Stewardship: ‘Let’s talk about wallets, not willies’

15 July 2009

Rosalind O Dowd

Rosalind O Dowd

A NEW DRIVE to increase stewardship giving was launched by the General Synod last weekend. It endorsed a new booklet aimed at raising average giving to ten per cent after tax — five per cent to and through the Church, and five per cent directly to other work that “helps to build God’s kingdom”.

Colin Slater (Southwell & Nottingham), introducing the debate on Friday afternoon, said that the Giving for Life parish guide was as important as the report itself. It was vital that all parishes reviewed their strategy and identified their priorities. The guide was a tool, and would be revised in the light of the Synod’s comments. The National Stewardship Committee had met 31 stewardship ad­visers, representing 27 dioceses.

It had been asked time and again to retain the initial giving target of five per cent of net income given to and through the Church. This it was glad to restate, since it had been set out in the report A Resourceful Church (1978), and through subsequent reports this basic premise had never changed. Today presented the first opportunity in nine years to debate that policy.

Thirty-one years on, in no diocese had that target been met. But there had been consistent growth, and church members now gave more than £600 million a year, more than half the total income of the Church of England. A sense of urgency was needed, however, because if the average of five per cent was reached, it would create “an additional £300 million”.

Four imperatives — discipleship, mission, gen­erosity, and lifestyle — ran through the report, which offered ideas for action.

A further five-per-cent target was set for giving for “other work that helps to play our part in building God’s Kingdom”. This point was implicit in the report First to the Lord (2000), but had not been in the Synod’s motion at that time. Today, Mr Slater believed that the Synod would want to take away any doubt about this.

Rosalind O’Dowd (London) welcomed the debate as outward-looking. As a marketing and fund-raising professional for Tearfund, she said that the issue was close to her heart. Young people specially needed guidance as they struggled to find the balance between meeting their basic costs and others’ needs.

The Bishop of Ripon & Leeds, the Rt Revd John Packer, said that the latest figures (2007) showed a rise from 3.2 per cent to 3.4 per cent, but it was still only two-thirds of the persistent call to the Church from the Synod. He expressed concern at the prevalent view that there could be a return to a pre-recession lifestyle. The re­port could be used to challenge the desire to return to that lifestyle, he said.

Clive Scowen (London) spoke to his three amendments. The first sought to include children and young people in teaching on giving. The second spelled out the true motive for giving, a responsibility to the generosity of God, which was a matter of grace, not duty. The third amendment was a reminder that giving was founded on God’s promise to give, and asked for consideration on tithing to be a starting-point. It sought to spell out an incremental approach.

Margaret Condick (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) liked the encouragement of parishes to be “habitually generous” rather than emphasise fund-raising. Many people in parishes felt that the diocese had nothing to do with them: people tended to see their own church, parish, or village as more important.

The debate ran out of time and was adjourned. When it was resumed on Saturday afternoon, Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) said that the Church in the United States “does stewardship much better than we do”. Clergy in the Church of England needed to be able to speak about their own attitude towards money and giving. “We spend a lot of time in Synod talking about what people do with their willies. We could spend more time discussing what they do with their wallets.” He could not recall that he had had any in­struc­tion during ordination training about the clergy and money. But “giving is mission. Giving is ministry.”

Clive Scowen moved his amend­ment that included children and young people among those church mem­bers who were being encour­aged to be generous.

The Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin (London) spoke of a pensioner living in London, with an adult child at home and four grandchildren, who every Sunday put £12 on the plate. The clergy must not steer away from the issue of stewardship: it was a response to God’s love.

Mr Scowen’s first amendment was carried, and he moved his second amendment, about grace, not duty.

Canon Andrew Dow (Gloucester) told the story of a 70-year-old widower, Bill, who had come to faith late in life. He had told Mr Dow that he gave ten per cent of his pension to the Church, “and a bit more if I can, because I owe the Lord a fair bit in arrears”. The tithe should be seen as a blessing and a joy, not as a tax for Christians. The only time he had suggested in a sermon that the elderly poor need not con­tribute, he had been rebuked by a pensioner at the end of the service who asked him: “Why do you demean me by denying me the privilege of following God’s call to give, and so denying me God’s blessing?”

Dr Peter May (Winchester) said that when he was converted at the age of 20, in the 1960s, before starting his medical training, he had received a sum of £400. “Should I give one per cent, or ten per cent, or 50 per cent to the Church? I needed guidance.” He had given generously, but that had left his father “to pick up the rump for my generosity while I was training”. He commended the “delight” to be able to choose char­ities, big or small, to which to give.

  The amendment was carried, and Mr Scowen moved his third amend­ment to add that church members should give “as an ex­pression of faith in God’s promises”, and that as a person’s faith grew, so should their giving.

  Mr Slater, however, doubted that increased giving was proportionate to increased faith. Church people were now giving, on average, three per cent of income, “but is the Church really three times more faithful than the Church of 30 years ago that gave just one per cent? I doubt it.” The amendment was lost.

  Gavin Oldham (Oxford) said that a significant number of those who gave regularly to the Church were higher-rate taxpayers. If, through their annual tax return, higher-rate tax payers also claimed the difference between the 28-per-cent rate and their own higher 50 per cent, from April next year, and donated that to the Church, it could bring in a further estimated £10 million at no additional cost to them.

  The Archdeacon of Bournemouth, the Ven. Adrian Harbidge (Winchester), who had once been Canon Butler’s training incumbent, said that he had “done some calculations” on the amount Canon Butler might give to the training parish after Canon Butler had told the Synod earlier in the debate that “he had not given 1p to God until well into his second curacy.” The sum was £1800 plus interest, he told the Synod. “I am seeing the treasurer on Tuesday evening.”

The amended motion was carried. It read:

That this Synod, affirming that God gives abundant gifts to us as individuals and as a Church, and that we are stewards of all that God has given us:

(a) encourage church members (including children and young people) to live generously as disciples of Jesus Christ, joyfully giving time, skills, money and other resources to God’s mission in the world, in times of economic stringency as well as of plenty, in response to the lavish generosity of God to us in Christ who made himself poor that we might become rich;

(b) reconfirm its challenge to church members to assess annually their financial giving as a proportion of income and to adopt as an initial target the giving of five per cent of their after-tax income to and through the Church, and a similar amount to other work that helps to build God’s kingdom; and

(c) commend the Giving for Life guide (GS 1732a) to parishes and dioceses/deaneries for prayerful discussion and action.

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