Some Thoughts on Stewardship and Charity
By Maia Simon, Trenton Monthly Meeting
PYM Worship & Care Standing Committee, PYM Development Working Group
As I attend our monthly Meeting for Worship with a concern for Business, I hear repeated concerns about the financial state of our giving, both to our monthly meeting and to PYM Annual Fund. As I consider our call to give beyond ourselves, I am reminded of my own journey of learning about the blessing of giving and wish to share it with you.
During my late incarnation as an Episcopalian, I was tapped to serve on the Stewardship committee. I thought that this was to be simply a fundraising activity, but I was mistaken. As a committee we explored our individual experiences, ideas, hopes and concerns about supporting the financial needs of our worship community. In time, we undertook a program of “proportionate giving”, and each of us delivered a sermon that fall, sharing our experience around the issue of supporting the church. It demonstrated the power of Spirit and community to transform our resentment and fear about giving from what we perceived as our limited means.
Our program of proportionate giving invited us to examine our individual decisions about charitable giving including giving to our faith community. We were asked to calculate what portion of our income we were giving away and what portion of our charitable giving was going to the church. There were no guidelines provided about what these proportions should be. We were simply asked to do the math and then ask ourselves if this proportion seemed right.
My own experience at the time is that I was giving about $5 a week in the basket, being reluctant to pledge a given amount. My reluctance was grounded in a belief that others wanted “my” money and whenever others asked for “my” money my emotional response was resentment and defensiveness. I needed to protect “my” money. As I recall, when I did the math, it turned out that this $5 represented about .5% of my income. That is one half of one percent. That was a revelation. I had thought it was a lot of money. (This was in the early 1980’s). That year I pledged $520 a year, which was about 1% of my income: $10 a week. The next year it was $20 a week. And it grew from there for one simple reason: the more I gave, the more I seemed to have. I never once suffered lack because of my charitable giving. I started to recognize that “my” money was not really mine, but a resource granted me by The Divine to handle with love and responsibility.
Over the years I expanded my giving to include gifts that are not tax deductible. You see, self-interest was still alive and well in my giving! I know a Quaker healer who lives on donations and I am privileged to help support his work. I get to have the vicarious experience of providing a healing presence in the world. On the other hand, I sometimes encounter folks who are in need and, having this mindset that half of my giving is not tax deductible, opens my mind to stepping forward with help. It may be a person at the supermarket struggling with food stamps and $5 short of what they need. Or a friend who shares her fear about not being able to pay the electric bill this month. Once, I was privileged to pay for a simple funeral for a still born baby, whose mother was visiting here from Jamaica.
I have been richly blessed. I found that even when I lost my career to illness that there was still “enough” to go around. It still seems that the more I give, the more I have.
Each of us must answer the question, “In what ways am I called to minister in the world? … to serve others and God?” In my experience, Quakers are loathe to consider these questions in terms of money. I have heard folks say, “We don’t talk about money. We don’t ask for money.” I know some who are Quakers because no demands are made of them – no creed, no tithe, no commitment. I say, “Well, no wonder we have trouble raising money!”
If I choose the Religious Society of Friends as my faith community, I have responsibilities to that community. Our current edition of Faith and Practice states: “Members are expected to participate in communal worship, to share in the work and services of the Society, and to live in harmony with its basic beliefs and practices. Membership entails readiness to live as part of the monthly quarterly and yearly meeting. Specifically, this means participating in meeting for worship, meeting for business, committee work, and giving time, skills and financial support to Meeting activities such as religious education, pastoral care, and witness to the broader community. Since Friends reject the distinction between clergy and laity, responsibility for the full range of Meeting activities rests with the membership.” page 34.
I believe that we sometimes neglect to mention these responsibilities to prospective members for fear of scaring them away. But, I ask you, what is the value of a body on the bench who does not seek to be in unity with us in all of our work? We don’t ask for money, because it is no one’s job to ask for money and no one wants that job anyway.
But I don’t buy the line that says we Friends are cheap. Friends have been extraordinarily generous throughout our history. We tend to give to many causes and concerns and invest our time and energy as well as our money. We often leave large sums in our wills. Looking just at my household, (and I don’t think we are unique) last year we gave to 22 tax-deductible charities; seven of them Quaker, two of other faiths and ten secular. I expect that many of us in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting have similar profiles.
I invite you to consider your giving; to your monthly meeting, to PYM Annual Fund, and to the larger community. Does the amount you give reflect your values? Is it appropriate in your eyes, and in the eyes of whatever you call the Divine? The question we each must consider is if our giving is rightly ordered.
Here is another way of looking at it that expands the question so as to compare our leisure spending with our giving. It allows us to analyze how well our spending reflects our values. When looking at this, we might get curious about how much of our income is spent on clothing? On medical care? On saving? On debt service? These are all excellent questions. And these numbers are for no one but you. They allow you to make a decision about how you want to be spending your money.
But these numbers also challenge us to examine our faithfulness. Is this the way I am called to give? Am I called to give at all? Is the balance right? Do I have ‘enough’? Do I have a responsibility to support my faith community? What might happen if I gave up my daily grande latte and gave that money away instead?
Those of us with responsibility for managing the finances of the yearly meeting tend to focus on ‘fund raising’. There are lots of best practices for fund raising, and the focus is generally on the bottom line. This is, of course, appropriate business practice.
I happen to sit on both the Worship and Care standing committee and the Development working group. My personal calling is to foster the idea of giving as a spiritual practice, one that serves the giver as much as the receiver. In the October 2012 issue of Friends Journal, Merry Stanford has shared an article entitled “The Ministry of Giving Money.” I commend it to you. And Friends Journal ran a Quakers and Money issue in July of 2006 that is available in their on-line archive.
So, can we talk? Can we talk about our experience of the Divine? Can we talk about money? Can we talk about what it means to all ones’ self Quaker? I pray that we can.