Monday, November 14, 2011

Once Again

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.


  1. You have paid choir members? I'm actually kind of surprised - I don't think I've ever been to a church where anyone singing up the front was paid to be there other than the pastor. Same with the Sunday School, the youth group or the creche - everything was volunteer based. (I was on the creche roster for a couple of years - it's a lot of fun wrangling small kids in the back room of the church while listening to the sermon on the speakers!)

  2. The great majority of the choir members are church member volunteers, but there have been one or two music students from the local college who get small stipends and they have hired some musicians for special programs.

  3. Oh OK - I was sort of envisioning a Hillsong type massed (and paid!) choir with accompanying rock band. No idea why exactly (and having read People in Glass Houses you'd think I'd know that Hillsong don't pay for anything they can get for free...)

    I was trying to work out how the church (the one I went to while child-wrangling in the creche) paid for things like Sunday School, youth group, musicals etc and I think the funds mostly came from the donation plate and from hiring out the hall to various groups during the week. (There was a badminton competition held there Wednesday nights for example.) The minister's salary was paid by the diocese I think, certainly not by the congregation. I know there was a lot of fund-raisers held specifically to fix the roof though - what is it with churches and roof maintenance?

  4. We're doing a similar thing in our church right now, but our church sounds far smaller. For both reasons of transparency and to help people see why they should give, our pastor has made a big effort to distribute our budget numbers. Knowing exactly how much money goes to salary, how much goes to upkeep on the building (which also houses an independent nursery school, a Spanish school, 3 other churches, and a homeless lunch program), and how much goes to our community service helps me quite a bit. (Our main community service is providing a house for free to families with drastically sick children who are being treated nearby. Many are from overseas and cannot be employed in the US.) Perhaps you can talk to other church members in an effort to place more emphasis on transparency and community service?

  5. Re: Churches and Roof Maintenance

    (My dad was the financial secretary for the church I grew up in).

    Since it is hard to raise the $100K that it will take to replace the moderate to large size church roof all at once, it usually gets done piecemeal as needed and is never actually ever all 'fixed' at the same time. Also, churches are rarely ever built with roofs with a optimal slope for maintenance--a walkable slope. Flat roofs are expensive to maintain, as are extremely sloped ones.