I was wrong.
It was meeting with the Diocesan Stewardship Advisers of the Northern Eastern Dioceses of the Church of England not the whole of the Northern Province. (If this makes no sense to you at all please see yesterday’s blog). But it was a room full of people, nonetheless, and the two replies to yesterday’s blog suggested I should be prepared for a ‘Daniel in the Lions’ Den’ experience.
Let me say first of all that they were very well behaved and friendly lions. Rather than arguing with me – they agreed. Even when I said, ‘don’t you think that maybe saying that you should give to the church as a generous response to God’s generosity might be a bit manipulative,’ they nodded their heads.
The idea of ‘giving back’ was not where they were coming from at all. The flow of giving was for them as important as it is for me. They were keen to see people get into that flow and see the dynamic going forward. You might say, though no one did, that true giving is about procession rather than recession.
Someone did say that what we are talking about here is furtherance rather than maintenance. I did not know that ‘furtherance’ was a word, but I nodded wisely to cover my ignorance. And I see now that my spell checker is not objecting. So let me look it up… ah, my dictionary says it is ‘the action of helping forward’. Nice.
So what began to emerge from this positive conversation? Let me do this in bullet points to save us all time.
- Without some kind of big picture or vision there can be no mission and without mission the idea of giving to the church makes no sense at all.
- There is still a place for thinking about stewardship because we need to be careful and wise in our responsibilities – but the place is not quite the limelight.
- The limelight belongs to the idea, word and practice of ‘GIVING’.
- The ‘flow of giving’ is a pragmatic as well as theological image, and needs to be defended conceptually.
- This main problem is that the flow of giving gets blocked.
- There are lots of ways of blocking the flow – and if the flow of giving is indeed the flow of grace then blockages are serious enough to be called ‘sin’.
- If the Church is to have theological integrity it needs to reflect the divine and the human flow of giving: this means that charging for entry to cathedrals or talking about parishes ‘paying the parish share’ are deeply problematic.
- True giving is always an act of freedom and no one should turn it into a duty or demand. Indeed they can’t, because a gift given under duress is not a gift.
- The role of ministry and ministers is very largely to help people overcome the blockages which impede the flow of giving.
- It follows that the role of senior leadership in the church is to work strategically to remove blockages and barriers in the flow of giving across the church.
- Facilitating local church giving can be the most practical and positive of tasks and at the same time the most theologically profound and sublime.
- It is good to be a stewardship adviser but the job can only be done properly if it is seen as intimately connected with mission and ministry.
- Giving leads to joy and so the ministry of stewardship advisers and indeed of parish clergy is significantly about filling the world with joy.
- All of this needs to be translated into everyday language and practical action. That feels like a real challenge but actually the ideas here –the flow of giving, removing blockages, liberating joy, having a vision, sharing in God’s mission – are not exactly difficult at an intellectual level. (So: why are they difficult?)
After our session the advisers carried on working for a while and then went off to Durham Cathedral for evensong. As a canon I was there anyway and I read the first lesson. It was Daniel Chapter 6: the story of Daniel in the Lions’ Den.