Category Archives: Articles

Stewardship Article: It’s going to cost us, and it should…

It’s going to cost us, and it should…  a sermon by Revd Will Gibbs

I want to begin with a quotation from Basil the Great. Please bear with me, it is quite long, but it wouldn’t make much sense if I edited it or only used a small bit of it.

St Basil says this:

“But whom do I treat unjustly,” you say, “by keeping what is my own?” Tell me, what is your own? What did you bring into this life? From where did you receive it? It is as if someone were to take the first seat in the theatre, then bar everyone else from attending, so that one person alone enjoys what is offered for the benefit of all in the common – that is what the rich do. They seize common goods before others have the opportunity, then claim them as their own by right of pre-emption. For if we all took only what was necessary to satisfy our own needs, giving the rest to those who lack, no one would be in need.

Did you not come forth naked from the womb, and will you not return naked to the earth? Where then did you obtain your belongings? If you say that you acquired them by chance, then you deny God, since you neither recognize your Creator, nor are you grateful to the One who gave these things to you. But if you acknowledge that they were given to you by God, then tell me, for what purpose did you receive them? Is God unjust, when He distributes to us unequally the things that are necessary for life? Why then are you wealthy while another is poor? Why else, but so that you might receive the reward of benevolence and faithful stewardship, while the poor are honoured for patient endurance in their struggle? But you, stuffing everything into the bottomless pockets of your greed, assume that you wrong no one; yet how many do you in fact dispossess?

Who are the greedy? Those who are not satisfied with what suffices for their own needs. Who are the robbers? Those who take for themselves what rightfully belongs to everyone. And you, are you not greedy? Are you not a robber? The things you received in trust as a stewardship, have you not appropriated them for yourself? Is not the person who strips another of clothing called a thief? And those who do not clothe the naked when they have the power to do so, should they not be called the same? The bread you are holding back is for the hungry, the clothes you keep put away are for the naked, the shoes that are rotting away with disuse are for those who have none, the silver you keep buried in the earth is for the needy. You are thus guilty of injustice toward as many as you might have aided, and did not.

These words from St. Basil’s writing entitled ‘On Social Justice’ have haunted me for a long time now.  His words sting with truth. Why? For at least the following reasons:

  1. Too often we live as individuals, disconnected from and indifferent to, or at least unaware of, the needs of others. Or if not unaware, perhaps not sufficiently aware to the point that we’re actually going to do something about it. We shudder at the TV, or the bad news shared down the phone or in a passing conversation with a friend, and we say we’ll pray about it but we don’t actually want to roll up our sleeves.
  1. Our fear that there will not be enough only creates the reality that there is not enough – usually for the other person though and not for us. Charity begins at home and all that guff. No – sorry – that won’t do – we’re not generous as God is generous until it has truly cost us something. It cost the Father his Son on the Cross for us, a treat here or there is no sacrifice in comparison. If we don’t notice what we’re giving then we’re not giving enough or generously enough.
  1. We own nothing. Everything is a gift and a privilege – “grace upon grace” as St. John says – intended to be cared for and shared as a gift.
  1. As we approach the season of Lent it is a season that asks of us self-denial and fasting. I don’t think it’s enough to simply give up something only to take it back at Easter. Maybe self-denial and fasting are not complete until whatever it is we have let go of has been given to and shared with another in an ongoing way.
  1. The most obvious level at which to understand St. Basil’s words is the physical level – physical bread, clothes, shoes, and money. But maybe these same things also have symbolic meanings – the bread of love, encouragement, and a good word that feeds life and nourishes growth; the clothes that offer dignity, protection, and identity; the shoes of freedom that enable another to live, move, and have their being; the silver that is another’s value and worth.

How and from whom have we withheld bread, clothes, shoes, and silver, physical or otherwise?

There are (or more accurately, I have) no satisfactory answers to St. Basil’s questions and charges. Perhaps the only satisfactory response is confession and repentance and then to open our hearts and our hands and our wallets and purses. I am rich, greedy, and a robber. I must turn and face the other from whom I have withheld. I must give and share not only my stuff but my life. My salvation is somehow tied to their life, their well-being, and their salvation.

So I wonder, what do St. Basil’s words bring up for you? How do you answer his questions?

Over the last three weeks we’ve been sharing some thoughts about Stewardship. And the point about Stewardship is that it is always an exercise in ‘add up’ not ‘add on’. What do I mean by that?

