Each year the FBCR congregation sets aside a few weeks for reflection. We reflect collectively on who we are as a church, and we reflect individually on how we relate to the church at large. From now through Sunday, November 7, 2021 I want to invite our faith community to consider broadly what it means to live in community together. Toward that end, we will highlight eight different facets of community, nine ways by which our community takes shape.
Money & religion: two things one doesn’t talk about in polite company. Well, we’re going to
venture both today. Namely we’re going to consider the difference between the way that many organizations doing good things in the world fund themselves and the idea of financial participation in a faith community.
So it’s no secret at this point that we live in a consumerist society. That’s not just a statement about our love for stuff, but a note about how our society views the things, the people, the ideas in our world. Namely, the way we place value upon things. Specifically, we tend to place value upon things in our life and therefore make decisions about what gets incorporated into our life in the same way we make decisions about which consumer goods and services we wish to purchase. I’m no economist, so that’s about as far into the weeds as I can venture, but at some point organizations doing positive work in the world recognized and embraced that all things – even altruistic, positive, redemption seeking initiatives – are valued in the same way that consumer goods are valued, and for that reason are valued over against those things. So they responded in a way that seems appropriate, they began to “sell” their product, the work they’re doing in the world. “For just $0.49 per day you can sponsor a hungry child.” You can purchase a cow for a family in a place far away. You can even have the checker at the grocery store scan a UPC code to add a donation to your total. You can buy an end to world hunger. How ‘bout that!
At some point the consumerist approach to charity leaked into the church and we began to think about funding faith communities in the same way. That is, financial contributions to the church (or other faith organization) became viewed as charitable donations – donations being, in essence, being purchases that procure the good things in the world the donator wants to see.
Aren’t contributions to churches and other faith organizations just donations? The IRS categorizes them as such. Well, there is a subtle, but important difference. Certainly faith communities benefit when people say, “Hey they’re doing a thing I think is important, I’ll donate to that,” or, “Hey, they offer beneficial worship services, I’ll help support the cost of doing that.”
So that’s certainly well and good, but it is in contrast to the understanding of contributing financially as participating in community. “I’ll donate to that cause,” is different in subtle, but important ways from, “I’d like to participate in the life and work of this community, which means sharing the monetary cost.” The idea of financial participation in community over against the idea of donating to a cause does a few things. It fosters equity in the congregation, because a person’s voice in the church is not tied to the size of their contribution. Sure, some among us are able to carry more of the cost than others, but that doesn’t add up to more power. The direction and vision of the church doesn’t follow the money if the members therein don’t view themselves as donors. It also means that the full cost of ministry gets funding rather than just those things that are popular in the moment.
One of the most important aspects of the financial participation model of contribution is that everyone gets to be a part. A donation of just a few dollars may not seem like much when weighed against the collective cost of an entire organization. That can leave “donors” feeling insignificant. If instead of focusing on the size of the contribution, but rather on the intent – that is a desire to participate in community – then everyone is an equal participant. That’s gospel, friends, and I think it is the most critical part of how we think about our financial contribution – a sense of belonging. When we “donate” we give to an agency outside our reach. We say, “Here are some of my resources, go and do good with them.” When we think of our contributions as part of our participation in community we do entrust their expenditure to the wisdom of the congregation, but a congregation of which we are part. Donating encourages relinquishing involvement, participating financially draws us in to other parts of the life of the community. It enlivens our worship, engages us in mission, draws us more fully into relationship.
So here are a few things to ponder as you go:
How might viewing your financial contribution to your faith community as one facet of your participation over against making a donation impact the way you think about other areas of church life like mission, like faith formation, like worship?
How does fostering equity within the congregation support the work of equity outside the congregation?
And here’s one point of action for you to consider undertaking in the days ahead.
Would you prayerfully consider how you might be able to participate financially in the life of First Baptist Church of Rochester? There are a couple of ways to do that. The most pressing is to support our general operating budget, which is currently being mapped out for fiscal 2022. For planning purposes, it does our leaders well to know what our financial outlook will be, so our budget process works on pledges. You have or will soon receive a pledge card in the mail if we have your up-to-date contact information; otherwise they’re available outside the sanctuary. Would you consider filling one of those out to let us know how you’d like to participate financially in this community next year?
If you’re looking for a way to do more for the community, our Once and For All Fund might be an opportunity you’d like to look into. Once and For All is a fund established a couple of years ago with the purpose of lifting the cost of our physical campus off of our general operating budget. It’s a way that we hope to care for and share our beautiful campus for generations to come, while also allowing our budget to be more mission focused. You can make simple contributions to that fund or there are a number of ways to contribute that don’t involve writing a check at all. Legacy gifts, contributions of stock or other assets are helpful too. In fact there are likely ways to support the Once and And For All Fund that would mean little or no cost to you or your family that you may not even be aware of. If you’d like to learn more about those possibilities I can connect you with the people who can share all the details. Just let me know by calling the church office or emailing me at .
I’m grateful for your taking the time to reflect on these facets of community. See you at church.