The Vicar needed to get his parishioners to contribute more to the building fund, so he decided to try to publicly embarrass his richest parishoner into setting an example. “Mr Chumbly-Warbeller,” the Vicar said from the pulpit, “you’re a successful businessman; surely you could contribute more to the building fund?”
Mr Chumbly-Warbeller replied, “But my mother is in a nursing home, my daughter just lost her job, and my son is starting college…
…If I can say no to them, I can say no to you too.”
Today I’m going to talk about something that really embarrasses me.
I could talk to you about my own faults and failings quite happily, I could talk to you about doubt, about sex, about sexuality… I’m not easily embarrassed. Except when it comes to the subject of the church and money.
I feel slightly embarrassed when I talk about giving money to the poor – to our monthly Majority World Appeal for example. But I get deeply embarrassed when I have to talk about giving money to the Church.
It’s odd that I feel so embarrassed about it, because the Bible talks about money all the time. Critics think the Bible is all about sex, but in reality it is much more about money: money is referred to over 2,000 times in the Bible. If we give the Bible any authority or value its writings even slightly we have to see how we spend our money as a profoundly spiritual issue.
As Jesus said: “where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6.21)
I was recently on a training course with London Citizens. Part of what we had to do was examine our lives and think about what really matters to us as human beings.
The last part of the exercise was to write down (i) how I spend my time and (ii) how I spend my money. This final part of the self-analysis was the crunch point – I may delude myself into thinking I am a certain type of person with certain interests and passions, but the real measure of who I am is how I spend my (i) time and (ii) money!
Even in secular terms how we spend our money is one of the key ways we are measured as human beings.
The Bible if full of references about giving. We heard three of them this morning. Including King David’s prayer ‘All things come from you, and of your own we give you.’ These words may be familiar to us from the traditional prayers at the Eucharist, but they originate in the story of our first reading, where they are David’s prayer. ‘All things come from you, and of your own we give you,’ – these words put all our giving, and all our acts of generosity into a new perspective.
All that we own, and all that we are, comes from God. We cannot give God anything new, God has already given it us. All creation belongs to God.
We are like children who give their parents presents using the money their parents gave them in the first place.
When we give money to God (through giving to the Church or to the poor) we are simply giving to God God’s own belongings.
The Bible is also clear that money and possessions can be extremely dangerous, our possessions can possess us if we are not prepared to part with them at the appropriate time “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”
Giving is being in tune with God and what we give, how much we give and who we give it to is one thing that profoundly defines us as human beings. Our Gospel reading makes it clear that we don’t all give the same, we give according to our ability.
That’s why we should think about money for our own good. I didn’t find that part of the sermon too uncomfortable. The next bit will make me squirm: We need to give our time and our money, and now I need to talk about how the Church of the Ascension needs our money.
There is a hard truth that we have to face at the Church of the Ascension. We are at the moment a church in financial decline.
It’s not surprising that our giving to the general fund has gone down – we have just raised a huge amount of money to fix our roof. A huge thank you to all who made the building secure. But as always happens when a church has a big project on, giving to the day-to-day running of the Church goes down as giving to the special fund goes up.
We have paused the congregation appeal for money for the building fund as we look for trusts and large-scale donors, because the day-to-day giving has gone down to unsustainable levels.
Most of the money you give in the collection or by standing order goes to the diocese – to central Church Funds. Clergy are then paid from this money.
The Diocese is facing serious financial problems (like most charities it is suffering in the current financial climate) and the Diocese is looking to cut thirty Clergy jobs in five years, and the places they will cut first are churches that are not paying their way.
I am half time here at the Ascension, and the Ascension does not pay half a clergy salary. We are net ‘takers’ from Diocesan funds.
It’s not that closure is imminent. Our work in the local community is known and valued in the diocese, there are churches that are in a worse position than ours. But the bottom line is we cannot sustain this level of giving.
The thought that keeps me awake at night is that in a world where people die every day from hunger and preventable diseases every £10 in my wallet or in my bank account could be used to save a life. Every time I buy a book or a round of drinks, that money could have been used for the work of God’s Kingdom.
The Bible again helps us out with this guilt and how much to give. The Biblical principle, which many churches still follow today, is that we should tithe. A tithe is one tenth of our income, which according to the Bible should be given to God.
I don’t think it’s quite fair for churches to ask for a tithe for several reasons, the main one being that in the ancient world the tithe was given to the temple who took some for the running of the temple (considering the amount of gold in the ancient temple I suspect they took a healthy chunk) and used the rest to help the poor. Some of the ancient tithe was for the kind of things now covered by the welfare state and you already pay in taxes.
The recommended Church of England figure for giving is 5% (see the table of recommended giving). Although I suspect that leaves us considerably worse off than the ancient temple, but if everyone gave (or committed themselves to raise) that much money we would be on a secure financial footing.
I am reminded of a preacher who announced from the pulpit, ‘I have good news and bad news. The good news is we have enough money to complete the church building fund.”
A great cheer went through the congregation.
The preacher continued: “the bad news is: the money is still in your pocket.”