Friday, November 14, 2008

Stewardship in a time of financial crisis challenges congregations

From Episcopal News Service-

Stewardship season, the time when Episcopal congregations ask their members to decide how much of their income they will give to support the church's mission, coincided this year with a global economic crisis that caused layoffs, home foreclosures, shrunken investment portfolios and retirement accounts, and mostly dire predictions about the future.

While some Episcopal congregations advocate the biblical tithe of 10 percent and others suggest proportional giving (setting an initial percentage of income to pledge and then increasing it each year), both models – and all the variations in between – depend upon givers knowing or being able reasonably to predict the income upon which to pledge. The current uncertainty makes that predicting harder.

Yet the Rev. Brad Whitaker, rector of Christ Church in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, said, "I don't feel it's appropriate to go into panic mode." He won't be preaching "arm-twisting" stewardship sermons, he added.

Grosse Pointe Farms is close enough to Detroit to be feeling the downturn in the automobile industry and some of Christ Church's more than 350 pledging members have lost their jobs – or are worried about them. In the midst of that anxiety, Whitaker's message is that pledging must be "an honest reflection of my thankfulness for what God has already given me."

Tom Gossen, executive director of the Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS), said in an interview that a traditional stewardship message of "what I believe, why I give and what difference it makes" is still the best way to approach the season, no matter its context. "It's got to be giving out of love," he said.

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