Posted by on November 17, 2019

Sermon by Kenneth Padley for the annual Giving Campaign and launch of the Parish Giving Scheme.

Friends, as we head towards the end of the Church year, and before we dive once more into the delights of Advent and Christmas, we have come to that one Sunday in the year where we need to talk about money. We need to discuss the running costs of this parish, and the ways in which our giving is crucial to secure the long-term flourishing of our ministry together.

Last Wednesday the Parochial Church Council (the PCC, the trustees of St Michael’s and St Mary’s) had one of our regular meetings. We did two things.

Firstly, we looked back at the first year of our Mission Action Plan, the five-year parish strategy produced in 2018 by us all and for us all. There is plenty to celebrate.

  • We are developing new leaders for our teams, for example our Pastoral Visitors and Tiny Tots toddler group.
  • Communications are reaching more people than ever – 500 addresses a month receive our Parish News magazine and highlights email.
  • And, crucially, our usual Sunday adult attendance across the parish is rising – about 5% a year for the last three years; this contrasts a grim national decline in Church of England attendance of 2-3% a year.

The second thing your PCC did on Wednesday was to continue to plan with confidence for the future, affirming (as is our duty) a budget for the next twelve months.

  • The turnover on St Michael’s General Fund next year is anticipated to be over £120K. Of this, the largest sum is the Parish Share, our fair proportion of the cost of clergy across the whole diocese of St Albans. I certainly don’t see the £88K we pay in Parish Share but across Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, the aggregated Parish Share covers stipends, pensions, housing, training (most importantly the next generation of Vicars like our curate Charles), and other on-costs. 
  • Your PCC always keeps spending tight and always seeks to secure income from as many streams as possible – fees, visitors, investments, grants, hall hire surplus. However, once these other sources of income are stripped out and even allowing for a growing base of adults to share our costs, we need (on average) planned giving before Gift Aid in the region of £13.50 for each adult who comes to worship on a Sunday. I should stress that that figure doesn’t include second-attendance – the diocese doesn’t levy more Parish Share if folks come to more than one service.

Let’s step back from these numbers for a minute and turn to the theory. Usually in our services we hear readings given to us by the lectionary. However, the set texts in the lectionary for this Sunday are pretty apocalyptic and – whatever you make of current politics – your PCC needs to plan on the basis that the world will not end in the next twelve months. So I have chosen today three texts about money. The Bible has rather a lot to say about the good use of money and these texts are a representative selection.

In the first reading, from the First Book of Chronicles, we encountered old King David planning for the future. His successor Solomon is destined to build God’s Temple in Jerusalem, but David has taken the precaution of priming the pump by receiving offerings from the Jewish tribes. However, David is in a quandary because he knows that God is self-sufficient. ‘Yours, Lord, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours…’ So what’s the point? What benefit might the people achieve through giving to the Temple? ‘Who am I’, David asks, ‘and what is my people, that we should be able to make this freewill-offering?’ And then, literally, the penny drops, because, David realises, that if God is the origin and owner of all, our giving can never bribe him; rather, giving is an expression of gratitude, a returning to the Almighty of his many good gifts to us. David concludes ‘all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.’

Let’s move to our second reading, this one from St Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. In it, Paul is asking the Corinthians to give proportionally. Firstly, he asks that they give proportional to their means. ‘Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’ From this, Paul invites the Corinthians as a whole to give proportional to the pressing needs of the Church in the eastern Mediterranean. ‘The rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints [that is the Christian community in Jerusalem] but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God.’ Here we have a very early example of the Parish Share principle. In Paul’s day, the Church in Corinth was to Jerusalem as we in St Michael’s and St Mary’s are to our Anglican brothers and sisters in Luton and rural Bedfordshire. Like the Corinthians, we are privileged to be able to contribute above our own ministry costs because of our strength in numbers and relative affluence.

