Sermon: Itís Good to Give
Preached on 30th October 2011
by The Reverend Canon Dr Stephen Cherry
It’s not everyday that you read an interview with a cathedral canon on the front page of a national newspaper. This one of the things that Giles Fraser said on Friday:
Money is the number one moral issue in the Bible and the way the Church of England goes on you would think it was sex," he says. "It's easily the number one issue in the Bible … but how many sermons do you get about that? Very few.
The protest outside St Paul’s is evidence that the big conversation about money in our society has become too difficult. The protest is the sign that conversation has broken down out there. And that is all the more reason that we should hold and develop the conversation in here.
But we have very few sermons about money here. I don’t think I have preached about money here at all; though I was often on about it in the parish and, when a chaplain in Cambridge, arranged a whole series on ‘God and Money’. In one I talked about shopping. You don’t get many sermons about that either… or about investment portfolios or about personal debt…
The protest outside St Paul’s is supposed to be about money but it has become immensely chaotic and confused. I would like to be saying more about all that today but there is a more urgent and local issue that I need to attend to. It is the question of financial giving. Yes, this is going to be a sermon about money. But if you want to know what I might have said about St Paul’s and Occupy LSX you can look at my newly created blog. http://stephencherry.wordpress.com/
It’s Good To Give
While using the internet to set up the blog I had a look to see if there were any good jokes about Christian giving. The search was disappointing. However, I did find list of things that you never hear said in church like: ‘I love it when we sing hymns I’ve never heard before’, or ‘that sermon was so enthralling that I never noticed that it went on for half an hour.’ Number ten on the list of things you are unlikely to hear was this: ‘Nothing inspires me and strengthens my commitment to the Lord like our annual stewardship campaign’.
Well, it is unlikely that you would have heard that in this cathedral because there is no annual stewardship campaign. That is maybe one reason why people like coming, here. But it is going to have to stop. Giving is not only important in parish churches. It is important in cathedrals too. Let me try to say why.
It’s because you can’t do justice to the gospel of Jesus Christ by failing to encourage people to open their wallets in generous giving, any more than you can do it by failing to ask them to open their hearts in love for others or in praise and prayer to God.
Giving is not an optional extra in Christian living; it is one of the basics. And it is an important basic because it requires of us some thought and decision making and sacrifice. For some people it is the decision to make a serious financial commitment to their local church that draws them to a new level of seriousness in spirituality and Christian living more generally.
As Jesus said, ‘where your treasure is there will your heart be also’ (Luke 12.34). It’s not ‘put your money where your mouth is’. It’s that once you put your money there you will find your mouth saying different things – and that your heart and soul are different too.
The official Church of England position is that people should be encouraged to give away 10% of their after tax income. They did not think that idea up. They got it straight from the Bible. It’s called tithing. As a cathedral we tithe all the giving that comes to us – that is to say we pass on 10% of all the collection income that we receive – and we do this in addition to making special collections for other charities on a number of occasions through the year – at special services and at festivals. So as an institution the cathedral does practise appropriate generosity.
The Church of England goes on to suggest that of this 10%, half should go to the local church and the other half to charities and mission agencies. Some churches are more radical than this saying that the bible teaching is clear. If you are part of a Church then you should expect to tithe. 10% of your after tax income should go on the collection plate every week.
About a year ago my colleague Alistair Jenkins (the Diocesan Stewardship Officer) and I got a number of clergy together to talk about some of these issues. One discovery we made is that while they know the theology all right they are very nervous about preaching it. Otherwise admirable clergy often duck the challenge of preaching and teaching about proportional giving – whether it is a matter of giving 5 or 10 % of income. They just don’t want to go there.
Sadly we at this cathedral have done no better. And maybe I should apologise to you on behalf of the Chapter and the other cathedral clergy. We have sold you short; short changed you, in not putting the message plainly and simply before you. Giving is neither an optional nor a trivial aspect of what it means to be a Christian. It is very, very close to the heart of it and it is integral to spiritual growth and maturity.
Another group we should apologise to I think are all the visitors. Until recently the messages at the north door boxes were so complicated and confusing that people did not know what they were being asked. The notices have been changed recently. And now everyone knows what they are being asked for. They are being asked for at least £5 per adult. And guess what! Suddenly lots more £5 and £10 notes are appearing in the box. I am not here much during the week but I have seen more giving recently than before. And one of the stewards pointed it out to me. Look at all those notes in the box!
Giving is good for you. That is one reasons why the Chapter should strive to maintain the cathedral without an entry charge for visitors – so that each and every one can have the joy of making a free-will offering.
And so it will be with the giving of members of congregations at cathedral services. It is the task of the clergy to teach and to set an example but to not to seek to dictate or control the giving of others.
However direct my message this morning, you will appreciate that the underling message is ‘you decide’. It is not my job to tell you what to do, but it is my task to help you to see the issues clearly so that you might come to a wise, mature and appropriate decision.
I have mentioned this morning both north door giving and collections in services. But let me make it clear that the two are not the same. For instance there is no way in which congregational giving is going to be anything like the same sort of contribution to the cathedral’s finances that north door giving can or should be. Think about it: if we persuade half our 600,000 visitors to give £5 that will give an income of well above a million pounds. If we get that right that we will be able to keep away from the dread prospect of charging people for entry. Congregational giving will not be able to make good the gap if visitors decline to give.
Giving in the collection, making a personal and committed weekly offering as a part of our Christian faith, discipline and discipleship is going to have less financial impact. In fact its main impact is going to be the spiritual delight and growth is gives to the giver. The financial side does deserve a mention however. And it is not an honourable mention.
The total amount given to the cathedral in ordinary services and through envelope and bankers order schemes per year is currently about £50,000. It is not a good result.
Recognising that our giving is not what it should be the Chapter has set us the challenge not of increasing it a bit, but of doubling it by the end of next year. That is to say, the cathedral budget for next year is based on an expected income from giving of £100K.
You might think we have set ourselves an unrealistic target: no one doubles their church‘s giving that quickly.
But I have to tell you that the target that we have set is both realistic and necessary. We have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to Christian giving.
Let me tell you all the things that the cathedral is now doing to help each and every person who is part of its life to become a good and effective Christian giver.
- We have produced a little booklet called Christian Giving which explains about envelopes and standing orders and so on. It actually contains a standing order form.
- We distribute yellow ‘Gift Aid’ envelopes around the building very liberally. Designed to make it easy to claim Gift Aid you can use them whether you can Gift Aid your donation.
- At this service we provide a musical interlude after the sermon. It’s time to reflect on the sermon. But what not make this your time to get out your money, fold it carefully and put it in that yellow envelope.
- If you are a traditional person then there is time enough to write a cheque to ‘Durham Cathedral’. If you are more up to date this might be the moment, if you can get a signal, to txt your donation. The details of how to do that are in the front of the service sheet.
Those are very specific things to help you give generously. But we have done more than this.
We have over the last year clarified our vision and purpose as a cathedral. We know what our mission is and we have clear objectives for the coming five years. We need to do more to communicate these of course and we will be doing so, and some of that material is in the Community Giving leaflet.
But it is the purpose statement of our cathedral which matters most. For here is a vision of what it means to be a church and a cathedral, a community and a collection of individuals who are taking seriously the challenge of Christian living today.
Our purpose is to worship God, share the gospel of Jesus Christ, welcome all who come, celebrate and pass on our rich Christian heritage and discover our place in God’s creation.
At this cathedral we give to support precisely this work, this purpose, this expression of God’s mission.
‘Christian living involves serious and generous giving’. There, I have taken a deep breath and said it. Now it is your turn to take a deep breath…. and respond.