10 Reasons Not to Pledge

As stewardship season rolls around in churches throughout the country and people begin to squirm in their pews, I thought I’d help parishioners who don’t want to pledge with some helpful justifications. I encourage you to use these on your rector, stewardship chair, parish treasurer, or the poor sap designated to give you a follow-up phone call. With a little creativity, you too can do your part to avoid furthering the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

10 Reasons Not to Pledge

1. “I’m morally opposed to pledging.” This allows you to stake out the moral high ground. And, after all, shouldn’t the church live up to its name as a community of “faith” and take it on faith that there will be enough money to pay for the heating bill this winter?

2. “The disciples didn’t pledge. Why should I?” True. Plus, this statement demonstrates your expansive knowledge of Scripture. Nevermind that they gave their entire lives over to Jesus — they never actually filled out a papyrus pledge card.

3. “I don’t attend church very often.” Only Christmas and Easter. Oh, and every family baptism, wedding, and funeral. You may not be there when the church needs you but, boy, that church better be there when you need it.

4. “It can’t cost that much to run a church. Just bread, wine, and a priest, right?” Make sure to tell the priest you assume he/she took a vow of poverty upon ordination. And that if your priest actually wanted a lifestyle that included a working boiler in the rectory, he/she should have become a hedge fund manager instead.

5. “You’d just waste my money on candles. Or give it away.” Accuse the church of spending too much on frivolous things like feeding programs.

6. “I don’t trust the treasurer. He has shifty eyes.” It’s always good if you can blame others as the reason for not pledging. Some popular ones include “I don’t like the rector’s sermons” and “The senior warden avoided me at coffee hour last May.”

7. “I prefer to give my talent rather than my treasure.” Who cares if your real “talent” is avoiding contributing to the life of the community?

8. “I give when I can.” In other words, you drop two single dollar bills in the plate (rigorously folded to look like an $11 bill) on the one Sunday a month you happen to show up.

9. “I can’t tell the future. The stock market might crash.” It’s possible. Then again, why go to the grocery store? You might start a hunger strike next week.

10. “What if letting go of the fear of pledging makes me generous in every aspect of life and brings me unexpected joy and abundant blessings?” Sorry. I can’t help you with that one.

If these don’t work, you can always propose a new slogan for your church: “All of the benefits, none of the commitment.” Think of all the money your parish would save on stewardship mailings!


Blessed to be a Blessing

Bishop Michael Curry

Bishop Michael Curry of North Carolina may be the closest thing we have to a rock star in the Episcopal Church. His sermon at this summer’s General Convention in Indianapolis rocked the house and changed the tenor of the entire gathering (I was privileged to be there that day). Normally I wouldn’t be worthy so much as to carry the case of his i-Pad. But for some reason I’ve been lumped in with him and four others who have written reflections for the Episcopal Church’s Blessed to be a Blessing stewardship series.

This six-part offering provides brief essays on stewardship  based on the Sunday readings in the form of bulletin inserts. It runs from October 7 through November 11, basically the height of the church’s traditional stewardship season.

Here’s the lineup and some info straight from the website:

The “Blessed to Be a Blessing” stewardship reflection series is designed to complement and support
congregations during their annual giving campaigns, October 7 – November 11, 2012. Each of the six Sunday reflections features a different writer from across the Episcopal Church, exploring stewardship as a response to that week’s lectionary reading from the Gospel of Mark.

Sunday, October 7, 2012 (Proper 22B, Mark 10:2-16) – The Right Rev. Catherine “Cate” Waynick, bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis

Sunday, October 14, 2012 (Proper 23B, Mark 10:17-31) – The Very Rev. Walter B.A. Brownridge, dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Andrew, Diocese of Hawaii

Sunday, October 21, 2012 (Proper 24B, Mark 10:35-45) – Lelanda Lee, member of Executive Council and lay leader at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Longmont, Colorado, Diocese of Colorado

Sunday, October 28, 2012 (Proper 25B, Mark 10:46-52) – Cindy Ruiz, lay leader at St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church, River Oaks, Texas, Diocese of Fort Worth

