The Church and Mammon

I have been thinking about money. First, a few snapshots:

February’s General Synod had two goes at the Financial Crisis. I was impressed that the debate wasn’t defensive about the impact on the church, but speaker after speaker said that the church needs to stand alongside those who are affected by debt and repossession, and we heard about some good projects.

Then last week, I was at the Archbishops’ Council’s Finance Committee. It was the most interesting and lively Finance Committee I have been to. It was as if the financial crisis had shaken things up and created a new freedom. Someone said, ‘does this mean that we can do things differently now?’ It left me hopeful that good things will emerge from these difficult times.

Last year, one of my churches closed for worship and began the process of merging with a neighbouring parish. The crisis was triggered by money worries, though the causes went deeper. The PCC made its decision prayerfully and responsibly. It was a huge achievement.

I am working temporarily with another pair of parishes, and people are complaining about the parish share. There is a huge amount of ignorance about the purpose of the parish share. Telling them it contributes towards the cost of ministry doesn’t help much, as the benefice has been vacant for over three years, and they think the money would be better spent on maintenance for crumbling buildings.

Each deanery in our diocese is developing a deanery plan. One angry response criticises the process for being driven by money rather than by God’s will. If we pray and do what God wants, we will not lack resources, the critic says. Human, secular ways of planning will fail.

None of these images will surprise you — they are all familiar expressions of the Church’s sometimes uneasy relationship with money.

Just a few thoughts — and I am sure you will offer more:

Money is a language. God will speak to us in whatever language we are able to listen. If there is a crisis with money, what is God saying? When I consider the Financial Crisis on a theological level (and of course it can and must be read on other levels as well), I hear a condemnation of our society’s love of money and insatiable appetites that must be satisfied now. We do need to repent and rebuild our infrastructure on better values.

Money also asks questions of the church about its priorities. In a crisis, money tells us that we can’t do what we thought we wanted to do, and maybe we need to go back to think and pray about what it is that we are called to do in this place, at this time. It may be that we need to do less of something that is good in order to do another thing that is better. It may be that we need to close some churches to make space for fresh expressions. Sometimes we need the challenge that money poses to look again at who we are and what God wants of us. Mostly what I see in the church, particularly at local level, is people avoiding those questions. There is such fear.

But the wrestling is important. When we allow ourselves and our churches to be challenged, I think we shall emerge with new values, new understanding and new vision. We should welcome the opportunities to wrestle with plans that explore our relationships with money and weigh our priorities in a prayerful way. Money in itself is not evil, but we do need to bring it before God.

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Chip
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Chip

Meg Gilley would you please tell those of us who do not know you something about yourself.

Rosemary Hannah
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Rosemary Hannah

I was listening to a n item on the radio on Islamic banking, and was impressed by its thoughtfulness (the banking that is). I cannot but remember Biblical condemnations of usury – we too need to find thoughtful ways with al our monies – thank you for this Meg.

Sven
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Sven

Meg~
Thanks for your thoughtful post. I think your point is spot on. As fundraiser for over 20 years, I maintained that asking for the money was always the second question – asking about belief was the first. Depending on the answer to the first, the question of money could be much further back. As Christians our assets, corporately and individually, have much more to do with faith, than with finance.
Thanks again for reminding us of the hope that is ever with us.

Kathryn
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Thank you Meg – I found this really helpful & hopeful too.

Meg Gilley
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Meg Gilley

Chip asked about me: I am a parish priest in a northern diocese in England; a member of General Synod; a member of the Archbishops’ Council’s Finance Committee. Before ordination in 2000, I worked for 16 years in the NHS, ending as Chief Executive of a Primary Care Group (before they became Trusts). Last year, I led a church to closure, which effectively left me redundant (except I have freehold), so I am looking for a job. Am doing interim ministry for the time being. Am passionate about helping people grow in prayer, discipleship and ministry. I am writing a… Read more »

Roger Stokes
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Roger Stokes

“does this mean that we can do things differently now?” Surely the message is that we must do things differently now. From what I understand a large part of the current economic problems arises from people paying more attention to figures on the page than to whether or not they represented real value. Facing the truth can be painful, as it has been for Meg and the congregation she led, but we have to live with and in the Truth. Only then can we be free. Rosemary is right to be impressed by the thoughtfulness of the Islamic approach to… Read more »

Orfanum
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Orfanum

I agree – my own church is ‘suddenly’ facing a running deficit, and we were asked as a congregation how we might respond to this situation just last week. In part it does come down to ‘bums on seats’ but also from what little I can tell of such arcane matters, it’s partly due to the fact that we have no incumbent. Islamic banking I would steer well clear of – it sounds rational and innocent enough especially in these uncertain times but historically its reception in the West has been primarily by those whose agenda has been very specific:… Read more »

Ford Elms
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Ford Elms

“essential evil if you like (for me at least) is private profit, not interest as such” Don’t know that I’d necessarily agree with this. We now live in a society where it is accepted as a matter of course that every adult will, upon reaching adulthood, take on a debt that will continue for the rest of that person’s life. It begins with education and goes on from there. Many are just managing to pay the monthly interest. It is not as though it is entirely a choice to enter this neoserfdom either. I have a friend whose only debt… Read more »

Orfanum
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Orfanum

Ford – perhaps I should become an economist because then I would be better able to answer your points, some of which I formally accept. But to take Islamic banking, the subject of the original post I responded to, as an alternative example is to miss the point: that banking system still creates indebtedness for profit, it just doesn’t use interest as the mechanism for profit making. Instead there’s an elaborate system of fees, spot prices and future prices, etc., which still boils down to this: it costs more than the sum of money borrowed to borrow that sum of… Read more »

Ford Elms
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Ford Elms

Orfanum, I do, and I agree. I don’t know enough about Islamic banks to comment. I don’t, however, look to human pride as a sole reason for indebtedness. We live in a society where from our youth up we are battered with the idea that we have a right to everything we should ever want, and it is there for us to get. The American societal model is still strong, even in more compassionate countries, so that whoever wins is lionized, whoever loses is just a loser. So, those who have things have them because they played the game better.… Read more »