I usually don't post much over here at Beyond Frugal Upstate. Although my intent is to eventually turn this into more of a "lifestyle" blog (as opposed to Frugal Upstate being a very specific niche blog) I've been pretty much just using it as a test blog to play with new templates and such.
But a few folks on twitter who have heard me talking about my speech for church have asked if they could see it-so I'm posting it here. It is a bit long, and it's specific to my church. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent. . .
Once there was a holy man, who believed in the power of prayer. And he was always annoying everyone around him by telling them that he was a holy man who believed in the power of prayer.. The men's group at his church decided to take a missionary trip to Africa, and the man spent most of the voyage over there telling them how he was a holy man who believed in the power of prayer..
When they finally reached Africa they began diving up into groups to go on a Safari. The man said “no, I don't need to go in a group, I'll go alone. I'm a holy man, and I believe in the power of prayer-God will lead me”. They offered him a gun, but he said “no, I'm a holy man, I believe in the power of prayer. God will protect me.”
Well, the other men were pretty sick of him by this point, so they shrugged their shoulders and let him strike off into the savanah. The man hiked for quite a while before he heard a rustling in the bush. He turned around and saw a great big lion charging through the grass towards him.
He immediately dropped to his knees and started praying “Dear God-Please, please, let this be a Christian Lion”. To his amazement the lion dropped to it's knees right beside him, crossed itself and said
“Dear Lord, bless this food to our use, and us to thy service. . .”
Hello everyone! For those of you who don't know me, I'm Jennifer (last name removed) -better known as Princess & Buddy's mom (yes, in the actual speech I use their real names)-and I'm the Junior Warden here. The story I just told provides us with two good morals. Number one is that although God always answers our prayers, he doesn't always answer them in the way we wish. And number two, no one likes to listen to some blowhard tell them how much better they are then you.
So it is with a little trepidation that I am up here to talk to you on today, commitment Sunday, about giving to the church. After all-I don't want to come across like the man who believed in the power of prayer! Talking about money and giving in general is a taboo subject in our society. It is intensely private and can make people very uncomfortable. Add to that the fact that no one wants to feel like they are being “shook down” for more cash-well, it makes getting up and speaking about all this a difficult thing to do.
But a necessary thing.
Let's face it. Without money the lights don't stay on, heat doesn't blow out of the furnace, supplies don't get purchased and salaries don't get paid.
Yes, we have an endowment-we are so blessed compared to many of our sister churches who do not. But that money will not last forever-we draw from it to cover operating expenses. One parishoner did a numbers comparison for us-figuring a reasonable rate of return on our investments, and a steady draw on our endowment at the current level, he calculated that the money would be GONE in 10 years. And that was before the stock market tanked.
So we have to talk about money. You all know that we ask folks to pledge at this time every year. A pledge is a statement of how much money a family plans on giving the church over the course of the next fiscal year. This is very important because the church uses this pledge number to figure out the budget.
For the last several years, we have not been able to balance the budget. We have cut many things to try to make it balance-things that we did not want to cut. For example-did you know that this year the choir director was budgeted $0 for buying new music? We have looked and relooked at the budget and are at the point where we can't see cutting anything else without seriously effecting the workings of the church or the worship experience of the congregation. Our finance committee will be having a meeting next Sunday directly after church to look at the budget yet again-you are all encouraged to attend. And of course if you have any questions today you are welcome to speak to any of the vestry members or finance committee members after church during coffee hour. Would all the members of the Vestry and the Finance committee please stand up? Thank you.
But back to the budget. As I said we have looked and looked and relooked at the budget, and we have come to the conclusion that there is nothing left to cut. Therefore the only thing that remains is to increase our income.
Here is where talking about this gets very hard. I know each and every one of you have your own set of circumstances-and that you have carefully considered your family situation and finances before you make your pledge. It is difficult for me to stand up here and ask you to dig deeper and give more-especially in these extremely difficult financial times.
Please know that your pledge has been, and always will be an intensely personal & private matter-no one from this church is ever going to come and discuss with you the amount you are pledging or whether or not you should increase it. The amount you should give is whatever you can afford to give joyfully.
But I'd like you to consider for a moment that perhaps you have gotten a little too comfortable with the amount you are pledging. I know most of us can't afford to give a large amount more, but what about the benefit of giving just a little bit more. Sometimes a whole bunch of “little bits” can add up to quite a lot.
Let me give an example. For 2008 the congregation as a whole at Zion pledged $90,784. What if each and every person in the congregation decided here and now to pledge 10% more every week. That's not so hard. If you currently give $10 a week, that would only be $11. If like us you pledge $50 a week, you up it to $55, for $100 it would be $110. That kind of increase is barely noticeable in most people's budgets-yet look at the cumulative effect-a 10% raise in each and every person's contribution would be an extra $9078 in the budget. That amount would cover the church's heating bill for 4 months. And while I'm sure there are a few folks who can't manage even that much extra, I'm sure there are a few more who can add even a little bit more. Just imagine what kind of effect that could have.
Now will that solve our money woes? Of course not-but it's a start.
