Friday, May 1, 2009

We're Building God A Parking Lot. I Hope he Likes It.

I was brought up as a Methodist.  For the past 25 years, I've been attending the same Methodist Church a few miles from my house.  My husband and I were married there, and although he was brought up as a Catholic, he began attending with me when we were engaged.  As members go, we haven't been the most active and we haven't been the least active.  We used to belong to a Sunday School class until most of the members moved on to other places.  I belong to UMW.  We don't tithe, but we do pledge every year and give what we pledge plus extra at Christmas.  I give about 3.5% of my gross income to the church and 10% of my take home pay to various charities, church included.  From what I have read, that's pretty much in line with what the average Methodist gives.

My church, let's call it St. Anonymous, has recently embarked on a fund drive for some new building projects, specifically a new parking lot, new covered drop-off, expansion of the education building, and some remodeling of the sanctuary.  My husband and I voted against undertaking the project at this time in light of the current economic situation.  We were in a decided minority, but we weren't the only ones.

Part of the project involved hiring a consultant to help with the fundraising.  Hubby and I expected a hard sell, and we weren't disappointed.  As a result, I found myself up late one night writing the following musings.  Since I'm not likely to send it to my pastor (whom I actually like and respect, even when we disagree), I decided to post it here where no one will ever read it anyway:

Why I Am Not Giving to the Building Program

1)  I want my charitable donations to serve God.  

God wants us to feed the hungry, clothe the ill-clad, tend the sick, and let those whose actions have placed them outside of human society know there is always hope for redemption.  There are many organizations in this community that do that, and every dollar that I could give to St. Anonymous to pave the parking lot I can give to them instead.  On the other hand,  God made his opinion of building projects known in that little episode of the Tower of Babel.  

2) There’s a recession on.

That means that all our community organizations that  feed the hungry, clothe the ill-clad, tend the sick, visit the prisoner, help victims of domestic violence, supplement utility payments for the elderly, and fund the organizations that do are fighting harder to keep what funding they have. My husband and I have increased what we give to some of these organzations by 50% to help meet that need, despite our concerns about our shrinking retirement fund just as retirement grows near.  

3)  Giving to the building program is not really giving.  It’s paying for creature comforts for ourselves. 

The only one of these improvements that is by any stretch of the imagination necessary is expanding the Education Building.  The rest of them are luxuries.  None of these improvements is anything different from what a country club or health club might try to provide for its members, but the country club or health club isn’t going to suggest that giving to their building project is the same thing as giving to God, or that there is some magic proportion of my income that God wants me to give for a new lobby.  Yes it would be nice to have a covered drop off, but it’s nice in the same way it would be nice to have a new purse. Either way, it’s money spent on myself.  

4)  We’re having a day of prayer and what for?

I don’t recall us ever having a day of prayer to end world hunger or to cure AIDS in Africa or for world peace, but we’re having one so we can have new chairs in the sanctuary.  I’d be embarrassed to pray about that.  Seriously.

5)  Whenever “sacrificial giving” is mentioned, it’s always with respect to giving to St. Anonymous, not on behalf of the  special collections that actually go to missions of the United Methodist Church or to community organizations.

We have “Change to Make a Change” Sundays, which suggests that whatever dimes, quarters, or small bills we have in our pockets is plenty enough to give to community organizations.  We’re told that we don’t even have to give to the 6 or so special UMC collections we have during the year, and no one is ever invited to speak on behalf of those missions to tell us what they are and what they do.  Those are the programs that provide services directly to people in some kind of need.  Those are the programs that serve God.  

6) Stewardship?  Oh, yes, let’s talk about stewardship.

 Stewardship is the wise use of resources to serve God.  Stewardship is not trying to divert money that is needed to feed the hungry and otherwise care for the unfortunate into a building program. Stewardship is not mistaking a church building for God himself.  Stewardship is not pampering ourselves and pretending it’s what God wants.  Stewardship is not just giving money to a church; it’s making sure that money is prayerfully and wisely spent on behalf of the greater good.  And stewardship is the reason I’m not giving one dime to this building program.  

More and more it occurs to me that if I just stop attending church, I’d have more money to give to the people and organizations, secular as well as religious, that really do God’s work in the world.

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