What I am about to say is very risky but in saying it, I’m deadly serious.

Please do not say – ‘I do this, I give time to such and such a role, I care about this and I’m involved in that, and after all of these things – I want to give x pounds on top to support St Mary’s’.

No, if that is how you think please stop doing whatever you’re involved in at St Mary’s right now. Stop immediately. I will be around after the service to receive your resignation.

Please, please, please never think in such a contractual way because the God we love, the God we worship, the God we follow certainly doesn’t go about things in that way.

No. Instead say – ‘I value this, I give time to this, these things matter and I am pleased to be involved in that. And because of all that, because these things matter to me and they matter to others – I want to make sure they can continue and grow and flourish’.

And they will continue and grow and flourish when we match what we value and what we give in time and effort in what we give financially.

This is your church. I will still get my stipend whatever but what do you want your church to look like? Do you want it to be one of the best churches in the Diocese, one that leads the way in worship, and music, in nurturing and supporting vocations, the quality of our worship and our involvement in our community?

Hear this. Your five hours a week given to St Mary’s are precious and valued in so many ways by all of us and by me. But they count not a jot when I speak to British Gas to negotiate a new tariff for the heating here. (Which costs £1000 a month at this time of year by the way.) They don’t knock a bit off because it is an old church, a beautiful church, a committed church, a happy church full of good people. The bill is still high and challenging and, we think, worth paying to be a church that is open and welcome and comfortable.

We need £22k a month to do the things we do. £22k this month, next month and every month. To do them at all, to do them well, to do them lovingly, to do them for God and to do them for you and for all God’s people. If you think a bit of loose change is going to be your contribution you better start bringing a lot of other people along to throw some loose change in with you!

You get the point, you’ve heard the message, please respond. And I go on record today to say this. If you respond well. If you sign up for stewardship because you’re not in it at the moment, if you are in Stewardship and you review your giving and give a little more – if each of us does that – in whatever way we can – and that will be different amounts for each of us – if we each do this (and I will be doing this) then hear this. I will leave you alone next year. We will be so blessed by the response and can get on with using that money to grow God’s church, in love and service, and in bringing in God’s Kingdom. For we will be rich in so many ways beyond money and blessed beyond measure by the one from whom all good things come.

Revd Will Gibbs

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Stewardship Article: Proportion and Priority

Proportion and Priority from a sermon by Canon David Nye

Words from Luke’s gospel we have just read.

“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.

Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.” (Luke 6.24-26).

For me at least, that’s all a bit scary. Compared to most of the world, I am rich. I don’t go hungry. I am generally very content with life and find something to laugh at most days. Perhaps some of you will have the same feelings. And now I’m here to say something about stewardship and money: it’s all a bit of a challenge.

We live in a funny old world, don’t we? Daily, we are assailed with bad stuff that happens. Earthquakes, storms, civil wars, poverty, human trafficking, violence and so on. We sit comfortably at home feeling sorry for the millions who are suffering and perhaps feeling a bit guilty that we really aren’t doing very much to help. I think for most of us, most of the time, we live pretty contented lives. What are we doing about it?

Well, we have done something about it: we have come here this morning and in our own way, each of us is here to give thanks to God and to pray for others. That’s a really good start.

And we all know of wonderful things done for others in the name of love. There are good news stories if we look for them. For example, parents do astonishing things for their children. Like letting them come back home when they had apparently left for good. Like giving them some of their hard earned savings so that they could buy their own home. Others sometimes go to great lengths when it comes to helping those closest to them.

It is often hard to understand how, but God loves us infinitely more than we love those closest to us. Infinitely. He loves us so much that he sent his only Son to give us a message of love and forgiveness and even to die on the cross to save us. God has given us all of that and so many other blessings. So, so much.

How do we respond? By calling ourselves Christians, by loving God and by caring for our neighbour, by witnessing to his love and mercy through living out our lives as he would want us to. But this isn’t always easy: there are challenges. One of the challenges of being a Christian is to offer back to God, part of what he has generously and freely given us. Being a good steward of what God has given us, means using part of our time, our talents and our money for his glory. They’re all important, they’re all part of what it is to be a Christian, just like coming to church and reading our bible and saying our prayers and being nice to people. Using some of our time and our talents and our money is all part of our DNA as a follower of Christ.

So a few words about how and what we should give in terms of our money: time and talents will come another day.

