Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Finance and Faith: A Call to Generous Giving

I haven't posted a sermon on this Blog before, but I want as many people as possible to see it and respond appropriately. 

Finance and Faith
Sunday 29th June 2014
Haggai 1:1 – 15; Matthew 25:14 – 30

The circus had come to town and, as a special act, Barney, the strongman, squeezed the juice from an orange between his hands.
Barney, then said to the audience, 'I will offer £200 to anyone in the audience who can squeeze another drop from this orange.'
An elderly thin man came forward, picked up the orange, strained hard and managed to get one more drop of juice from the orange.
Barney, the strongman, was stunned and as he paid the man and asked him, 'What is the secret of your strength?'
'Practice,' the man replied smiling. 'For 25 years I was the treasurer of the local church.'

I feel a bit like that treasurer, and you may be glad to know that this is the last in my series of sermons on the theme of stewardship.

We’ve been reminded in these last few weeks…
·       that money has spiritual power.
·       that giving is a spiritual discipline and an expression of worship.
·       and that generosity in giving is simply giving back to God what belongs to him.

But still it’s a hard lesson to learn.

At the time of the Jew’s return from exile in Babylon a bit over 400 years before the before of Christ, the prophet Haggai had to remind the people that their priority was to rebuild the house of the Lord – the temple – before they saw to their own houses.
It was because they neglected the Lord’s house that their pockets seemed to have holes in them.

“Get your priorities right,” says the Lord, “and everything else will fall into place.”

And in the gospel reading Jesus reminds his hearers that from the one to whom much has been entrusted, much will be expected. This applies as much to the proclamation of the kingdom as it does to our use of the blessings of wealth that the Lord has given us.
Now I’ve tried to be as clear and encouraging as I can be in these last few weeks. I’ve been honest with you about my own situation and practice in regard to giving, and I’ve been encouraged by the 2 people who responded practically with a SO and an increase in giving – one of those living on the basic state pension.
It’s clear what the bible says:
·       give generously,
·       give in proportion to your income,
·       and give first to the Lord.
So let me move on to some facts and figures that may focus our thinking.

Our total income for 2013 was £137,000. Of that £95,000 was from individual regular givers, with Gift Aid added. After that there was £18,000 in cash offerings and the rest was from one-off donations, fees and rental income from the church house in Waddington Avenue.

Our expenditure was £133,000. Of that £94,000 was paid to the Diocese of Southwark to cover the cost of employing me (£52,000), central costs (£11,000) and a further £31,000 to help the mission of the church in areas not able to support a full-time paid minister.
Expenditure was slightly less than income, but we have an accumulated deficit of £-40,529.

Giving in 2013 was lower than in 2010. This was because a number of regular generous givers moved or died, and that gap has not been filled.
In a survey of the range of individual donations my wife Nicy and I come in the top 10% of givers. 20 people give £20 a month or less; 15 give £10 or less.

I really think we can do better.

And in fact we will need to because we face 2 big challenges to our general fund.
The first is that we need to be able to match the income we have relied on this last year from renting out 8 Waddington Avenue, as the availability of that house to the church will determine whether or not we have another full-time stipendiary curate, or other full-time member of staff.

Before agents’ fees and maintenance the rental income is about £14,500 a year.
But we can’t allow ourselves to depend on that income for long because the reason the house was bought by the parish in the first place was to house a curate, not to provide extra income.

And then the 2nd big challenge is potentially much more serious and urgent.
Since Tim Hill started working for us 2 days a week as our Youth and Children’s Pastor his work for the other 3 days has dried up, and he has had to find work where he can chopping trees and doing gardening jobs.
The fact is he can’t afford that and finds himself in the situation where he must take a full-time job.
And there are 2 such jobs going in churches not far from here.

The bottom line is this: unless we can offer Tim a full-time contract he will have to leave and find work elsewhere.

Not only would this be a great blow to our children and youth work, and our mission into local schools, but it goes against the very strong feeling that came from the Mission Action Planning day last week that expanding our children’s ministry should be a priority. We’ve explored the possibilities for some kind of shared work, but the sticking point is ‘what about Sundays’.

So would it be possible to raise that extra £28,000?

Let’s break it down.

If we assume there are potentially 150 givers in the church who each could pledge an extra £4 a week, that would generate £600/week, £2400/month, £28,800/month + GIFT AID

£4 a week. That’s the price of 2 Lotto tickets, or a cheap bottle of wine. It’s less than the price of a daily paper, and about the cost of daily doughnut from our local bakery.

But the more important question is: is it worth it?

Both areas of need are to do with mission:

Providing housing for a curate who will bring added value to St John’s, as curates have done up to now, and a way that we can, through their training, give something to the wider church.

Our Youth and Children’s Pastor helps us grow our mission and ministry among children and young people – the next generation of the church. Without them, the church will simply cease to exist.

Let me finish with a very specific request.

Please, would you consider giving an extra £4 a week as part of your regular giving.
Without the extra income we will not be able to progress our children’s work as we hope to, and we will not be able to have another full-time curate – it’s as simple as that.
If you are able to make that extra pledge, please fill in the pledge form in your newsletter, and drop it in the box at the back, or to the church office or rectory during the week. We will make sure that they are kept anonymous until they are collected by Tony our Treasurer.

As a PS to this: sometimes people would like to support the work of the church in mission, but genuinely can’t at the time. If that’s the case, we have benefitted over the years from people’s legacies and bequests in their will. You might like to consider the church as a beneficiary: what you leave to charity reduces the value of your estate for tax purposes so it can sometimes be a benefit for both the recipient and the donor’s family. There are some leaflets about that on the table.

Let me finish with this verse
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen

God can do more than we ask or imagine.
But he works his power through us, through our cheque books, bank accounts, and so on.

So that glory may go to him and the church may grow.

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