A couple months back I started feeling the tug to wrestle with the topic of money in the church. As a preacher, I’ve largely avoided the topic like the plague. These are the kinds of things I nightmares about. I was a budding and impressionable young man when PTL when bankrupt and Jim Baker headed off to jail. In fact, truth be-told, my family had a membership to the resort for at least one year because I remember going there for a vacation! I know standing up to talk about money creates anxiety for people. Probably most of us know what it’s like to have been made to feel guilty about not giving enough. We all know the characters on TV, many of us have grown weary with the church and all its hypocrisy around money.
It’s difficult for me because I grew up poor. By the time I was a teenager my family of 8 was living on my step-dad’s social security of about $12,000 a year. I remember not feeling welcome at schools and churches because we didn’t have the right clothes – we looked poor and we didn’t have much or any money to give as an offering. On the other hand, I remember fondly churches bringing my family groceries, Christmas presents, and even paying our mortgage so that our house would not go into foreclosure. But my family knew more about what it felt like to feel ashamed about money then it did to ever feel “successful.” While I have a full-time job now, and even a college education, we are a one-income family we live “simply” out of necessity as much as because it is a testimony of ours. Needless to say, I bring some of my own questions, and baggage to the topic.
But it’s something I feel strongly about too. Recently, I wrote about how many church’s today seem to be more focused on becoming more like department stores, than communities that participate in God’s work in the world. I have written about these issues often, usually under the language of simplicity/plainness (see Queries on Simplicity and Simplicity in a World of Excess.) I write about these things because I am drawn to them, because I see the need for them in our lives, not because I have somehow magically mastered the practice.
However, talking directly about money and giving in the church via sermons feels like a different issue, than blogging about simplicity. But I knew it was my work to undertake this fall. So I have committed myself to three messages that relate to money, giving, and stewardship for our meeting in Camas. Part of my commitment has led me to needing to learn more about this. I’ve done a lot of asking questions of others, researching and reading. I even interviewed a Quaker fundraiser! Some of my questions are: how should we relate to money as Friends (individually and as a meeting)? How is it that many of our churches/meetings struggle so much with money and discussing it, when in earlier parts of our movement Quakers were well-known and trusted as business savvy people (Cadbury, Lloyd, Rowntree, Barclay, Frys, etc)? How do we think about the bible’s teaching around tithing, the rich young man (Mk 10), Zacchaeus, the widow and her two mites, Acts 2, and other teachings about money in the bible. Some of these questions mean that we need to look back to our tradition and find what resources are there for us and how they help us make sense of these questions.
-What has been your experience around these or related questions?