Thursday, 17 November 2011

Church and The Value of Time

I have been thinking about, and talking about the whole 'giving' thing. It is something that I have to take seriously as a Vicar, as a broke church is a fairly closed one. 

When we talk about 'giving' in church life, we are more often than not talking about dosh / wonga / cash. Entire campaigns are planned and orchestrated so that we may pursue the Mighty Dollar, at times (in my opinion) with a sense that God is a coin-operated fairground ride. In other words, you pop your coin in the slot and God will whir into action like a celestial automaton. 

This said, bankruptcy is a sure blanket to mission - just so you know that I can be balanced!

The goal, often, is to secure financial resource. In doing this, I believe very strongly that we massively de-value a resource that we already have - the time and talents of our people. 

If we think about church life, in many cases we have the wheezy cleric somewhere there, surrounded by a panoply of willing volunteers. Stewardship drives often centre around paying the bills, central to which (in the Church of England) is Parish Share / Common Fund. It is in many ways our mortgage payment. It is the means that we pay people like me and house people like me, so I have to defend it! But I cannot, do not and should not run a church alone.

Taking but one example in a church where I used to be, there was a lady who helped do the flowers. She was a qualified woman and could (and did) demand hourly rates in three figures. She worked hard and then then spent four or five hours a months doing floral displays for the glory of the worship. Her efforts may have been recognised once in a while with a passing thanks, before she returned to the world of work to be paid hundreds of pounds an hour for her time. In actual terms, the 'value' she brings to the parish could be (and should be) valued in thousands of pounds per months. If she stopped doing the flowers but gave an extra twenty a month, we would regard it as a win. 

I use this example to illustrate a point, that in church life we de-value or undervalue the time given to us. If I priced up the time given freely in my present community, and were caused to buy it in, it would generate a bill of hundreds of thousands of pounds per year. 

When someone commits to giving us a hundred pounds a months, we celebrate and we play fanfares. When someone offers to mow the church lawn twice a month, it might generate a grateful grunt. Some church communities are hard-pressed for cash. I would argue that the value of the gift of time that they count on daily makes them rich beyond measure, but that when we don't see or smell the cash, we forget its value. We could usefully learn from the commercial world that appreciates skills and values them. We could usefully learn that lesson. 


  1. Absolutely, David, and thanks for expressing it so clearly. We would be sunk without the time freely given to us by countless volunteers and the Church as an organisation too often fails to value their contribution.

  2. I suspect that volunteers are taken a bit for granted in some churches. I know that our Vicar always thanks those who have prepared the church for services, in public, during a worship service.

    It makes a difference for it being done this way, despite the embarrassment to those involved. And you are quite right, if we had to pay for these services, the church would not be viable.

    The pressure of parish share is a great worry to many PCC's, and sometimes I wonder at the costs that we are contributing to. My diocese having made several redundancies from diocesan house, have appointed different people into new, paid roles. We are told cost cuts are being made, but than see them negated by more people being taken on.

    Doing everything on a shoestring in parish churches is eventually self-defeating. Parishioners want to worship, not to be continually hearing the PCC and Clergy begging for more.

    Vision statements always seem to include stuff about resources, meaning more giving by hard pushed parishioners. I am amazed at the continuing generosity of people, who give regularly, despite being hard pressed.

    The other disheartening thing is the costs of major repairs and the energy expended on fund raising initiatives, I sometimes think lock up the church and meet in the Village Hall, which has a commercial income to sustain and maintain it.

  3. I think that part of the problem is that we pastors/vicars/priests/ministers - call us what you will - do not value our own time enough and so we undervalue the time that others willingly give.

  4. While it is probably true to say that many/most churches would not survive without their armies of volunteers, it also is worth remembering that volunteering is a two-way street.
    Most of the people who do any form of voluntary work in the church (myself included), gain at least as much as they give, in social interaction, the self esteem benefits of 'doing something useful' and balm for spiritual unrest.



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