Sunday, November 4, 2012 (Proper 26B, Mark 12:28-34) – The Rev. Tim Schenck, rector of the Episcopal Parish of St. John the Evangelist, Hingham, Massachusetts, Diocese of Massachusetts

Sunday, November 11, 2012 (Proper 27B, Mark 12:38-44) – The Right Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina

As you can see, I’m the token “simple country parson” here. But regardless, I encourage you to read them — there’s some good stuff here — and download them for parish use. As a preview, I’ve pasted in my reflection below but here’s the pretty format. And you can also read it in Chinese.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Mark 12:28-34

Taking the Plunge

My kids make fun of me for taking so long to get into a swimming pool. When I was their age I, too, used to race toward the water with t-shirt, flip flops, and towel flying as I launched myself into the deep end. Let’s just say I’ve gotten less exuberant in my old(er) age.

Similarly, when it comes to stewardship, we sometimes dip a toe into the water rather than taking the plunge. It’s safer that way, we tell ourselves, yet God wants all of us, not a portion or a percentage or a piece.

That’s the essence of the Shema, the Hebrew prayer that forms the basis of Jesus’ Greatest Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

The word “all” binds together this ancient prayer. Jesus bids us to love God with all our heart and all our mind and all our soul and all our strength. This isn’t easy, of course, as there lots of distractions: kids get sick, things get crazy at work, we have needy friends, it’s time to get to the grocery store, American Idol is on. Loving God with all your heart and mind and soul doesn’t mean ignoring the practical realities of life. It means taking the time to be aware of God’s presence not just on Sunday morning, not just when it’s convenient, but in the very midst of life.

In the context of faithful stewardship, this doesn’t mean God wants all our money. The annual stewardship campaign isn’t a glorified back alley stick-up. Rather God wants all of us – heart, mind, and soul – and when we give our all to God, our financial resources naturally return to the God from whom all blessings flow.

Returning a portion of what we have is a recognition that we are merely temporary stewards of our resources. They were in the world long before we arrived and will be there long after we’re gone. You may already be fully immersed in this concept or perhaps you’ve merely stuck a toe into the waters of stewardship or maybe you’re up to your waist and contemplating whether to dive in. Most of us are somewhere in the middle as God beckons us into ever-deepening relationship.

I do eventually get into the pool. When the boys complain I’m taking “forever” I remind them I have a lot more surface area than they do. Taking the slow route can be painful but in time I find myself just as fully immersed as those who took the initial plunge. However we arrive at being fully immersed in stewardship, God rejoices.

The Definitive Stewardship Soundtrack

A couple of weeks ago, I suggested some songs that would make a good stewardship playlist in a post titled “Music to Give By.” I then solicited suggestions and have now developed the Definitive Stewardship Soundtrack. I wanted to get away from songs overtly about money and use songs that got to the heart of stewardship — cultivating a culture of generosity. Therefore songs like “Money” by Pink Floyd were left on the cutting room floor.

There were however lots of song suggestions that invoked the almighty dollar. Among them were (along with their nominators, if applicable):

“Shake Your Money Maker” — Elmore James (Solange de Santis)

“Money Makes the World Go Round” — Jaques Brel (Rusty Hesse)

“Price Tag” — Jessie J. (Liz Donohue)

“Fields of Gold” — Sting

“For the Love of Money” — The O’Jays (Aleathia Nicholson)

“She Works Hard for the Money” — Donna Summer (Laura Toepfer)

“The Price You Pay” — Bruce Springsteen (Solange de Santis)

What follows is the playlist that, if played during stewardship receptions or coffee hour on Stewardship Sunday, will guarantee an increase of at least 20% in congregational generosity. If the individual results don’t match your expectations, please blame Apple, Inc. for developing the i-Pod or, if your choir sings all these songs, go ahead and fire the organist/choirmaster. And the entire alto section.

