Stewardship Matters 2016

Sunday 2 October was Stewardship Sunday for St Bartholomew’s and St Christopher’s – a fresh call for their people’s time, talents, and financial giving.  Following are the links to materials handed out in the churches:

Stewardship Matters Handout

Giving for Life, Living Generously

Address for Stewardship Sunday 2016 

given by Rev Mary Bowden, Rector

So today has been designated Stewardship Sunday. It is the logical and intuitive way of following our harvest thanksgiving. In response to all God’s goodness to us we ask ourselves how we should respond.

Today we are thinking about our giving, and specifically about our giving to the parish, and mainly about the money that we give – our financial response. Which doesn’t mean that the parish isn’t in serious need of volunteers to do a wide range of tasks, including counting money, acting as legacies officer, making coffee, welcoming people into church, helping with children’s and youth work….. Dorothea has written about some of these things in the new – hot off the press – edition of HL. But today I want to concentrate mainly on money – financial giving – because its 20 months since we had a stewardship campaign and the parish income has dropped, to a point where we are eating worryingly into our reserves. We are a charity and like all charities we depend on what we are given to be able to function. I’ll say more about the detail of our financial position in a minute – want to look at some principles first.

So why do we call it stewardship, not giving or pledging. Both those words are accurate but they don’t tell the complete story. There’s a concept I first encountered when I was thinking about ordained ministry: the idea that being a priest is about being not about doing. We can apply that to our Christian lives, never mind restricting it to ministers. Of course, being and doing are both important but it’s being – who we are, how we are, what matters to us – that dictates our doing. So being a Christian, being aware of God’s will, loving God and being loved by God – is what shapes and drives and enables what we do. Seeing ourselves as stewards of God’s generosity, God’s world, God’s gifts, is a way of thinking about our lives. The Bible tells us that we are only borrowers or custodians of all that we have. If we believe this and allow it to shape us, then giving and pledging are things that we will do, that will come naturally to us, springing from our faith and our love and our worship, which in themselves spring from God’s love for us.

David puts it like this.

11 Thine, O Lord is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all.

12 Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all.

This is a crucial moment in David’s own history and that of his people. It’s the handover of the kingdom from David to Solomon, and the start of the great temple project – originally conceived by David as his own and now to be passed onwards to his son. The collection of materials has already begun, with extraordinary results…

five thousand talents and ten thousand darics of gold, ten thousand talents of silver, eighteen thousand talents of bronze and a hundred thousand talents of iron. 8 Any who had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the temple ……..So the generosity of the people leads David to rejoice and marvel, and to praise and worship God for the goodness and generosity that have evoked this response in the people. We can see that for David this generosity is a proper and complete response to all that God has done and is doing and will do, as the people give for the temple all that is needed to make it strong and beautiful and a place where God’s work can be done.

As we think about that, it’s a good moment to ask what happens to the money you give to the parish? How is it used? It to keep everything running, to keep our buildings safe and watertight, to enable our activities, including our youth and children’s work and and our outreach to the local community to continue and develop, to support the wider church and to be able to in our turn to give money away to the charities we support.

You might wonder why I’m talking about eating away our reserves when we have just completed a significant project to rewire and relight St Bartholomew’s church. Why would we do that if money is such a problem? That’s a good question. The answer is that we have, or we had, a pot of money which has been left over the years by parishioners in their wills and much of it was left to St Bartholomew’s Church, rather than the parish of Haslemere, which means that it can only be used for work to St Barts itself and not for other buildings or projects within the parish. The wiring and lighting, and the new notice boards for the St Barts site which are in the process of being approved and ordered, and some current work to maintain the fabric of St Barts itself, are being funded from these restricted – and increasingly depleted – sums. But, for example, St Christopher’s new notice board will be funded from our general account as we don’t have designated funds for St Christopher’s. So if you are thinking of leaving money to the parish you might want to check that the wording in your will reflects your intention clearly. If you want to leave money to a particular building then it should say so, but if you want it to be left for the support of the work of the parish as a whole then the words parish of Haslemere should appear.

And I hope that explains why we are able to do some important and expensive projects but still need to come to you asking you to review your giving, or if you haven’t thought about it before, to begin to give.

Our gospel reading was the story of Zacchaeus, a man whose whole approach to life was transformed by his encounter with Jesus. One thing I particularly like about the story is his ambivalence at the start. He wants to see Jesus but it really looks as if he doesn’t want Jesus to see him. He climbs the tree in order to be able to see but he himself is hidden amongst the thick branches and leaves. Imagine his shock when Jesus looks straight at him – and his life changes from that moment. Immediately he “gets” the point I made at the beginning: that once we have begun to understand the love and generosity of God we have no choice but to respond in kind.

‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’

Half of his possessions – wow. We’re told he was a rich man, so perhaps he could give away half and barely notice. But I suspect it was a sacrifice: that he was so overwhelmed and convinced by Jesus that he understood something new – that all he had came from God and was to be shared.

All things come from you and of your own do we give you.

You have each been given a green leaflet – stewardship matters. Vic and I did debate whether it should be red, red for the threat to our reserves, but in the end thought green for growth was the way to go! It has 3 parts – another explanation of what stewardship is and why it matters, a series of quotations from the old and new Testaments which I pray you will find helpful in considering your response, and inside, a double page spread which is an invitation from the PCC to review the level of your giving, with some information about our finances – income and expenditure – reinforcing the point that we, the members of the parish, are the main source of income. Many people are already giving generously and without that giving the parish would cease to function: but unless we increase that giving now, the range of our activities will reduce, our buildings will suffer and we won’t be able to fulfil our mission to share the gospel. So: if you are already giving, please can you see if you could afford a little more, and if you aren’t already a regular giver, could you become one? The leaflet includes an indication of the amounts we need and we all recognise that not everyone can afford to give on this scale. But as Jesus told us in the parable of the widow’s mite, everything is important and nobody should feel guilty if their giving what they can afford. If your faith is important to you, if this parish and its life are important to you, if this is your spiritual home, please do think and pray about what you can do – what more you can do – to support its work and its life.

There is another leaflet, produced by the national church and printed somewhat unattractively in greyscale. This gives more information about the principles of giving and a very useful page on how to decide how much to give and if you’re giving enough.

[If you would like to talk about this please do speak to me or Chuks or to someone on the PCC you can trust. Or to Don creamer as stewardship secretary. Whatever you say to us will be confidential.]

I want to finish with the message that in being asked to be generous with not only our money but our time and our talents and all that we have, we are part of a great tradition of faith – beginning with the children of Israel and continuing through Jesus and the birth of Christianity and all down the centuries. The attitude of mind that we call stewardship has been fundamental to following and loving and serving God from the very beginning. So I’m going to read the series of quotations from the leaflet and I would ask you again, to take them away and think about them and most importantly pray through them. And then fill in the standing order form, pledge envelope giving, review your existing level of giving and do it in gratitude and love.

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,  the world, and those who live in it.

Yet you have made them [mortals] a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;  you have put all things under their feet.                Psalm 8.5-6

All shall give as they are able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you.      Deuteronomy 16.17

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.        Phil

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