Last week, feeling guilty about having missed church for a while, I stumbled in on Stewardship Sunday. We were supposed to have filled out pledge cards to put on the altar. I vaguely remember getting one at home, along with a letter asking us to pray about what God wants us to give.
Okay, maybe if I prayed about what God wanted me to give, I’d get different answers, but when I merely think about giving, what goes through my mind is:
“There are people in this community who are hungry. You should give money to the Food Bank.”
“Winter is coming, and some people can’t pay for heat. You should give money to Power to Care (a charitable program run by the utility company to help people with their utility bills).”
“With winter coming, kids need coats. You should give money to Pat’s Coats for Kids.” Sometimes it’s fall and children need school supplies.
“Christmas is coming. Some parents can’t buy toys for their kids. You should buy some for Toys for Tots.”
So that’s where my money for charitable giving goes, along with a few other organizations (the non-profit agency I used to work for, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, a monthly amount to FINCA, occasional small amounts to MSF). I also do listen to the little voice that tells me that as long as I keep going to church I probably should give them some money to keep the lights on. It’s only fair.
I just have a hard time believing that any money I give to St. Anonymous is money given to God. All the pastors we’ve had have as much as said so, but if you can get your hands on a copy of the budget (and it’s a lot harder to do that than it used to be), you don’t see any amounts listed for Hope Ministries (the food pantry) or the prison ministry, or any other charitable giving. There are many opportunities to give to missions: you can bring food items for Hope Ministries, you can bring toys or gifts for the elderly at Christmas, you can buy salsa or baked goods to support the children’s home, you can bake cookies for prisoners and buy “manna bags” for the homeless. But that money you pledge each month? Once the pastor, staff and the light bill are paid, the majority goes to the “music ministry” and “children’s ministry.” No, the “children’s ministry” is not an outreach program to supply coats or school supplies or dental care to those children who need it and can’t afford it; it’s Sunday School and youth groups. The music ministry is of course the choir, some members of which are paid.
I have nothing against the music ministry or the children’s ministry and I love our new pastor, but to me all this seems upside-down. If I’m going to donate 10% of my retirement income anywhere (and that’s a big if), the bulk of it is going to go to the organizations that feed the hungry and clothe the naked and otherwise help people who are in need. Secular community organizations seem to do a good job of that, at least when they have the money. So that’s where my money is going to go.
And if Pastor J doesn’t like that, she can take it up with God, because if I remember correctly, it’s actually his idea.