Q How do you damage, even destroy, a church?
A Give it a £1million.
That’s what happened to a friend’s church – not in our Diocese. On arriving as vicar he discovered that in recent times the church had come into this money. The wardens decided to sit on it and enjoy the interest payments.
Giving plummeted – no surprise there. He explained to me with a sad heart that even he and his wife found it extremely difficult to give financially to their own church. Members of that church had lost their sense of belonging – it wasn’t really their church anymore.
Yesterday the wardens and I spent the evening in the Ministry Centre, putting together our mailing to church members as part of our “Giving in Grace, ” a stewardship programme put together by the Diocese. The aim is not to raise finance; the aim is for each of us to assume our responsibility of being a member of Christ Church, whatever that may mean in our own individual context.
Some 15 years ago we thought it time to sort out our church carpeting – the old blue carpet clearly needed replacing. So we went in two coaches to St Mark’s Haydock to look at their brand-new church carpet.
We were inspired to see this purple floor covering. But much more, their faith in action – you could walk on it. The whole church had been involved in the project – and their faith and fellowship grew in the process.
As it happened, there was another church, just down the road, with another splendid new carpet. But the difference was that it had been provided through the generosity of a single benefactor. Lovely to look at but this church did not grow through the process. Their faith had not been challenged. It simply wasn’t needed.
For our lesson from Haydock was that if God can provide a brand-new carpet for an ageing Victorian building, then the sky’s the limit if we are prepared to trust his provision. Which takes us to our Ministry Centre, for me a daily visible reminder of God’s faithfulness.
How we did this simply amazes me, not least because when we began the church’s general fund was in stress and when it finished ten years later our finances were still in stress. And yet over that period church members gave just under £1million (including gift aid and interest payments). We received no grants.
The project treasurer, Stuart, informed me that this represented many church members giving generously rather than just one or two families giving heroically. It wasn’t just that the building was built. More to the point, our faith in God grew and our fellowship strengthened.
For there is nothing quite like finances for faith to be stretched, tested and vindicated.
My uncle reckoned that he could weigh someone up, work out what kind of person they were, simply by looking at their book shelves. I’m sure we can be accurately assessed by our bank statement. How we choose to spend our money will show the measure of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
So we need to encourage each other to be generous, the words of the apostle Paul “to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous.” (1 Timothy 6:18). Generosity of spirit has to be the sign of God at work in our lives. We give not because we have to but because we want to. Now, there’s a challenge.