Archive for category Opinion
As I write this, it is the Monday morning after Charter Day weekend. I am still feeling very happy from my experience at the ANC Charter Day Sunday Worship at 10 a.m., yesterday. In particular, the music from that service has been echoing in my heart, reminding me of how wonderful I felt as I opened the Word, having heard great music from the Ethan Daum band, Malotte’s version of The Lord’s Prayer by the high school choral group, and Psalm 62 sung by the entire congregation. By the time I opened my mouth, it felt to me almost like I could just read from the Word, say a prayer, and be complete.
But I really enjoyed the topic, too. We kicked off the second week of Living Courageously with the story of Elijah being fed by the Widow of Zarephath. Elijah told the widow to feed him first, and only afterwards herself and her son. She obeyed, and rather than hastening her starvation, it ended it. Sometimes it feels as if we, too, cannot afford to serve the Lord first, when in reality, we can’t afford not to! In the Old Testament, the Lord commanded that the first tenth be given to Him, not because He needed to receive it, but because people need to give it, so we could be reminded that everything good–all of it–belongs to the Lord.
True Christian Religion 746:1 begins with the statement, “To live for others is to perform useful services.” When we live for others, we are living for the Lord; what greater gift can we as a church give our heavenly Father than to usefully serve His children? Every parent wants their children to be loved, the Lord more than any other.
I talked a little bit about how the Academy was a movement before it was an institution. And a selfless movement, at that. A handful of people determined to serve the Lord, the world, and future generations through the growth of New Church schools and churches. The Academy was founded for the sake of training a new priesthood, translating and publishing the Writings, writing and publishing related books, furthering New Church education, and establishing a library. And not for themselves alone! I challenge you to count up the number of lives transformed by the Academy movement since its start. Or the number of people positively changed as a result of the planting of a church here in Bryn Athyn.
Creating institutions and planting churches are selfless acts. These things take sacrifice and hard work that can never show a “return on investment” for those who do them. And now, how can we repay those who gave us what we have–the Academy of the New Church, the General Church of the New Jerusalem, and New Church congregations scattered across the world?
All movements fade in time, and successful ones leave behind communities, institutions, and other organizations. Our churches and schools are good things, gifts from the Lord through the agency of people no longer living. I believe it is time to “pay it forward”–to recognize what we have freely received and find new energy for passing even more on to the next generation, and to the larger world around us. It is time for a new movement.
Just something to think about this week, as we contemplate what it means to put God first, and to live for others.
[This is also appearing as this week’s “Pastor’s Box” in the Bryn Athyn Post.]
This week, the General Church and Academy Capital Campaign kicked off. I’ve been reflecting on the issue of giving to the church for some time, now. We often try to avoid talk of money in the church, and especially from our priesthood, I think in part so as to avoid any appearance that the church has any motivation beyond serving the Lord and others. I think it’s good that we are not driven by profit, and that we want to be clear to others about that. But money is a tool—a very necessary tool—and I worry that by being cagey about it for a hundred years we have developed habits and ways of thinking that will strangle our ability to function in the natural world.
Interestingly, money corresponds with truth, the true spiritual wealth. And so the Lord speaks in His Word quite frequently about coins and precious metals and business practices and such. And I wonder if the discomfort we sometimes feel in sharing our truths with those new to the church is somehow connected with our reluctance to talk about money. I haven’t sorted that out, yet, but it’s something to think about.
What I do know, though, is that the material business of performing the uses of the church and the priesthood takes a certain amount of natural wealth to accomplish. In the history of our organization we have had wealthy individuals who were moved to support the church to such a degree that the average member could contribute not a penny and the church would continue on. And now we have investment funds and endowments that likewise give the illusion that the average member’s contribution doesn’t matter. And this is really unhealthy. Across the world, tens of thousands of churches survive—and thrive!—hand-to-mouth without endowments or foundations, but somehow we have come to assume that without such things we would cease to exist. This is both false and unhealthy.
It is true that schools have different (and far larger) financial needs. But churches don’t. Churches and schools work best with very different models. (And this makes our odd situation—being a church born out of and acting more like a school—quite challenging.) What churches need is committed members who give of their time, their wealth, and their affection, on an ongoing basis, because they believe the church will be useful not to themselves, but to other people. And in doing so, they still benefit themselves. Not only do they get a church, but they get the rewarding delights that the Lord uses to encourage all charitable behavior.
[This also appears as the “Pastor’s Box” in the 2009.09.14 Bryn Athyn Post.]
Healthy churches are supported through the ongoing voluntary gifts of all members’ time and money, not through endowments and rich uncles. That isn’t meant to be a slight against large donors to churches. But the wealth of a minority is less of a measure of a healthy church than the number of average, local folks who give their “widow’s mite” year in and year out. We, as a church, need to break free from endowments and get on with acting like a church, not a university.
If a church is “working”, then its local members are actively engaged in it with their hearts and lives. The financial model of a healthy church is essentially hand-to-mouth, cash flow based, because it is a constant running reflection of the dedication and commitment of its members on the local level. And actually, this doesn’t require too much scale. So long as a congregation doesn’t get tied up in real estate, buildings, major debt, etc., a typical church can be totally self-sufficient at a fairly small size.
Schools, on the other hand, require enormous resources. The typical finanical model of a school depends on endowments and on big generous contributions from alumni 20 years after they graduate.
The General Church is a weird bird. It is a church, but because it was born out of the Academy Movement, it is structured like a school.
If I could wave a magic wand for the GC right now, I would magically transfer every last dollar of its endowment into programs that are run by and for local congregations. Then I would double the Academy’s endowment so that it can expand the college, clone the high school in multiple locations (since boarding schools are on the way out), and (most importantly) give the Theological School everything it could ever wish for. Then with my “third wish” I wouldirrevocably divide all ANC stuff from all GC stuff so the Academy schools can be schools and the Church societies can be churches.
Oh, and with my fourth wish (if I get one) I’d separately endow some of our elementary schools while simultaneously giving them separate boards from their host congregations’ boards.
That’s my business dude slash priest slash strategic analyst take on things, at any rate.
And on volunteers: they need to be listened to. AND praised. But listened to, first. The people who give their time are on the front lines of the work of the church, and often know better than anyone else what needs to happen and how it can happen. I’m all for decentralizing decision making, and listening to volunteers is a major part of doing that.
I’m babbling a bit this morning. But this is the kickoff weekend of our church’s world-wide capital campaign, and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what stewardship means. Somehow we got off track in our organization, a long time ago, I’m afraid. Church shouldn’t be something you attend the way you attend a benefit concert. Church is something you DO. **YOU** are the church, not we dudes in stoles.
The Writings talk about how a person more and more “becomes the church”. But somehow we’ve let it fall into something passive. Most people don’t give their time or money to the church, I think in part because it goes on without them anyway. It’s great that in the past we’ve benefitted from the generous donations of a handful–both a handful of financial donors and also of people volunteering their time. But I think it’s time to put an end to so many being served by the same old few. I don’t want to guilt trip people, here. Rather, I pray that a broader base of people this year give “giving”–both of time and of money–a try this year, and test the Lord (as he invites us to), and see how it changes not just the church, and not just the *world* (which it will), but also **themselves**.
A lot of the people reading these ramblings already know how rewarding it is to contribute back to the community we call our local church. I just wish that group experiencing this was a larger percentage of the people showing up on Sunday.
[This is a much-expanded post, based on some thoughts I had in response to some great comments on my FaceBook page.]