And then, in our third reading, we heard the so-called story of the widow’s mite. This story is often told as a commendation of generosity. But, in context, the message is more nuanced. We often read the widow’s mite in isolation, starting as it does the 21st chapter of Luke’s gospel. But remember that Luke did not write in chapters; these (often arbitrary) chapter divisions were added by later monks. We need to read the story of the impoverished lady alongside Jesus’ condemnation of greed which proceeds it. Thus from the end of Luke 20 we heard Jesus say ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes… They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.’ Putting this together with the widow and her mite we are not being enjoined to put a just few pennies into the pot, rather to grasp the truth which the widow twigged and the scribes did not, that true generosity comes at personal cost. The scribes weren’t prepared to make that sacrifice; the widow was. From this we are reminded that what we give to Church and other charities, cannot be spent on ourselves.

So, generous giving to Church is an expression of gratitude, is proportional to income, and comes at personal cost. Against this backdrop the Stewardship Committee are launching this year’s parish giving campaign. Our invitation is twofold. Firstly, to encourage generous giving. Remember that figure I gave earlier: we need (on average) in the region of £13.50 for each adult who comes to worship on a Sunday to break even next year. I do stress that this is an average figure because I am acutely aware that the circumstances of our supporters vary vastly.

Secondly, I want to invite you to review the method by which you give, and in particular to ask you to sign up the Parish Giving Scheme. As you leave church today you will get a pack of information about the Parish Giving Scheme. If you currently give by cash or Standing Order I invite you to join me and members of PCC to channel your support through PGS. Let me explain why.

People give to church in different ways for all sorts of reasons. From a parish point of view we can consider as if on a Planned Giving Ladder. Each rung represents a different method of giving. On average, as we move up the ladder, giving becomes more reliable, it becomes easier to administer, and it is marked by greater generosity.

  • The bottom rung is cash or cheque. Administering cash is relatively time-consuming for both donors and the Church. Cash is unreliable because we can forget our wallet.
  • Next up are contactless card donations. We are about to get a permanent week-round device to complement the present cash donations tower by St Michael’s door. This of course is principally aimed at visitors and, say, baptism guests, rather than regular congregants.
  • The third rung is Standing Order, monthly or quarterly transfers. Until now this has been the most effective means for regular giving.
  • But now we have the Parish Giving Scheme.

What is the PGS?

PGS is a means of collecting donations administered by the Church of England using a Direct Debit system as opposed to Standing Orders. The PGS on our behalf collects and send us the Gift Aid from HMRC on donations. Gift Aid may only be claimed on donations from UK tax payers.

Why use the PGS?

  • It is better for our cashflow as we receive the Gift Aid just a week later, not after many months as on the Standing Order scheme.
  • Reduces our admin burden. There is no cost to ourselves.
  • It has the option for donors to inflation-proof their donations annually.
  • Your Direct Debit can be changed at any time.

How does it work?

  • Just fill in the PGS Scheme donation form and Direct Debit from the pack [available at the back of both churches] and send it off in the envelope provided. Some details are already pre-filled for you.
  • You choose the amount and the frequency of the Direct Debit, it can be monthly, quarterly or annually. You can check a box for your donation to remain anonymous and also for it to be inflation proofed.
  • Within 10 working days you will receive a confirmatory letter directly from the PGS so you can check all your details are correct and a contact number should anything change.
  • Lastly, don’t forget to cancel your Standing order! But don’t cancel until PGS have confirmed you are set up on their system – this can take up to a month.
  • Our Gift Aid Administrator, Kath Teal will receive a statement from the PGS of what has been paid into the account. This is kept highly confidential.

Martin Luther famously talked about three conversions – conversions of the heart, the mind, and the purse. Luther said that people are converted firstly to Christ, secondly to the Church, and only thirdly to giving. From what I’ve said, it is vital to St Michael’s long-term flourishing that we embrace all three of these.

So please make two actions today.

  • Sign up or transition your regular giving to PGS
  • And review your level of giving. Or, as I am told one thoughtless Vicar once said, ‘I’ve upped my giving – up yours’.

Posted in: Kenneth Padley, Sermons