It’s a fact, that it is you and I who pay for parish ministry. No one else. But let’s not think just in terms of those who come to this church: the Church of England is the church for all people, that’s everyone who lives in the parish of Redbourn and beyond: we and they are all God’s people. How many of them know the gospel of Jesus Christ? With more money and more resources, think how much more God, working through others, could do. Through your giving, your PCC is able to give substantial amounts outside the parish for charitable and missionary work. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to give more away to others who are desperately in need, when we have so much?

St Paul calls us to be generous. God’s generosity knows no bounds and we don’t even deserve it. Our generosity to God should reflect that and it will be different for each of us. The widow at the temple who gave two small coins was giving a huge amount for her; she had been far more generous than someone whose giving was out of their loose change. Do you think God would see us as being generous?

Second, God loves a cheerful giver. Giving for God’s work is certainly a duty but it ought to be joy as well: we should be pleased that with what we give, the gospel of our Lord and saviour can be proclaimed to others, so that more people will become Christians – isn’t that what we all want, to see a growing church?

Third, St Paul tells us to give proportionately. God doesn’t expect us to give what we don’t have. Absolutely not. But he does expect us to give in proportion to our income. That’s exactly what they did in the days of the early church. In one sense the woman at the temple who gave her two coins got it out of proportion – she was over generous. But there were many who were offering gifts out of proportion the other way- they were mean- and I’m not sure that much has changed. Churchgoers generally don’t seem to take this proportion idea very seriously and I’m not sure why. For those of you who like statistics, the church members in this diocese give comparatively small amounts compared with income. We really ought to do better.

Some years ago, the General Synod (that’s the church’s parliament) suggested that we should aim to give 5% of net income to the church. So if your net weekly income is say £500, a proportion of 5% means £25 each and every week. Some of you may think this is too much. When you get home, work out the proportion that you do give. The important point is to think in terms of proportionate giving even though initially it may be fairly modest: that’s a great start. And if you are able, set yourself a target of gradually giving a greater proportion over the next year or two. There are churches where the level of giving is about 5% so it can be done. And they are not always wealthy congregations. So let’s try to get our giving in proportion, in proportion to the amount we have and in proportion to the amount we spend on ourselves.

Last, our giving needs to be a priority. Yes, we have to feed and clothe ourselves and our families, we have to pay for the roof over our heads and we have to pay the mortgage. But at that point, I suggest we work out what we should be giving to God. We should work out our proportion and set that aside before deciding what we spend on holidays or the theatre or when to replace the car. Unless we budget for our giving in this way, we will be giving from what’s left over at the end of the month, we’ll be treating God as an afterthought. That‘s not being faithful to our generous God.

To summarise. When we give, we should give generously, cheerfully, proportionately and as a priority. And we also need to pray about it – that’s absolutely vital. If we do that, we will be faithful to God, we will know even more blessings and we will feel strengthened and uplifted. And we will enable the good news of God’s love and forgiveness to be made known to more and more people – won’t that be wonderful!

The words of Luke’s gospel I quoted at the beginning are a challenge to us today, to use wisely what we have, to share what God has given us with others, to follow Christ in all that we do, so that more and more may enjoy the riches and the fullness of God’s kingdom.

Canon David Nye

Stewardship Article: What is God calling us to do?

What is God calling us to do? a sermon by Anthony Davis

The Lord asks Isaiah “Whom shall I send?” Jesus calls Simon-Peter, James and John to follow him, but what is it that they are being called or sent to do?

But perhaps a more immediate question is what on earth is your ex curate’s husband doing standing in the pulpit, as if he’s about to deliver us a sermon? A bit of a tongue twister there – just in case any of you who don’t know me weren’t listening properly and are now wondering if you have just heard a revelation about Tim, I said ex-curate’s, not curate’s ex…

To address this last question first. I am here because I am starting to explore what God is calling me to do. That discernment might result in me being called to ordained ministry myself, and as part of that discernment I was tasked to interview some clergy about how they spend their time. So last Monday week I was here to grill Will on what he does when he is not in church on a Sunday.

At the end of the grilling, Will had a question for me:

“Anthony” he said “Would you consider coming and preaching for us in Redbourn?”

When I didn’t say “no” immediately, he followed up with

“Great, because we are having a Stewardship campaign and you know quite a lot about church finances”.

“Church Finances? Stewardship? Asking people for Money?” Not something about vocation, God’s call on our life then?

