By now, you hopefully have received a letter and materials about the St. Mark’s Giving Campaign for 2013. The Campaign asks for your financial support for the programs and ministries of St. Mark’s for the coming year. Whether or not you have pledged or given money to St. Mark’s in the past, now is a good time to think about the meaning of giving in general and why and how much to give to St. Mark’s.
You may be interested in knowing what other people are doing. According to a recent survey, the average American Christian contributes 2.9% of household income to charities. The median is much lower at .62%. This second statistic shows that most American Christians give either nothing or very little to charities, including their churches. At St. Mark’s, approximately 195 of our 300 member households turned in a pledge card for 2011. Those who didn’t pledge may make contributions at various times, often into the plate that is passed at worship services. Among those who pledged, the average is about $2,800. The median is $1,750. An average that is higher than the median means that there are a few large pledges that raise the overall average for everyone.
As you think about how much money to give to St. Mark’s, I suggest four things to consider:
1) The Practical: In order to fund our budget for 2012, we need an average pledge of $2,690 from 210 households. This is approximately $7.37 per day or $52 per week. As the number of pledging households increases, these averages decrease.
2) The Bible: There is no clear mandate in Scripture about how much to pledge. Through the centuries, many people have looked to references about “tithing” as a guide. A tithe is simply 10% of something. In the book of Deuteronomy for example, the Israelites were to “tithe” or set aside a tenth of their yearly harvest for a festival and to support orphans, the poor and the Temple priests. In the New Testament, each of the Gospels records Jesus speaking about money and giving. In fact, Jesus talks about money more than any other subject except for the Kingdom of God. You may be familiar with some of the parables about money including the rich young man who is challenged to give up his wealth and walks away from Jesus or the story about Zacchaeus, the tax collector who promises to give half of his money to the poor. The thread through Jesus’ teaching is clear: people who show generosity and giving are expressing God’s love and concern for the world.
3) Theological: The triumph of Christian theology is the claim of God as Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The essence of the Trinity is agape - the complete giving of self without condition. The Father gives of himself to the Son and the Holy Spirit, who in turn give back to the Father and each other. The Godhead is an eternal process of giving that pours beyond itself and into the Creation and the world. As each human is made in the image of God, we too, in our essence are made for giving. Giving is the very core of our image, our DNA, and we are most human and most acting out of our divine image when we give – give of our time, our talents and our money. In other words, by giving, we are doing what we are made for. It frees us, gives us joy and reveals our true identity. However, from an early age, our giving impulse is curbed and even destroyed through fear and a barrage of messages that say happiness comes through consumption and accumulation of material goods. Giving is counter-cultural and can be scary and difficult, but with practice and purpose, it becomes a thing of freedom and joy.
4. Your Priorities: Each person has a unique financial situation, so there can be no set amount of giving that is right for everyone. Jesus commends the poor widow who put her two pennies in the Temple treasury. Even though it was only two pennies, it was all she had and Jesus says that her contribution was greater than all of the others, including the contributions of those who made a show of dropping gold coins into the pot. As you consider your financial support for St. Mark’s, you need to ask yourself what St. Mark’s means to you. Is it important to you, either spiritually, socially or historically? Do the ministries, programs and presence of St. Mark’s make your life better in some way? Do you think St. Mark’s is a benefit to the community and to those beyond our town borders? How much money do you spend on other aspects of your life, such as coffee, a health club membership, vacations, magazines or your cell phone? Can you imagine $5 or $10 per day going to St. Mark’s? Some people are able to give a few dollars each week. There are others who give on average as much as $50 per day. The question is not about how much but whether your giving is in alignment with the rest of your life – spiritual, material and social.
St. Mark’s is blessed with a generous and giving congregation. Thank you for taking the time to reflect on the ways you make your giving decisions and priorities. And remember, Giving is about Growing in Faith.
Yours in Christ,