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Church gives parishioners money, tells them to give it away

Church gives parishioners money, tells them to give it away

Today is my last day as editor of Episcopal Cafe, and I hope to have a few thoughts about the church and my experience as editor later on. But let’s start with this story about LaSalle Street Church in Chicago that distributed 10% of the money it received for a real estate deal to parishioners ($500 a piece) and asked them to give it away.

Sharon Cohen of the Associated Press writes:

Not surprisingly, many donations from the congregation will reach far-flung places, including a school in the Himalayas, a health clinic in Uganda and an irrigation project in Tanzania. Closer to home, some checks are going to families and friends in financial trouble.

Church members, [Pastor Laura] Truax says, are doing just what she’d envisioned when she distributed the checks that first Sunday in September.

“I hoped that they would recognize the power they had to bless others and change somebody’s life,” she says. “I hoped that they would see their connection between their little piece and the bigger thing the church was called to do, that they would feel like they actually had some skin in the game, some prayers in the game. And that has largely happened.”

If you were given $500 by your parish, what would you do with it?


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David O'Rourke

Good points Marshall. We talk about that in our outreach group at my parish, how to provide help and support without creating dependency or a sense of obligation. We read and studied “Toxic Charity” (can’t recall the author’s name at this time) in which he lays out ideas for how to provide charity in ways that do not breed dependency.

I think that in the case of a church giving out money to members to do something with, perhaps that can be a part of a faith formation series about how we provide help to the larger community and how to do it well so that it does not encourage dependency and a sense of obligation. This also connects to how we give to the church overall. Do we give and trust the leadership to make good decisions, or do we use our “gifts” to exert control?

Marshall Scott

You know, there have been interesting stories on NPR about a program working in Kenya called GiveDirectly that simply distributes case to needy individuals. (You can see the stories here, here, and here.) The gist of the reports seems to be that in most cases individuals will spend the money in ways that they believe will provide long-term economic benefit (although their neighbors may disagree).

I also find myself torn. If I’m concerned about controlling the use of my gift, is it actually a free gift, or does it create obligation. I don’t have a hard and fast response myself, but it does challenge me in my reflection of what it might mean to be a “cheerful giver.”

David O'Rourke

I followed the link and read the article. From the descriptions of what some of the members did with money, it looks like they really put a lot of thought into what to do with it.

Having said that, is it better for a congregation to give all the money (in this case $160K) to one organization where it can make a big difference or to break it into smaller amounts as described in this article?

For example, here in Colorado the only homeless shelter in a rural county is closing because they can’t fund the annual cost of $120K that it costs to operate it. While I would not expect a congregation in Chicago to fund a shelter in rural Colorado for a year, this is an example where a large gift can make a big difference while small gifts to this shelter will not enable them to keep it open.

Another consideration is, if a congregation decides to tithe a large amount like this, a key point would be how the congregation decides where to send the money. This could be an opportunity for a congregation wide discernment to make the decision and also how they want to engage with the larger community around them. The downside is, that in reality, only a subset of any congregation would probably participate in the discernment process. On the flip side, if you give each person some cash to pass on, then it requires each and every person who takes the cash to do some discernment about what they will do with the money. Accountability could come in the form of inviting members to share what they decided to do with it and why, which could also open up new discussion about mission.

Bill Moorhead

I have no wisdom to share on the main subject, but I do want to add my warm thanks to Jim Naughton for the splendid work he has done as editor of Episcopal Cafe. This web site is an important and valuable resource for news and commentary in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

David O'Rourke

Intriguing idea. Considering that I have sufficient income to be able to already give away $500, this would probably encourage me to match the $500.

I have conflicting thoughts on this. On the one hand, it encourages members to think seriously about how they can use the money to make a difference and might open up new avenues for ministry and engagement. However I wonder how much this dilutes the effectiveness of the money if instead the congregation had made a collective decision about how best to use the money for mission. I would consider approaching this as “we are going to tithe 10% from this real estate deal to outreach. As a community, what should we do?”

On another note, a huge THANK YOU to you Jim for your outstanding work and ministry as Editor of the Episcopal Cafe. I wish you the best in your future endeavors and look forward to seeing guest posts from you.

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