I respect the work of Empty Tomb which for years has done in-depth studies of trends in church giving. In October they came out with their new report, The State of Church Giving through 2011. You can download a chapter of the book here. It’s not exactly good news. Religion News Service put out an article on the book here. Just came across this, and both are worth reading.
After my last post on giving thanks as a spiritual experiment, I got the following e-mail from my colleague, Joe Kutter, which I share with his permission:
“It has for years been a part of my prayer discipline to name 5 things daily for which I am grateful. I really think that this discipline of gratitude has kept me sane or restored sanity during some difficult seasons.
“And then, there are those seasons when my lower lip droops and my soul is dark and I look up and notice that I’ve neglected the discipline.”
We can shift our relationship with money through practicing gratitude. In church life, a focus on celebration, gratitude and abundance begins with the leader. We can cultivate gratitude daily, and what better time than Thanksgiving to remind ourselves of this practice?
When you look, you may see more than you think—beginning with Scripture. Walter Brueggemann suggests that Genesis 1 is “a song of praise for God’s generosity.” (“The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity,” The Christian Century, March 24, 1999.) How might we sing a song of praise for God’s generosity in our personal life and our life at church?
This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for these aspects of my own money life (and many more):
- I have never had to worry about paying my bills.
- I have access to thousands of free books through my public library.
- My husband has medical benefits for us through his employer.
- My parents taught me to tithe.
- I live in a house with safe, clean, hot and cold running water.
What’s on your list?
When you view resources with gratitude, and remember that money is far from ultimate, you can shift your perspective at church as well as in your personal financial life. You can cultivate a spiritual practice in relation to your church’s money, by focusing on what works and how you see God present.
Can you make a similar gratitude list for your church’s money life?
Set some spiritual experiments for yourself. Try one of these:
- During the finance committee meeting or a conversation with the treasurer, see if you can step back. Can you think about God’s gift of money in the meeting or the conversation? What difference does it make if you do?
- If you are dreading the next meeting about money, spend five minutes in gratitude beforehand.
- Pray after the meeting instead of rehashing it in your mind.
- Read Matthew 6 before or after—or read it aloud to start the meeting.
- Bring an object to remind you of God and place it on the table during the meeting.
What are your own ideas to frame church business with thankfulness, as a gift not a burden, so you might experience more peace while doing business?
I came across this image of a sculpture called “Walking Madonna,” by Elizabeth Frink, in the cathedral close at Salisbury. Esther de Waal in her book To Pause at the Threshold, refers to this statue, and I found this photo of it on Flickr (taken by Neosnaps). Click on the picture if you’d like to see it bigger.
De Waal says this, “Here is this young woman who strides out boldly into the future, her one hand strong and determined, while the other is vulnerable…she is ready to cross the threshold and engage whatever lies before her.”
This is a great image of the reality that so much of life is just taking the next step. This is true whether we are moving toward a goal or dealing with the pain that life can bring our way. My mother always said, “Just do the next thing.” We always have parts of ourselves that are strong and others that are vulnerable. We can still keep moving forward, taking the next step.
How much time do you spend on social media? Engaging with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, etc., etc., whether for ministry or personal purposes can be: fun, infuriating, overwhelming, inspiring. You laugh at a funny picture, are touched by a tribute from someone you haven’t seen for years, outraged by someone’s political or theological rant. You can find yourself amazed that an hour (or more) has passed. These can be tools for ministry or a distraction and an intrusion, or both.
St. Benedict’s approach to hospitality and community life may be useful in thinking about how to relate to social media. Benedict suggested that community members receive all as Christ. Welcoming guests was a high value. And yet the community was to keep its major focus on their life of prayer and work, without being overly distracted by externals. (I highly recommend Joan Chittister’s great book The Rule of Benedict.)
Of course, Benedict never envisioned the flood of “guests” that can come into our awareness via social media. Still, here are a few thoughts on a prayerful approach to our engagement online:
- Be clear about your purpose for engaging with social media, and stick to it.
- If you see a post that makes you angry or upset, pray for that person.
- Set time limits. Use a timer if necessary.
- Pause before you post something that might be reactive or cause others to react.
- Compare the time you spend on social media with the time you spend in prayer. What’s the balance?
- Think of social media time as a prayer in itself. Benedict taught about ora et labora, work and prayer. All work is sacred. How might that change how you engage with others online?
Who are the saints who contributed to your life and to your church? There’s never a bad time to celebrate the saints of the past. True confessions: I missed All Saints Day completely. It’s November 13, too late to make up for it.
But really, it’s never too late to celebrate the saints.
Here are five reasons to celebrate All Saints Day all year (and not just because I missed it):
- We can claim the strengths and resourcefulness of those who founded our churches for the present challenges we face.
- We can practice gratitude for those who made sacrifices in the past.
- We can show respect for those older saints who are still in our midst (rather than assuming they are outdated and/or wrong) even as we adapt for the future.
- We can give ourselves a foundation for the risks we will have to take in the future (just as they had to in the past).
- Honoring the past (without being wedded to it) helps us invent for the future in a more grounded way.
Sunday Parade magazine published an interview with Jimmy and Roslyn Carter. It included a photo of Carter teaching Sunday School in Plains.
I was struck by the last paragraph of the interview. The questioner asked, “Mr. President, how do you hope history remembers you?”
Carter answered, “I’d like to be judged primarily by our work at the Carter Center for the last 32 years. I don’t mean to exclude the White House. But in my more self-satisfied moments, I think about our unwavering promotion of peace and human rights. We never deliberately deviate from those commitments. Even though it’s sometimes not a popular thing to do.”
How clear are you about your primary commitments, so you can be sure that you never deliberately deviate from them?
It’s Halloween, and I’m thinking about church spooks. No, not ghosts, exactly. I don’t really think churches are literally haunted. But sometimes the ghosts of the past are present in the life of a congregation.
A few examples:
- A founding pastor who didn’t work out well.
- A powerful treasurer who embezzled money from the church.
- A beloved pastor who died suddenly.
- A pastor emeritus who more literally haunts the hallways while still living.
Sometimes the stories are well known, and sometimes they are secrets. When churches talk about the “ghost story” all the time, or they never talk about it, they are overly bound by the past. A more mature institutional response is to be candid about past realities, without letting past events fully define the church’s identity into the future.
One positive way to acknowledge the ghosts is to celebrate the strengths which allowed the church to get through the past difficulty. “We are still a community, still worshipping, still paying our bills. God has been with us all along the way, and is with us now.”
What if the “spook” is still living – the treasurer is still in town (or even in the church), or the pastor emeritus is stirring the pot? Stay connected, and don’t get defensive. You may need to set some boundaries, but do it in a calm and clear way. Don’t get too reactive.
Church spooks, whether living or dead, have more potential for damage when we are anxious or afraid about them.
How have you handled the ghosts in your own congregation?