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Hallo again to all.

It is the time of year when most parishes and dioceses around the world turn their attention to the annual budget. Whether January is frozen winter or baking summer, dark or bright, it is for most churches and dioceses the time to take stock of money, to look at what was spent last year and what will be available to spend this year.

There are various means of funding churches, some simple and some complex. Ultimately they all come down to the phrase that seems to have originated on television adverts for an American automotive-parts manufacturer: 'you can pay me now, or you can pay me later'. To a first approximation, churches are generally funded by donations from the people who attend them; when that attendance drops off, so does the funding. And this is the time of year when churches usually learn whether their funding has dropped off.

Tidy church ruins in ScotlandThis year, the answer is 'yes'. Worldwide, these are hard economic times. Unemployment is rampant, salaries are down. People in wealthy countries are attending church less, and so is their money. So, all over the world, bishops and priests and parish financial committees and treasurers are lying awake at night trying to figure out how they are going to balance their budgets. Can a parish do without its assistant priest? Can a diocese do without its youth program? Can a parish let its administrator go and rely on volunteers to do office work? Will it be ruinous for a diocese to stop spending money on newsletters and brochures? Administrators everywhere are getting increasingly desperate in their attempts to cut operating costs. This is nothing new, of course. One of the reasons why so many ancient churches are in ruins or serious disrepair is that, centuries ago, parish administrators faced with budget problems chose to skip repairs and maintenance on their buildings. Just as they do now.

Churches are not just looking for ways to reduce spending. They are looking for new sources of revenue. Some start businesses; some hire out their church halls to secular groups who need a big room with a roof. Some older churches have endowments that they haven't yet depleted, money left over from past decades when congregations were bigger and wealthier. Some churches nurture benefactors, fishing for large donations from wealthy people, businesses, and foundations.

Never mind that there are always many worthy causes competing for donations from the wealthy. If a parish church, a diocese, or a relief & development fund are all asking for money from the same benefactors, they can be certain that those benefactors are also being approached by soup kitchens, hospitals, schools, and battered women's shelters. If a parish gets a big donation from a generous foundation or a carefully cultivated millionaire, it has perhaps solved its immediate budget problem. But because it didn't involve its own members in the solution, relying instead on 'angel funding', those members feel, at the same time, more distant and less involved in solving the problem.

The parent organization of Anglicans Online received angel funding for several years from the Chisholm Foundation, which solved our budget problem but did not solve our funding problem. Then, late last year, we got our e-commerce technology pulled together and were able to ask for donations from our readers. You came through. Not only was the money wonderful, but the knowledge that so many people were willing to contribute was even more wonderful.

Fallen angelWe know a single mother who has poured her heart and soul into raising her two children. She has devoted her life to making sure that they are provided for and tended to. These children are now older than their mother was when they were born, but she can't bring herself to cut them loose and fend for themselves. As a result, the children are not very self-sufficient, not emotionally strong, and usually believe that they need help with whatever it is that they are trying to accomplish. Behavioural psychologists tell us, tell parents, tell anyone who will listen that teaching a child to be independent and self-sufficient is the most important duty of a caring parent. Being funded entirely by a benefactor (such as a well-meaning parent) does not solve the funding problem, the lifetime self-sufficiency problem.

We know of some parishes that have solved both their budget problem and their funding problem by turning not to wealthy benefactors or to the wealthier members of the congregation but to the entire congregation. The widow with her widow's mite wasn't able to contribute as much toward the budget as were solidly-employed families, but having everyone contribute to the solution instead of relying on an angel has strengthened the parish immeasurably. It's exercise for the Body of Christ.

You are almost certainly being bombarded with requests for you to donate money. We recommend that you be generous, but that you think about whether your donation is solving a budget problem or a funding problem, and do what you think is best for the recipient. You can't go wrong with a donation to your country's relief fund, such as the US Episcopal Relief and Development or Canada's PWRDF or Australia's Anglicare.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 24 January 2010


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