The Definitive Stewardship Playlist

“Give it Away Now” — Red Hot Chili Peppers

“Imagine” — John Lennon

“Everybody’s Got a Hungry Heart” — Bruce Springsteen (Deb Seles)

“Another Brick in the Wall” — Pink Floyd

“If I Had a Million Dollars” — Barenaked Ladies

“Untold Stories” — Buju Banton (Gawain de Leeuw)

“Brother, Can You Spare a Dime” — old depression-era song

“Ain’t too Proud to Beg” — The Temptations (Solange de Santis)

“Dream On” — Aerosmith

“Give a Little Bit” — Supertramp (Maxwell Grant)

“Hurts So Good” — John Cougar (before he was Mellencamp!)

“Come Together” — The Beatles

“One Love, One Heart” — Bob Marley

“You’ve Got the Love” — Florence + the Machine (Megan Castellan)

“Higher Love” — Steve Winwood (Maxwell Grant)

“Give Until There’s Nothing Left” — Reliant K (Kim Hardy)

“You Really Got Me” — The Kinks

“Everything I Own” — Ken Boothe (Gawain de Leeuw)

PS. By “definitive” I mean the ever-evolving-so-make-more-suggestions-because-sometimes-these-receptions-go-on-a-long-time-and-you-don’t-want-to-run-out-of-music-or-wine-for-that-matter playlist.

In all seriousness, stewardship should make you want to sing. And I’m not talking about a funeral dirge. While many see the annual campaign as something to “get through” or “over with,” a better approach is to adopt an attitude of grateful celebration. Stewardship season (which, spiritually speaking, really should last all year) should be a joyful celebration of all that God has bestowed upon our respective communities of faith. So throw a party, put on this soundtrack, and enjoy the blessings bestowed upon you and your parish. You deserve it. And anyway, God loves a good party.

Oh, and if things don’t work out? You might want to change your tune to the Beatles’ “You Never Give Me Your Money” (thanks to the Rev. Tom Mulvey for this suggestion).

Music to Give By

As stewardship season nears, I’ve been thinking about songs that might make up a “stewardship soundtrack.” For those who hold receptions either to thank donors or encourage them (or both), the perennial question about what to play for backround music is omni-present. Or perhaps I just like to use the term “omni-present” in a sentence.

Either way, between all of us I’m certain we can put together and then burn the perfect subliminal stewardship CD. If this becomes your sole approach to this fall’s annual campaign, you may be in trouble. But let’s give it a shot — it could always be background music during coffee hour on “Stewardship Sunday.”

Now some songs are so obvious that I’ve discounted them. I mean, “Money” by Pink Floyd? Come on. Also, anything by Eddie Money is out. We don’t just want songs about money, bling, etc. but songs that embrace the spirit of generosity and the culture of giving with grateful hearts. Also, tunes that aren’t cheesy — no one’s going to be inspired by Yanni to open their hearts, minds, and wallets.

So here goes. I’m sure you have others so send them in and we’ll see if we can’t come up with the perfect playlist for stewardship receptions the world round.

Give It Away (Red Hot Chili Peppers)

Hurts So Good (John Cougar)

If I Had a Millions Dollars (Barenaked Ladies)

Imagine (John Lennon)

Dream On (Aerosmith)

Another Brick in the Wall (Pink Floyd)

You Really Got Me (The Kinks)

Fields of Gold (Sting)

Come Together (The Beatles)

“And I mean to be one too.”

Sometimes our children are much better at being adults than, well, adults. Sure, they may have less on their minds — I can’t remember the last time a child had to pay the mortgage, worry about getting laid off, or do the taxes. And it’s not like they ever remember to feed the dog. But their passion surrounding issues of justice can be inspiring.

This summer, the children of St. John’s participated in “Animal Crackers,” a program sponsored by Heifer International to teach kids how animals can help eradicate global hunger. Each Sunday they learned about a different animal and how it could positively impact a family below the poverty line. Along the way they met some live animals including three chickens and a goat. I think the llama was sick on its appointed day.

The children also raised $740; enough to purchase a cow ($500), a goat ($120) and a pig ($120) to help families in need. In addition to soliciting funds from parishioners after church (how could anyone possibly say no to a young child holding a blue bucket in the shape of a fish?), some children got creative in their fundraising approaches. The three Hussey kids set up a lemonade stand on a Sunday afternoon and raised $20. And one youngster, seven-year-old William Buckley, single-handedly raised $105 over the summer.