“Yes, and I want you to focus on the Parish Share, the money we give away to the diocese”

Really Will? Parish Share?

On reflection though, perhaps the concepts of vocation and of giving to church are not so far apart. Bear with me…

What is Jesus calling the disciples to in today’s Gospel?

He is calling them to “Catch people”, to evangelise, to bring people to God. They are also being called to literally walk with God, God in Jesus Christ, to learn and to understand. Later on in the Gospels they will be called to heal the sick, feed the hungry, bind up the broken hearted.

In the words of our Diocesan Living God’s Love mission statements, they are being called to make new disciples, to go deeper into God and to transform communities.

This is not just a call to the disciples, it is our call too. A call from the God who is so powerful and huge that just the hem of his robe fills the whole temple in Jerusalem, who generously created all we have. It is a call from the same God who loves us so much that he was prepared to come down from heaven, live as a man, and to die for our sake. As Christians, as we respond to God’s generosity and love with generosity and love of our own.

And our response is with all we have – our time and energy, and our financial resources too. So, we are called to give to those organisations, including the church, which answer God’s call to evangelism, mission and worship.

But why on earth does Will want me to talk about the Parish Share?

Perhaps because the amount St Mary’s is asked to “give away” to the diocese could be an obstacle for some to giving to the church here.

But here is the thing, God’s call is not just to Redbourn, but to all of humanity. Jesus did not call the disciples to rebuild their local synagogue. St Paul was not inspired by the truth of the resurrection to go back home to preach the Gospel. And that Gospel message is certainly not just for the rich and those who can afford it.

Although some of you may feel, like the fishermen in the Gospel, you work all night only for few fish, collectively at Redbourn, your nets are full to bursting. This is statistically one of the wealthiest places in one of the wealthiest countries in the world in one of the wealthiest times ever in history. St Mary’s itself is blessed with amazing riches – beautiful buildings and also people – Will and Tim and also the wider ministry team of retired clergy, readers, LLWs and others.

Your Parish Share is a way of sharing some of your catch with others. It is about funding mission, evangelism and worship across the diocese, where there is need, not just where there is wealth.

So what does this mean for Redbourn.

Does anyone know what Redbourn’s parish share is?

It is about £130,000.

It is calculated based on three things – the number of paid clergy (excluding first post curates – i.e. just Will for Redbourn), church membership (which is an average of attendance and electoral roll) and the relative wealth of the parish. As an aside, although the overall figure for Redbourn is very high because you have a high church membership, because of that high membership, the amount requested per person is one of the lowest in this deanery, £530 per year against over £600 on average for the deanery and also lower than much of the diocese.

So what does all that money pay for? The first answer is not as much as you would expect – the diocese estimates that the all-in cost of employing a single full-time member of the clergy, including pension, the upkeep of vicarages and costs for training new clergy, is over £57,000 Therefore, after they pay for Will and Tim, your net contribution to the rest of the diocese is currently under £16,000.

Before I tell you what that does pay for, let me briefly mention some of the things the Parish Share doesn’t pay for. It doesn’t fund the Cathedral, it’s staff, or the Bishops – those costs are met by the Church Commissioners. It doesn’t fund chaplains at schools, hospitals and prisons whose salaries are paid for by the school, the NHS or the Prison Service. And it also doesn’t fund diocesan admin – the diocese has a small amount of investment income which more than pays for its admin overheads. In fact, the Parish Share is spent entirely on the costs of parish ministry.

So what does it actually pay for? Well, just under 4 years ago, at the end of her training, your last Curate followed a sense that God was calling her to be vicar in Flitwick, Bedfordshire. Flitwick had no Curate, no retired clergy, no readers, no lay leaders of worship, it’s congregation was elderly and declining and for many years it’s parish share had not been sufficient to cover the cost of its single vicar. Were the 15,000 people who live in the town of Flitwick any less worthy of God’s love than the people of Redbourn? Is the church of Christ called any less to evangelise, to build communities and to worship in Bedfordshire than in Hertfordshire. Of course not. And your generosity in giving enables that.

So what is God calling us to do… with our money? The same as he is calling us to do with our hearts and minds and bodies – to make new disciples, to transform communities and to worship Him, from whom all that we have and all that we will have, is given.

And many parishes like Flitwick, up and down the diocese, are thankful that places like Redbourn respond to this call.

Anthony Davis