again to all.
We confess to a liking for obscure mysteries and 'detective fiction' involving clerical characters. A gentle variety of that genre was penned by Cyril Argentine Alington*, often featuring two archdeacons as amateur sleuths — thus the title of one particularly hard-to-find mystery, 'Gold and Gaiters'.
The unlikely pairing of money and church has preoccupied us this past week, with some particularly unsavoury news of predatory (soi-disant) prelates and rand gone missing. But beyond these above-the-fold articles, there is the garden-variety matter of churches and money — call it 'Pews and Pounds' or 'Euros and Eucharists' — and how we support the place we call 'our parish' or 'our church'.
In a robustly secular age, it's a truism to point out that fewer people are in churches on Sundays than a few decades ago. Fewer people = fewer coins and cheques in the collection bag. Fewer people = fewer annual charitable donations. Fewer people = fewer legacies. And on and on. All this is at present coupled with a global economic downturn that pressures families all round the Communion. Right or wrong, our giving to the church will often be trimmed in such circumstances, so our parish churches struggle to manage with fewer funds. And the baleful practise of dipping into trust funds, endowments, or savings to balance the budget is one often accepted (if not encouraged) by the PCC or the vestry. It's often very difficult indeed to begin to conceive of giving and supporting the church in a different sort of way.
One of us here at AO found a parallel between
the care and support of our churches and an incident that
was shown on the popular TV programme, Antiques Roadshow. Some viewers may recall seeing a man explaining how a large
long-case clock that had been in his grandparents’ home was
passed down to his mother, which he had then inherited
from her. He tells the appraiser how he remembers helping
his grandfather wind the clock each week before they sat
down to large family Sunday dinners at tables set with the
the family silver and best crockery. His mother, who loved
the clock as well, kept the clock in her dining room, and
now he has it in his dining room.
The appraiser tells the owner intriguing facts about the clock’s origins and then startles him with a large value appraisal. The owner responds, disbelievingly, that he had no idea of its worth, but that he's not interested in selling the clock. Now he knows more about it, he will take better care of the clock to ensure he can leave it to his children.
Like this heirloom, our parish churches are a beloved part of our lives. We cherish their beauty, their grounds, their blessed associactions. Many of us are proud of the programmes and services our parishes provide to the community. Those who came before us saw the value and importance of maintaining a place where people gather to worship God. Through their generosity, they made certain that our church could be passed down for our use and benefit.
But we wonder whether funds established through the years have made us lazy. In dicussions about finances, we hear things like, ‘Deficit? Just draw some money from the endowment.’ But it isn't good stewardship by any measure to rely on something that isn’t ours to spend down. We have no business balancing our annual budgets on the backs of the dead, as someone once put it. When we inherit an heirloom — say, some beautiful porcelain plates — we're expected to use them and care for them, to hold celebratory dinners with friends and family, to remember what family means, and then to pass them on to the next generation. Perhaps the chiefest glory of old things is the connection they make between the generations.
But splendid ancestral plates are only part of the dinner party: We still must provide food, drink, glasses, table, and friends. So it is with the funds our parish may have 'inherited'. We are foolish to rely upon them for the daily operations of our parishes. They are there for grander and more glorious things: to help us reach out and show Christ’s love to the world around us, in imaginative and effective ways.
It is a tough economic time. Many are living with the prospect of unemployment or indeed are without work. Money is scarce. But even an extra pound or two (or rand, euro, dollar, or yen) in the collection plate every week will help ensure that you pass on your parish church to the next generation.
See you next week.
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