Sept. 13, 2009
The Rev. Brian C. Taylor
Today we celebrate Parish Life Sunday. You’ll find doors all over the campus today, as we open the door of our heart to God, to one another, and to the world around us.
Today we will be looking at our shared ministries from 3 different points of view. The first is what we actually do in ministry; to learn about this, we’re inviting you to stroll around to the various exhibits outside and in the parish hall. The second is the space that is needed to house these burgeoning ministries; Steve Shelly will talk to you about that a little later. The third point of view is how we fund these ministries through your pledges; this is what I’ll be addressing in this sermon.
Usually when we address money, we talk about spiritual reasons for giving. God gives us everything we have, and so giving to others is simply giving back a portion of what we have received. We point to scriptures such as today’s gospel, where Jesus reminds us that in self-sacrifice, we find our true meaning. We talk about how God created us to be generous to others, and how we are most fulfilled when we give.
Now all of this is still true and at the heart of things, but this year I would like to take a different approach. I want to talk about pledging from a purely practical standpoint. Some of you will be relieved, saying “well, finally!” Others will wish that you had heard a more “spiritual” sermon when you came to church today. To you, I’d like to challenge your idea of what is “spiritual.” If money is needed to provide spiritual resources, how could talking about that money be unspiritual?
I will begin with what is funded by your pledge. Then I will address why it is important that you pledge. And finally, I will recommend a way of thinking about how much to pledge. I would like to ask you to consider what I have to say prayerfully, so that when you pick up your pledge card today or wait until it comes in the mail this week, you keep these things in mind as you respond.
So first, what is funded by your pledge? Everything that happens here. We do not have an outside source of income. All our income comes from you. $700,000 a year: that’s an average of $2,000 per household.
60% of your pledge pays for the salaries and benefits of 10 people, half of them part-time. Christopher, Jan, Kathryn, Kate, Randy, Ken, Darby, Ellen, Julie, and me – these paid staff members support everything we do: worship, preaching and music, copying bulletins, pastoral counseling, bookkeeping, cleaning the floors, calling together meetings, giving food to hungry neighbors.
Nothing we do here would happen without staff support. Behind every youth group meeting, potluck, retreat, and hospital visit are 10 people working very hard, 5, 6, sometimes 7 days a week, making sure it happens well. That’s what over half of your pledge goes towards.
The remaining 40% of your pays for everything else: the utilities and maintenance, support to the diocese, all outreach and education programs, worship supplies, printing and mailing, computers and telephones. Obviously these things are essential, too.
So that is what gets funded here. Secondly, I want to talk about why it is important for you to pledge. To do this, I’d like to address some of the practical reasons I have heard, over the years, for not making a formal pledge.
Some say that they can’t pledge because they don’t know how much money they are going to make next year; they are reluctant to make a commitment. So they give spontaneously, whenever and in whatever amount they can at the time. We certainly appreciate whatever anyone gives to us, but the result of a spontaneous approach is that we cannot make a commitment to people we employ, to programs like Godly Play, or to supplies. Here’s what is important to understand: we don’t put anything in the budget that we don’t have the committed pledges to support, including staff positions.
So if you are unsure of next year’s income, and many of you are, make an estimate and pledge according to that. Have a little faith. Risk a little. If you turn out to have estimated high, all it takes is a phone call to reduce your pledge. There is no shame in that. No one is going to point the bony finger at you and say that you have failed to live up to your commitment. Circumstances change, and we all understand that. On the other hand, if you make more money than you estimated, you can also raise your pledge with a simple phone call.
Some say that they are unable to pledge because their income is so low: the amount they could pledge would be inconsequential, or they would be embarrassed by such a low number. Believe me, every dollar helps us plan for next year. Your pledge will pay for something important: candles or coffee or a mailing to members. And remember the story of the widow’s mite. The woman who joyfully and humbly gave a small amount out of her poverty was considered by Jesus to be generous, and blessed by God.
Others say that they only come on Sundays when all the music and preaching is already happening whether they pledge or not. They don’t really want to take part in all the other things that pledging supports. But I would estimate that at least ¼ of our overall budget, directly or indirectly, is what it takes to do Sunday mornings. That’s about $500 per household per year.
Still others say that they will pledge, just not right away. They need more time to think about it. They continue to think about it all fall, after two letters, announcements, and two phone calls to their house. As a parish, we seem to have gotten into the habit of taking about 5 months to conclude our pledge drive every year. Sometimes I think “wouldn’t it be wonderful if every year, everyone made a decision within a month, so that the Vestry and clergy could spend their time in the fall talking about developing ministry instead of worrying whether we will have to cut existing staff and program?”
So I’ve talked about what gets funded by your pledge and why it is important to pledge. Finally, I want to talk about how much to pledge, offering you one approach.
One traditional method for determining how much to give to others is the tithe, 10% of one’s income. Many of you believe strongly in this biblical principle. For others, this either seems exorbitantly high, or they question whether in modern times the 10% number means what it used to - what with taxes and whatnot.
To me, the important principle about the tithe is not the specific number. It is that we think realistically about whether we are spending amounts of money for various things in proportion to how important they are to us. Until we look at percentages, we may never realize that while we say that charity and church are very important to us, we actually spend more on lunches out or clothing or other things that may be less important to us.
So I recommend you not just come up with a number that seems reasonable in the moment, like you might for a donation to this or that charity. Instead, sit down with your spouse or your partner or your cat, and write down your total income. Divide what you spend into categories – housing, food, entertainment, childcare, etc. Calculate what percentage of your income you are spending for each.
Then ask yourself whether the percentage you are spending for each category accurately reflects how important it is to you. When you think about the category of St. Michael’s, consider a percentage that would be consistent with how you feel about your faith community in relation to other things in your life. If the percentage you want to give is impossible, back it down point by point until you get to a number that is manageable, including a little risk, and then try to increase it a little bit each year until you reach your goal.
You’ve been patient with me as I’ve gone through all this. But we can’t be naïve, pretending that everything here will just happen magically on faith and spirituality, without discussing the practicalities. Like any household, we need to be open and concrete, educating one another about finances.
This is a very generous parish community. Many of you joyfully give a great deal of time and money so that we can do some beautiful things here that deeply affect people’s lives. We are a village that shines with the goodness of God, and this is a rarity in our world. I am grateful to be a part of such a generous and light-filled village, going through life together. I intend to pledge a proportion of my income in the next month as a way of expressing my gratitude. Won’t you join me?