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.