God has made me a steward of His gifts, just as He has you. As an individual disciple, I have an obligation (again like you) to contribute what I can to Christ’s work in the parish. I’ve told you in the past of my journey toward more responsible stewardship, and my choice to begin giving 10% of my income to God’s work through the parish and the wider church. I told you how that meant some changes in my life, but that I discovered it as a tremendous gift to my spiritual growth. I don’t expect everyone to be able to give 10% (or more, as I do), although some of you probably can. The percentage isn’t important – but you should know it. You should make a plan to give, not give God “leftovers” at the end of the pay period. And what you give should be a sacrifice – it should “pinch” a little in your lifestyle, so that others can come to know and love Christ, so God can be thanked in worship, and so that the poor can be served through what God has entrusted to you for His service.
I also have an obligation, as pastor, as a steward of the gifts given to the parish; and that’s why there’s a summary financial report a few pages on in the Bulletin today. (The full budget and report are on the parish website, www.ourladyofgrace.net. We don’t print the whole thing as another part of stewardship, kindness to trees…) You’re more than welcome to look at the whole thing, and I’m happy to answer questions you may have. I’m grateful to our Finance Council for all the help they give me from their own expertise in managing appropriately the offerings you make to the work of Christ in Our Lady of Grace. And I’m grateful to all of you who sacrifice to sustain our ministries.
I understand that many of you won’t dig deeply into the numbers, so let me tell you here what I think you need to know. Simply put, Our Lady of Grace has rarely, so far as I can see, paid its way year to year. Our parish has avoided bankruptcy since its beginning only by selling off parts of itself (the LIRR yard, the fields in the back, the houses on the corner…) Since I’ve been serving here (I can’t speak for earlier times), we’ve reduced staffing for our programs and cut expenses in every way possible; we’ve invested in energy efficiency to reduce costs (and to be good stewards of the environment); and we’ve created responsible, fair fee waivers for truly needy people who want a share in what we offer. We’ve used the Gallup survey process to uncover the best investments for our resources – ways to get the most results for your offering dollars. And – due largely to cultural changes, the terrible national economy, the ageing of our parishioners, and the generational shift away from the sort of giving to (and attending of) churches that you probably see in your own family – we still live very much on the edge financially. (There’s a history of parish finances going back 15 years on the parish website, if you’re interested.)
What does this mean? It means we’re facing some difficult choices. The Pastoral and Finance Councils and I will be looking closely at our collections-income over the next few months. (You can see from the weekly reports that we’re well behind where we budgeted to be in income.) If we conclude that our budget is unrealistic, we’ll have to choose what services to continue, and which to sacrifice, as I described last week. Our mission, and our primary works of worship, formation, and care for the poor will continue – although perhaps in changed forms. We will simply have to learn to do Christ’s work with less, if that seems to be our future despite people’s best efforts.
What can you do? First, be a responsible steward of what God has given you. Figure the percentage of your income you give to the work of the parish, so you know where you stand. Next, make a plan to give sacrificially, as your circumstances and other responsibilities allow. If you can, enroll to give electronically – information is on the stewardship page of the Bulletin. (You may see fellow-parishioners wearing a button like the one pictured, and dropping a card into the offering basket instead of an envelope or a check; they’re giving electronically.) And pray for parish leadership, that we make wise choices to fulfill our mission with the resources that God gives us.
Good stewardship is not just a matter of “getting money for the church”: It is fulfilling our destiny as created by God and chosen by Christ to continue His work. More next week. Until then, peace.