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Re: Tithing (X post)
The parish of my friend Alan French+ (St. Andrew's, New Providence, NJ,
Diocese of New Jersey) has set up an important practice of not
allowing new members to pledge to the budget of the parish. Instead, he
encourages them to pool their gifts into a new mission of their own
choosing, so that from the get-go their stewardship is based on the joy of
doing ministry, not on paying the light bill or the salaries of others 'to
do it for you.' Their vision becomes part of their gift to others in the
Gray Temple in his new book MOLTEN SOUL points out how in most cases we
take new converts and try to make their molten souls harden into the ways
we have already fixed for doing things. (Don't miss his powerful
suggestions for counteracting that trend!)
My friend Bishop Shimpfky commented to some of us last week that the past
decade has been the single richest period in the increase of wealth in the
USA, and yet Episcopalian contributions increased only minimally. The
passage from Amos (6:1-7) in the lectionary for September 30th, spoke most
powerfully to our stinginess.
I agree with those who point to the danger of fixed quotas. On the other
hand, numbers and percentages do speak volumes. I remember walking into a
wealthy parish in downtown Philadelphia about two decades ago on a
weekday. I looked at a bulletin from the past Sunday, which listed their
budget in abbreviated form. Their total "outreach" budget was $20 for the
previous quarter, given to a project of a nearby YMCA. Would you really
want to join such a parish?
When Dick Shimpfky was a rector in this diocese, he sold the diocese on
the goal of 50/50 giving, meaning 50% on your own operations, 25% to the
diocese, and 25% to missions of your own beyond the parish. The diocese
adopted the same standard, 50% on operations, 25% on missions in the
community, 25% to the budget overseen at the Episcopal Church Center.
These were all voluntary goals; only a few of our parishes are at 25% to
the diocese yet, but almost all parishes are moving incrementally towards
Every year the diocese itself abides by that formula. I have never been
in a diocese where people are as excited as ours about that contribution,
and I noticed that puts us near the top of giving to the budget of the
'national church.' We do this in season and out of season, when ECUSA
disagrees with us or agrees with us. It is not our money; it is God's.
Stinginess is its own reward. It must be terrible to live with that kind
of cramped spirit.
My mother-in-law was a very poor woman who lived in rural Georgia. At her
funeral three years ago, we were amazed at the number of strangers who
came. Several of them were persons whom no one in the family knew, people
who normally never went to church, to testify to how many times she had
given them a meal, or a dress, or money to pay to have the lights
turned back on, or.....
One of the town drunks came by the house to talk about how Miss Mae Del
had seen her in the ditch one day and had taken her home, given her a
bath, had given up her own bed for her to use for the night, and had sent
her on the way after a good meal, with food for her to take to her
Heaven is not a distant place. It's right here if we have eyes to see it.