I'm sure some of you out there are thinking “What about fund raisers?” Of course we can have more fund raisers. Hopefully you have noticed that we have already instituted several new fundraisers over the last year or so-revitalizing the Christmas Bazzaar and talking about doing dinners on a regular basis. But remember-someone's got to run and work those fundraisers. Are you willing for it to be you?
Fundraisers always sound great when it's someone else doing all the work-and we all know that typically it is the same few people who do the lions share of the work in any fundraiser for any organization. I'll be frank with you. Those folks at our church are tapped out. They are giving of their time and energies what they have to give. We do what we are currently doing very well, and with happy hearts, but there isn't a lot of energy left over for new projects. We need new faces, new hands and new lifeblood in our Fundraising efforts-especially in folks to organize and run them. YOUR time and talent could make a difference.
I know you are busy. We all are busy. Between working, raising and carpooling kids, supporting and caring for parents, our civic duties and those darn sporting events they insist on scheduling on Sundays, it's hard enough to make it to church, no less find time to volunteer.
But you know what? Folks always seem to make time for the things they find most important in life. So I'm going to ask you another hard question. Do you think church is important? This church exists BECAUSE of the people in the congregation. And not to put too blunt a point on it, but if this church is not important enough to the congregation to give it's time, talents and treasures to, then eventually it will cease to exist.
Have you all heard the story of the rich man who gave a wedding feast for his son and asked each of the guests to bring a pitcher of their finest wine to pour in the barrel so that there would be enough wine for all to drink. When they tapped the keg to start drinking-it was completely full of water. Each and every guest had though “oh, with all that fine wine, if I save mine at home and add a pitcher of water no one will notice”.
Think on that for a minute. If we all rely on someone else to take up the slack, to give a little more money, to volunteer to run the fundraisers, to teach Sunday School, to do the mission, well-what if no one does? What happens then?
I'm not saying that it's time to panic-all is not gloom and doom. What we as individuals and as a congregation need to do is make some decisions. To be honest, I could walk down the street to UCC and find worship, fellowship and God there, just as I can here. I have friends, neighbors and even immediate family there! So what is there to keep me here, to make me work hard to keep this place working and alive? Is this church worth it?
I'll tell you, my answer is “YES!”. I love this church, and I love my faith. I was raised Episcopalian and I have no plans to ever be anything else. We are a church that has beautiful traditions and awe inspiring ceremony, and yet we are not required to slavishly follow doctrine. The Episcopal church is a THINKING church, where members are encouraged to use their intellect and reason to interpret Gods word in the context of their lives. How wonderful is that?
For me hearing the same words, in the same cadences as I have all my life provides a sense of peace and comfort-a place and a time where I feel closer to God. Being around all of you, sitting here together knowing others believe many of the same things I do-well, it's sort of like belonging to a “Christian Support Group”. A little island in this crazy world where all those old fashioned ideals are spoken of as the norm rather than the exception. It reminds you of what you believe and shores up your faith until you can come back again. I'm not saying that you can't have faith and believe in God outside the church, but being here makes it a whole lot easier, even if just for a little while.
So yes, this church is something important, something I personally think is worth giving my time and money to (otherwise why would I have signed on to the thankless job of being a warden!)
And yes, we need money. But despite all the time and effort I've spent in the last few minutes to convince you that really think hard about how much you are giving, I'm not really worried about the money-I have faith that God will provide.
What we really need to do, more than anything else, even more than giving--is to start Doing. We need to get out there, be present-in the community and in peoples lives! Have you all noticed the wonderful new folks who have join our church recently? They are infusing us with life. After several years of looking inward, worriedly, we have finally started looking upward and outward-and it shows!
Our church is hosting events, giving more to charity, trying to reach out to not only those who come in the doors, but those in our town. We are doing MISSION. That life, that vitality is drawing people in. Folks want to belong to an organization that is vibrant and alive. That meets their needs and offers them something that they can't find anywhere else-love and support and faith.
THATS what we need to be worried about, to work on, to commit ourselves to give our Time and Talent to. That is what will continue to breathe life into this church. I firmly believe that if we dedicate ourselves and this church to making things happen the money follow.
We made a strong start this year with our goal setting. I'm sure some of you were a bit skeptical when we announced in January that the Vestry was going to have a working retreat and set some goals. I even heard one parishoner say “I've heard that before, but nothing ever happens.”
Well, they were wrong. The vestry set goals, and wouldn't you know, once we had set some goals we actually achieved them! We've reached out to our seniors, started a youth choir, made necessary repairs to the church and held community events! It has been fabulous. And this year at the annual meeting you the congregation will have a chance to participate in the goal setting as well.
At the annual meeting, after eating of course, because we can't get together in a group without eating-I think that must be written in the church cannon somewhere-we will be brainstorming, as an entire congregation, suggestions for goals for our church! The vestry will then take that input and use it to formulate next year's goals. Heck, we might even be able to set some long term goals-imagine that!
And you know what, if the goals come from the congregation, from all of us, won't that mean that they are things we think are important. And as I said before, if we think they are important, we will make the time and take the effort to make them happen.