Wednesday, 5 January 2011
I've just posted, on my Publications page, the details for how to get hold of the latest Church of England report on Giving (it used to be called stewardship in the old days!) I was part of the group that wrote it, so I suppose you could say I have a vested interest in its uptake. I hope that the really useful thing about it is that, although it originated as a report to General Synod, it comes along with booklets and other material for parishes to download (free of charge!) to help them think about budgeting, giving programmes, stewardship campaigns, communication, preaching and teaching about giving and much more. I really hope that churches will at least have a look at the 18 page booklet Encouraging Generosity in Your Parish. On pages 7 and 8, there is a checklist of 8 things to do. Research shows that churches which are doing all 8 things are growing financially (and often in other ways, too!)
This post comes with apologies to those of you who have no interest whatsoever in Church of England finances! If you have not already moved on to another article, I am sure you can appreciate that helping churches think about their finances is an important part of what an archdeacon does and that we do rely on some hopefully well thought out principles to help us in our quest to generate both income and contribututions to other projects and organizations. Many churches try to give 10% of their income to support other agencies.
The undergirding theology of Giving for Life is that all our giving is a thankful response to God's overwhelming generosity in creation, redemption and the gift of the Spirit and that all Christians are invited and called upon to give so that the values of God's kingdom can be seen at work in the world as well as in the churches. This includes giving to organisations and projects that bring life in so many ways - through justice, healing, agriculture, education, care, service, hospitality, ecological concern. It also includes giving so that the work of the Christian churches and in particular, if we count ourselves Anglicans, the Church of England, can go on. Almost all the finance that supports ministry in the Church of England is directly given by church members through parish share. Research undertaken in 2007 shows that, while UK givers are generous, (average £203 per annum) Church of England givers donate to charity twice the national average per annum. The percentage of household income given by church members has increased from 2.8% to 3.2% over the past ten years. The ideal held out in a ten year old report First to the Lord, was 5%. The new report asks all church members, in this time of recession and financial uncertainty, to consider their giving. It recognises that people give to all sorts of things besides the church - hence, the title 'Giving for Life', which encapsulates the two thoughts that we give throughout our lives and we give so that true life and health can be experienced in as many places as possible. The report also suggests that giving is prayerful, prioritised, planned, sacrificial, communal and joyful!
Giving can be fun! I was recently talking to an 83 year old man who told me how he had been taught by fellow Christians at university to give away a proportion of his income each year. He had maintained this discipline throughout his life, even though he had sometimes struggled. Now, in his ninth decade, he looked back with great pleasure on all the interests, friendships and opportunities his giving had brought into his life. Infact, he felt that he had gained more than he had given. There's something strange about the economics of God's kingdom, isn't there? The more you give away, the more you receive. So many of Jesus' parables tell us that, and challenge us to act on it!