Is St. Paul’s your spiritual home, or the church you attend?
What’s the difference? If your neighbor loses his job, can’t make payments on his over-mortgaged home, is foreclosed upon and suddenly becomes unemployed and homeless, that is a serious problem, and you would probably choose to help the family as much as you reasonably can. As a friend, a bystander, you can choose how involved you are going to get. When it is your job, your home, your family, you don’t have a choice: you are involved. Likewise, if your neighbors decide to have a child, you can choose to help them out with a few meals to put in the freezer or some free babysitting, or you can choose not to. Once you decide to have a child, though, you don’t get to decide whether you want to care for the child or not – you’re committed. That commitment is the difference between being a visitor and being part of the family. As family, you share in the choice, in the challenges, and in the rewards.
This leads me back to the question: Is St. Paul’s your spiritual home, or just somewhere you go? Are you a member or a visitor?
It is OK to be a long-term visitor. At every Eucharist service, Markus says “Whoever you are, where ever you find yourself … you are welcome at this table”. Archbishop William Temple famously said “The church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members.” We want non-members here, just as we want members here. And I realize that your feelings and level of commitment may change from time to time. That’s OK. There isn’t a right or wrong answer. We want people who just attend, and we want people — when they are ready — to consider themselves members.
A few years ago, St. Paul’s was on the fast track to financial ruin. We had been blessed with a large reserve fund, but our regular expenses were over $300,000 per year, and we were bringing in around $200,000 so we were spending over $100,000 of savings – savings! – each year. We were soon to run out of money, and looking at the possibility of closing our doors. In 2008, we arranged another source of income (rent from the Pendrellis building), which allowed us to maintain our operations without cutting further into our savings, as long as our donations continued at the same level. I don’t want to bore you with numbers, so I’ll just give the high-level summary here: We have budgeted to spend around $350,000 this year. About $150,000 of that comes from the Pendrellis rent, about $100,000 from members’ donations, and about $100,000 from other sources (grants, building rentals, etc.).
When we did get this new income, we were worried that members would think they didn’t need to donate. We tried to make it really clear that we do still need a lot of money from members, and I’m happy to say that that was understood. Total donations in 2008 did not decrease, and we managed to have a surplus for the first time in a decade.
However, it’s not all rosy. There are two problems that we the members of St. Paul’s need to address.
The first problem is that, although the total amount donated did not decrease in 2008, the number of donors did. Fewer and fewer people are shouldering more and more of the load. This isn’t just unfair, it is not sustainable. When the majority of our donations comes from a small number of people, then we are putting ourselves at financial risk. If a major donor would die (God forbid), or (even worse) move to Ontario and take his or her donation to a church there, we would suddenly find ourselves losing a significant source of our income, and be back on the track to financial ruin. (By the way, that’s exactly what happened over a decade ago. We had one very wealthy patron who covered much of the church’s expenses, so we never had a deficit. She died and left a large sum to the church, which became our reserve fund. However, she could not continue to meet all our expenses, and we began to run a $100,000 per year deficit.)
You may think that this is all theoretical – as long as the money is coming in, who cares how many people are giving? Well, that brings us to the second problem: The money isn’t coming in. Donations from parish members for the first 3 months of 2009 have been 12% lower than the same three months in 2008.
We – the members of St. Paul’s – have a financial problem. The money we are bringing in is less than the money we’re spending. It is not a crisis (yet), but it is a problem and we must deal with it.
The simple way to deal with this would be to spend less money. We are (and we will continue to be) cautious about our spending. We don’t waste money, and if there are more ways we can save money, I’d like to hear about them. However, let me go back to Archbishop Temple’s quote: “The church is the only society on earth that exists for the benefit of non-members.” We spend our money on ministry to the West End and Yaletown. We do homeless outreach. We have the advocacy office. We provide a place of spiritual refuge in a stressful, secular world. If we stop spending money, we stop being a church. As an institution, we have a purpose. We need to spend money to achieve that purpose, and we need to bring in enough money to match what we spend. This is why I don’t want to address the financial problem primarily by reducing spending; I want to address it by increasing donations.
There are three things I want from everyone who considers themselves part of St. Paul’s church. The first is simple: I want that 12% back. In fact, I’d like even more than 12%, so that we have more money to spend on outreach, on helping the hungry and homeless, and on providing a spiritual home.
The second thing I want is more members sharing the load. I want to know why so many people who appear to be part of St. Paul’s do not seem to contribute financially. If you do consider yourself a member of the church, and you don’t give anything (or you give very little), we’d like to know why. Is it because St. Paul’s is not very important to you? Is it because you are donating your money elsewhere? Are you unhappy with something St. Paul’s (or the diocese, or the Anglican Church of Canada) is doing, and you are withholding money as punishment? Did you simply forget? The leadership of the church needs to know why people choose not to donate in order to address their concerns. Please speak to me or any other member of the church committee if there is something that St. Paul’s can do differently to make you more comfortable with donating.
There may also be an anonymous survey in the next parish mail-out, for those who are not comfortable speaking about money to a member of the church committee. Please do take the survey seriously, and answer it honestly. We do need to know what people are thinking.
The third thing I’m asking for is your commitment. We need your commitment, not just to help keep the status quo, but your commitment to the future, to realizing our dreams. St. Paul’s exists for the sake of the people who are not members. It exists for the West End and Yaletown, and to minister to the entire world. There is much we can do, new ministries that we can start, and old ministries that we can reinvigorate. To do these things, we need your energy, your skills, your ideas, and (yes) your money. Earlier, at Pentecost, we remembered when the Holy Spirit descended on the early Christian church in tongues of flame, giving them the power and the mission to change the world. Today, we can celebrate that blessing and recommit ourselves to that ministry. With God’s power, working in us, through us and with us, we can do infinitely more than we can ask or even imagine!
Richard Van Delft read this financial commitment speech on behalf of the wardens of St. Paul’s on June 14, 2009.