Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Giving and Keeping

As ever after a gathering of the deanery clergy, I am left with a few ponderances. This is a good thing, I think. Today we met in sumptuous surroundings, over a glorious meal in regal splendour for a gathering that, in part, was dedicated to a talk from the Church Urban Fund (there are almost certainly some interesting comparisons to be drawn between venue and content, but that is not for here). It has been a good morning, and it is always a joy to chew the fat with other priests and ministers. 

As part of the offering from Kerry of the CUF was the innate plea for dosh, for wonga, for some green, coin if you will. And so it was that we all went around our Anglican circle and said how well (or otherwise) we were doing. 

There were some who were doing sterling charitable work but weren't able to pay their own bills. This is laudable in the extreme but also begs the odd question. Does charity begin at home or not?

My parish is a charity and I bust my reverential buns to make sure that it has a lively income, well invested, appropriate Gift Aided - so that the ministry and purpose of this charity thrives. CUF is a charity and its officers do likewise for its ministry and purpose. Now - how would it be if the Church Urban Fund donated some of the money it is chasing hard from me and gave it to the favoured charity of the CEO, which could be for sake of example, Kalashnikov Anonymous. Would I be happy donating to KA myself? No. It asks the question, therefore, if a charity should donate. 

I believe very strongly that I have a responsibility to my parishioners and the diocese to pay our share of the responsibility. After all, they pay me and they house my family. Paying our 'share' is equivalent of paying the mortgage - it is something that you just must do. Would I, as a private individual, say to my bank - sorry I couldn't pay my mortgage last year, but I helped some puppies find homes. I doubt that would prevent foreclosure.

To be Christian is, by definition, to have a heart to serve. This creates an issue, a conflict therefore in our hearts. Do we serve, or are we the service?  Do we give to charity with  money we have raised charitably or do we receive it as a gift to enable the work we do? Do we donate to charity before we successfully pay all our bills? Do those who give money to us as churches expect that we can do without that money? Do we misrepresent ourselves when we say that we need the money, only then giving to another organisation that is often taking donations from our donors too?

So many question to which I don't have the answer. The only thing I am sure of though is that we must pay our way first - and then choose what to do with the surplus (a nice problem to have, and a source of aspiration for most of us).


  1. I know that some charities have a principle of making donations to other worthy causes. But I believe that that is a misuse of their funds, unless they make it abundantly clear to donors that they will be doing so. This needs to be in their Governing Document and not in the small print.

    People donate to a charity for the purposes and objectives of that charity. If they had chosen to support another, they'd do it direct.

    If a Charity is in surplus (a rare occurrence these days) than surely, it should be upping the level of the services it provides, not moving the extra sideways?

    Perhaps I'm being an old moaner, but a charity is formed based on a firm set of objectives, which must be in the 'public interest' when it starts to please itself where it's money goes, it stops being a charity and becomes something else instead.

  2. For the sake of transparency I should start by saying that I work for CUF, though what I am about to write should (most definitely) not be taken as representative of the organisation. I just happened to stumble across your post whilst looking for something else so I thought I'd add a few of my own thoughts.

    Firstly I think you raise some really interesting points that I think a good number of clergy wrestle with. Prior to working with CUF I worked for a local church and we had some tough decisions to make as to what we gave to and whether we still gave when our finances were tight, so I can certainly appreciate some of the tensions.

    I think on one level it comes down to a couple of key issues - faith vs stewardship; and tithing / generosity. The former is a tension whereby as Christians we are called to wrestle with God, hopefully get some sense of his will in it and try and find a balanced solution. The latter differs from person to person and organisation. Some see a 10% donation as as cast iron as their mortgage: others only give when they feel moved to and have the cash. Most congregations have a mix of both. The tithers probably want you to give as a church; the more spontaneous givers, in general, won't.

    But I think there are wider questions as well. For example, whilst many churches are charities these days, I think it's a mistake to view that as anything but a means to an end. The whole point of church is to be good news, which includes being good news to the poor. If having charitable status helps with that then great, but if it shouldn't prevent us doing the very things that we were set up to do in the first place.

    There can also be a temptation to over-simplify the thoughts in our minds so that everything gets boiled down to the (fixed) parish share vs giving. In reality there are a huge number of different items that churches spend money on. The parish share is significant, and as I travel round many churches tell me about the problems they face paying parish share. But significantly that concern is something I seem equally likely to hear from churches with plush new furnishings and beautiful woodwork and glass partitions as it is from churches that have a bucket at the back to collect the rain (not an actual example, but hopefully you get my point). And in most churches certain individuals protest that the money spent on X should have gone to Y, but at the end of the day the body has to come to a decision and we have to move on.

    Lastly, whilst I can appreciate your concern about CUF's CEO spending it all on Kalashnikov Anonymous (he wouldn't he's much more of an AK-47 man) I think there are also questions of trusting your church leadership - not to mention that some people don't have the time or the means to research all the organisations they could give to and might be happy to trust your judgement.

    Having said all that, there's an alternative approach: come clean and say you won't donate as an organisation but then make a point of asking Kerry along on a Sunday, and give her a really good platform to ask for your members to donate to CUF and the work it's doing transforming the lives of those living in terrible poverty just a couple of miles down the road from them.

    The statistics and stories about poverty in this country are actually really shocking, and I chose to work for CUF precisely because on the one hand I believe it is a huge part of our calling as Christians to actually to do something to change that, and because on the other I think CUF does it very effectively. And after a year of working with them that opinion has only become stronger. CUF is the CofE's primary response to poverty and, in whatever form, it deserves our support.

    I hope that come across with the same sense of openness, fairness and balance as you clearly aspire to.

    Matt Page

  3. Matt, thank you so much for the time taken to write. Your words are helpful to me as I wrestle (on a personal level) with this. Also, thanks to CUF for all that you do - Kerry's talk to us yesterday was most appreciated and did stir me up rather a lot!

    You certainly achieved that to which you expressed in your last sentence!!

    On a personal note, I have heard many accounts of the suffering you are working to alleviate. I know of the breadth of poverty that affect many people, be they well endowed financially or otherwise. As Kerry reminded us - poverty is not simply a measure of bank balance, but also of child safety and love, emotional sustenance etc etc. I will pray long and hard about the next step for us a a parish community as well as for me on a personal level.

  4. Hi David, I too must express an inside interest; since I also work for Church Urban Fund. However, having said this, I must also say that what I am about to say is my opinion and not that of Church Urban Funds.

    I read your comments about our work with interest. One thing that stood out was the differentiation between the churches work and that of donating to Church Urban Fund. I like to think that the two are interlinked and what Church Urban Fund does is very much the Churches work. CUF funds 'local experts' who understand the communities they work in.

    What CUF can do is pretty much guarantee that those that are supported are the best placed to tackle poverty in their particular areas, and we are allowing them to do this to the best of their abilities.

    Really interesting discussion points though. Keep up the fantastic work.

    Jason Bowles

  5. Jason thank you too. The idea of the CUF as an extension of the ministry that we share is a very helpful way of expressing it! Appreciated :)



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