming that all of our members have a certain level of income.
Questions for Reflection: Have you noticed any of these dynamics in your congregation? Are there other unhealthy dynamics you have noticed?
Creating a New Path
What can we do to heal the hurts of a consumer/contract culture?
- Name and challenge the unhealthy parts of our culture that keep us from wholeness and health. This is consistent with our work to dismantle the culture of white supremacy. Here, too, we look at how, scarcity, perfectionism, avoidance of open conflict, and a perceived right to comfort stymie our efforts to create a new way.
- Acknowledge the pain and ambivalence in our lives related to money. Also recognize that acknowledging pain and moving through it is uncomfortable and yet that is what growth requires.
- Make space for personal struggle and growth. Recognize that we are all “becoming.”
- Nurture covenantal culture as a religious response to contract/consumer culture:
Our inherent dignity and worth is not tied to our possessions.
Our inherent dignity and worth is not even tied to our ability to be generous with what we have.
Meaning and joy are tied to our ability to live generously (which means both the capacity for giving and receiving).
We all have gifts to share and ways “to bless the world.”
Gratitude is a way to move into a richer life.
We belong to one another.
We have what we have due to the generosity of those who went before.
We are called beyond ourselves to something greater.
Questions for Reflection: What are some concrete ways you can think of to integrate these actions and values into congregational life?
Building a New Way
Provide opportunities for deep reflection on the role of money in our lives.
Small group ministry
1:1 or small group gatherings sharing “Personal Reflections on Generosity” with one another
Faith Formation classes (using The Wi$dom Path, from the UUA) or a common read such as Your Money or Your Life or The Generosity Path
Provide practical workshops on financial planning, budgeting etc. or help link people to these resources.
Create a shared language of covenant in the congregation and be clear about how that differs from contract/consumer culture.
Personal Reflections on Generosity
Rev. Jan Christian
Note: This resource can be used in many ways. People might spend some time thinking and writing and then come together one on one or in small groups to discuss with touchstones about listening and sharing. Individual questions might be used to open committee meetings (with the option always to pass).
Thank you for being willing to think deeply about the concept of generosity and how it applies to your life. It might be helpful to take some time to reflect on these questions and let things bubble up, before trying to jot down some notes. What you write is for your eyes only unless you choose to share.
The Pacific Western Region (PWR) Congregational Life Staff of our Unitarian Universalist Association speak of “Generosity In All Things.” We think of generosity as both an attitude and an action. It may manifest as giving ourselves and others the benefit of the doubt, a willingness to set aside personal preferences for the common good, looking for the best in people and situations, giving freely of the gifts given to us, practicing and seeking forgiveness. Research tells us that generosity in its various forms is tied to a sense of joy and meaning in life.
Questions for Reflection
- Are there areas in which you find it easier to be more generous than others?
- Why do you suppose that is?
- Who has most modeled generosity for you? How did they model generosity?
- Complete the following statement: Sometimes I think I will never have enough __________.
- How does that sense of scarcity shape your life?
- What are some of your first memories of money and its meaning or early messages you received about money?
- Do earlier experiences still shape your attitude or has your approach to money changed over time? If it has changed, what changed it?
- What are some of the feelings you currently associate with money?
- What are the feelings you associate with donating money?
- Are those feelings different when you donate time?
- What are some of the talents, resources, and privileges you have been given in life?
- How do you use or share those in ways that are meaningful to you and perhaps to others?
- What role does gratitude play in your life?
- Is there an area in your life in which you would like to be more generous?
- If so, what would that look like? (Having more money in order to give more money doesn’t work here, because generosity is about what we do with what we already have)
- Are there ways the congregation could support that effort?
- In what ways does this congregation call its members to greater generosity and nurture members’ ability to be generous?
- What was this process like for you?
Suggested Books on Money and Values
Love Let Go: Radical Generosity for the Real World, by Laura Sumner Truax and Amalya Campbell (2017)
The Generosity Path, by Mark Ewert (2014)
Cultivating Generosity: Giving What’s Right, Not What’s Left, by Rem Stokes (2013)
Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money, by Vicki Robin, Joe Dominguez & Monique Tilford (2008)
Seven Stages of Money Maturity: Understanding the Spirit and Value of Money In Your Life, by George Kinder (2000)