According to his mother, Mariclaire, William cleaned his grandparents’ houses for money, held a mini-yard sale, sifted the soil the family had dug up for a new patio in the backyard and sold it as “loam,” put on puppet shows with his younger brothers for a quarter (minimum eight shows!), and set up a pickle-aid stand to which nobody came.

I love this story for several reasons. First, I never even considered drinking a glass of pickle-aid — I’ll have to try some. Second, I get a kick out of any seven-year-old that knows the word “loam.”

But mostly, I love William’s creativity, diligence, and passion. His response to hearing stories of people in need translates into action. And shouldn’t that be the goal of every Christian?

We’ve been reading a lot from the Book of James both on Sunday mornings and in the Daily Office recently. I could think of no better illustration of the line “Be doers of the word and not merely hearers” (James 1:22) than William’s efforts.  We should all be so inspired.

Oh, and he’s our new stewardship chair.

Peace, Hope, and (pledge) Fulfillment

Unfulfilled pledges are the bane of parish treasurers everywhere. Well, that and simply being the parish treasurer. But this time of year is particularly hairy for parish leaders relying on those last-minute donations to balance the budget.

Strategies for “encouragement”  include:

1. Reminding people about the tax advantages of getting their donations in before the end of December.

2. Pleading, cajoling, begging during the announcements.

3. Making people feel like church vandals if they don’t fulfill their pledges (“You stole our sacraments! And drank our coffee!”).

4. Sending out the parish “bag man” to collect the rest (usually the beefy assistant treasurer who stands at the recalcitrant pledger’s front door cracking his knuckles).

5. Compelling them to usher at the 4 pm pageant service (the “Zoocharist”) and risk being trampled unless they pay up before Christmas Eve.

6. Threatening to print the list of people who have not fulfilled their pledges in the Midnight Mass bulletin (something that will never be more than an idle threat).

7. Refusing to accept their pledge for the following year until they’re all paid up (Um, wait, that’s not much of a consequence).

8. Cleverly disguising quarterly statements as bills to be paid.

9. Organizing the Youth Group to serve as pickpockets during Coffee Hour.

10. Did we mention the tax benefits?

Of course, unless there are unexpected financial hardships involved, most people do fulfill their pledges. We have only the best of intentions but are unaware/lazy/overwhelmed this time of year. Thus, I encourage you to save your treasurer’s sanity and send it in now! He/she will thank you and you’ll have a guilt free Christmas. Well, guilt free as long as you’ve already submitted your pledge card for 2012…


Tooth Fairy Tithing

The stewardship message is getting through at St. John’s! At least to one little girl in our parish.

A young lady I’ll call Paige (because that’s her name) came up to me after the 10:00 am liturgy yesterday. Actually she made her entire family wait until after the “Episcopal 201” class I taught following coffee hour. With some encouragement from her parents, she gave me a toothless grin and told me the Tooth Fairy had visited the night before. Then she presented me with two things: a drawing of the church and four shiny quarters. Paige had decided, all on her own, that she would give a portion of her “earnings” to the church. In over a decade as a priest, and countless lost teeth (Sunday School kids’, not mine), I can safely say that I’ve never had a child make such an offer.

The encounter made me think back to my own Tooth Fairy days. There was always something exciting about the loss/reward dental cycle. Receiving a silver dollar or a crisp dollar bill was a thrill — and I would have never thought to share any of the bounty with anyone else!

Generosity is a value many parents seek to instill in their children. Yet it’s often a losing battle — developmentally most children just aren’t there. I recall my own boys’ pre-school-aged fights over sharing. It didn’t matter that we owned five toy dump trucks — they both wanted to play with the SAME dump truck. [Insert audio of loud and continuous screaming and whining.]

Generosity is also a value we try to instill in adults. Sometimes people, like Paige, surprise you with unexpected and heroic generosity. And at others we devolve into the pre-school mentality over sharing.

After thanking Paige, we found the person in charge of putting the collection in the safe and Paige dropped the coins into the attractive bright orange, vinyl bag. With the sound of each clink, I smiled in the knowledge that here was someone who understood just how good it feels to be generous. May she be an inspiration to us all.