Thinking about gifts and givings…

This is something of an open letter to the community of saint benedict’s table, though if you’re bouncing into this site from another place or community I’d say that you should think about how some of these ideas might apply in your own home context. In other words, read on…

W

hile it is the usual “hot button” issues that have tended to cause division in the church, probably no single topic causes as much anxiety and discomfort as that of money.

The word goes out that it is “Stewardship Sunday” or that there is a financial campaign in the works, and our blood starts to run cold. The preacher starts in to talk about gifts and offerings, and all we can think of is one of those dreadful TV evangelists, wearing white shoes and whiter teeth, promising the world in return for your financial support.

But it really doesn’t have to be like that, or at least not if we’ve got a deeper and more integrated theology of money and giving in view. As Henri Nouwen once observed, the last thing our conversations and deliberations around money should be is a response to a crisis.  Rather, says Nouwen, “It is a way of announcing our vision and inviting other people into our missions. Vision and mission are so central to the life of God’s people that without vision we perish and without mission we lose our way.”

At saint ben’s, we like to think of this in terms of an invitation to take part in an adventure… but more on that shortly.

In the Hebrew scriptures, most of the instructions around the offering of money are woven into material on offering produce and even animal sacrifice, these being the symbolic ways in which the people made their lives open and available to God. All of it, too, is wrapped up in a theology of worship. To make an offering was to worship, or literally to “bow down.”

And of course much has been made of the instructions to offer a tithe or a ten percent share to God. Years ago, Tony Campolo made the observation that the church has tended to read many of the texts on tithing in an extremely limited and narrow way. In his reading of Deuteronomy 14:22-29, Campolo came to the conclusion that the 10% tithe was not meant to represent a share for “God’s work,” but rather was the percentage the people were to put toward a great yearly party.

Try this on for size:

Spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire. And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together. As for the Levites resident in your towns, do not neglect them, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you. (Deut 14:26-27).

And as if that wasn’t enough, every three years the focus was widened quite dramatically:

Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake. (14:28-29)

The attention is turned, quite dramatically, to the needs of those most at risk in that society; both in the feasting together and in the sharing of food with those who lack, worship is offered.

The assumption behind all of this—and this is a point on which Campolo is quite insistent—is that the other 90% is meant to be lived within the fullness of the call to be the people of God. Or better, life is to be lived within the fullness of our call to be the people of God, and a part of that is being able to really, really feast.

Which brings things back to the adventure.

In reflecting on the insistent Gospel call to release our hold on the things that bind us—possessions or great wealth or our fears and our false securities—Stanley Hauerwas writes in terms of our being “dispossessed.”

For we will discover that once we are on the way, the adventure of the kingdom is so compelling that we fail to notice the possessions that we have given up. We discover, ironically, through being dispossessed, we are given life anew, which makes possible an enjoyment we did not know was possible. (Hauerwas, “On Being De-possessed,” Unleashing the Scripture)

As Christians, we are a part of “this wonderful moveable feast meant to nourish all those on the journey we call the kingdom of God,” (Hauerwas again…) and as people connected to this community called saint benedict’s table we can partake of that moveable feast and live into that adventure in very concrete and exciting ways.

As a ministry, we are entirely self-supporting. Everything that we do actually is supported through the donations placed in that offering basket. We pay a full-time pastoral salary, as well as part-time wages to our coordinating musician and a ministry coordinator. We rent space from All Saints, and we also support the ministry of the wider Anglican Church through a modest monthly pledge. So far, that is pretty standard (and predictably dull…) church stuff.

But here are some of the other things that those offering envelopes have enabled us to do over the past few years:

BOOKS & CDs

Forthcoming:

WEB PRESENCE

We have a significant web presence, with our site averaging between 1400 and 1600 visits per month. More than simply an information and publicity medium for our local church community, the site includes podcasts, theological reflections, reviews of arts and culture, prayers, sermons, and a host of visuals. The site allows us to maintain contact with our virtual congregation, some of whom are former saint ben’s members who have moved away from the city, but there are others who relate to us from across North America, the UK, and even Australia.

DAY CAMP PROGRAM

For the past three summers, we have collaborated with Corinne Plett and her family in offering an innovative day camp program, which gives a group of young people an opportunity to learn, grow and play together. Over the past two summers, fully a third of the available spots have been designated for children from the King’s School Transitional Program, a specialized program for children of recently arrived immigrant and refugee families. These campers have been generously supported through saint benedict’s table camperships.

MINISTRY OUTREACH SUPPORT

In 2008 our “kitchen table” board made the decision to allocate 5% of our offering income to support ministries outside of our own walls. Ideally, we would like to support ministries at the local, national and international level. Over the past three years we’ve given away some $15,000, in support of a variety of ministries including Agape Table (the daily meal program which operates in the All Saints parish hall), HOME/Omuka in Uganda (a home and support network for orphaned teenaged boys, operated by saint ben’s member Lola Eidse and her husband Rogers Mugabe) EMAS/Haiti medical mission (a yearly medical mission in partnership with the El Shaddai Baptist Church in Haiti, spearheaded by saint ben’s member Pierre Plourde).

ideaExchange at AQUA BOOKS

Since 2005, saint benedict’s table has collaborated with Aqua Books to offer this monthly series of conversation, ideas and insight. Launched with an eye to bringing the conversations of the people of faith into the public square, over the years ideaExchange has explored topics ranging from environmental and social concerns to music and the arts, to subversive theology and lived spirituality.

THE JONATHAN WILSON-HARTGROVE SERIES

To mark our fifth anniversary of ministry, in November 2009 we hosted a series of lectures and presentations by the writer and new monastic Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. Not only did we have Jonathan offer public sessions at Aqua Books and the Ellice Theatre, but we also made it possible for him to speak at Booth College, The University of Winnipeg, Providence College and Seminary, and the Canadian Mennonite University.

ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE

We are pleased to have been able to appoint Gord Johnson as our first ever Artist-in-Residence, and to be able to offer him a small stipend in recognition of the continuing impact of his artistic and musical vision on our worship life. In this position, Gord will be challenged to articulate and share his unique vision for the church at worship, and to have a deeper role in the shaping of our common life.

And more?

  • We’d be interested in finding new and innovative ways to support our musicians in the creation and sharing of original music.
  • And the other artists and writers in our midst? How might we support and cultivate their expressions and explorations of life and faith?
  • It is time to re-imagine our web presence, which in turn raises new possibilities for media creation. In this, we would want to include the means by which we could make our music (both in simple recordings and as sheet music) available for purchase by other congregations and communities.
  • We’d love to gradually move our designated outreach donations from 5% of our income to 10%, and to be able to deepen our connection to the wider ministry of the Anglican Church of Canada.

Who knows, really? Most of what we are and do started with someone thinking out loud, saying something like, “what would it be like if we…”  That is all part of the adventure.

In short, the donations we make in that offering basket get rolled into our ideas, our time and energy, our passion and prayers, to form the adventure that is our shared life and faith.  In whatever way you can, we invite you to be a part of that.

Jamie Howison

One Response to Thinking about gifts and givings…

  1. byron says:

    Any thought to an ‘Artist in Exile” program?
    Okay, I’m kidding…but it is interesting to see what I would consider “good works” listed this way.

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