Gifts and funding
The Rectory - December 2003
And so we are into that frantic build-up to Christmas once again! Where does the time go to? As I write, President Bush has just left the UK, and yet another atrocity has occurred, in Istanbul, in which many people have senselessly lost their lives, and many more been hurt. Tragedy after tragedy, and even the most loyal government supporter must be led to question whether these awful events would be continuing had we not invaded Iraq.
But I have to say, as one who has supported the ‘Stop the War’ campaign strongly, that I am disappointed at the negativity of the demonstrations that have accompanied the visit of President Bush. I cannot see how burning flags and pulling down statues and the violent chanting, promotes any alternative vision of the world as we would wish to see it.
Christmas offers that vision, and I would want and hope to see the Christian community promoting the spirit of Christmas as energetically as possible – if we can disentangle it! I used the word ‘frantic’. It seems like that. Stand for a few minutes at the top of the steps by St Peter’s and look down. Look into the pubs and the cafés (including our own coffee room, where the valiant helpers are being worn to a frazzle!) Look at our own diary for the two churches, as we host carol service after carol service. Office parties, pantomime, Christmas concerts, shopping, eating, spending, angels, fairies, sparkle and Father Christmas. The list could go on and on. I am not Scrooge. It is right to celebrate. It is wonderful to show our affection for one another. Singing, dancing, making merry – yes let us do it in abundance BECAUSE… Christmas is all about gift. It is about the most simple and yet the most profound gift of all – the total giving of self (one might say total sacrifice) by God. ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son’, ‘Love so amazing so divine’, overflowing, cascading love for no other reason than that God loves. (Try meditating on this, using the new triptych in St Peter’s as a focus for prayer!)
We often find ourselves these days getting into debates about human rights, and not surprisingly; for so many people in the world are denied basic dignity. But sometimes, slightly self-righteously, we are heard to respond ‘What about responsibilities? Don’t they go hand-in-hand with rights?’ Yes, of course they do. And of course we have responsibilities, and should own them. But do not Christians need to go one step further in the face of a God who loves and gives and forgives completely freely and without reservation? This God, made known to us in Jesus, ‘demands my love, my life my all’. How do we give our all? By mirroring that love in God’s world, not because it is our duty or our responsibility to do so, but simply because we too are learning love because we love. And our prayer before the crib and before the cross (and do you notice how, from afar, you cannot be sure whether it is a star or a cross in the triptych?), must be that that gift of loving be made alive in us. Is that not what we have to offer for the transformation of this world? The gift of a child, born in poverty amongst the animals, who loves us to death... and life.
Which brings me neatly on to the Funding Campaign that will begin early in the New Year. We all give of our financial resources in different directions. We do so in order that focussed and expert organisations (Christian Aid, Children's Society, Framework Housing etc.) can express our concern for those in special need in a practical and constructive way, in the hope that peoples’ lives can change. Our giving within the Church is of a different order. Our faith prompts us to respond to our membership of the Body of Christ by sharing of the richness of our gifts. We are all gifted in different ways, and to different degrees. But the body of which we are all an integral part cannot fulfil its mission unless we each make as generous financial gift as we are able. This parish does have a very clear mission in our city. It is not the mission of the clergy – although we are in a position to help articulate the vision. Nor is it the mission of the PCC – although it will take the necessary decisions to enable the mission. Nor is it the mission of a special ‘in-group’ in the church. If there is a tendency within church communities that really gets to me, it is the tendency to have one group that is ‘in’ who do everything and discuss everything and decide everything, and other groups who decide they are ‘out’ and then snipe on the sidelines.
I do not want that here, and I am trying to develop structures in the parish that are as open and participatory as they possibly can be, because we are all part of the Body, and we are all missionaries for the Gospel, whether working from the city centre or from wherever we live.
When you receive the printed materials for the Funding Campaign you will find charts that tell you something about our income and expenditure. They have been produced to try to demonstrate clearly to you (a) how much we are actually spending on building up the church and (b) how much we rely on supplementary income from the Coffee Room and from our Trust Funds (which few other parishes have the benefit of). Please reflect on this; look at the presentation on the notice boards when it is prepared, because we are committed to moving from a ‘housekeeping’ budget to a budget of opportunity, where we begin to channel the funds we have to ensure that we keep on reviewing and developing our ministry in the city centre; and that is something that each and every person who wishes to can be a part of. In other words, we have the chance together to begin to think about what it might mean to give our all in the service of the Word of God Incarnate.
May God who, by the incarnation of Jesus Christ, gave all that we might be gathered into one, fill you and those whom you love with all joy and peace this Christmas and throughout the coming year.