February 2016

How does God’s generosity compare with ours?

This year, there is an important change being made in the way our Diocese funds its central work of mission. Up till now, the Diocese has laid down how much each Deanery needs to raise and then the Deanery has divided that sum up to determine how much each benefice needs to raise. I think that it would be fair to say that this has caused major ill-feeling.

So things are changing. From next year, it will be up to each parish and benefice to decide how much it feels it can raise. This has provoked a number of interesting reactions, from ‘Well, that’s good: we don’t have to raise anything’, to ‘This is just a move by the Diocese to make us feel guilty’, neither of which are helpful or accurate.

Let me put it into a context. Our mission as a church is to spread the good news of God’s love and generosity and to help others become his disciples. And God’s generosity is central. He gives us life, he gives us love, he gives us forgiveness, he gives us his son. His generosity lies beyond our imagination. And people over the centuries have responded to that generosity. They have given up their lives to the task of spreading the good news: they have given up their lives as martyrs: they have built and maintained churches. And those acts of generosity still go on. And they go on here. An ever decreasing troupe of volunteers put in an enormous amount of time and effort into maintaining our churches and churchyards and a major project being undertaken at Clodock is happening largely thanks to the extraordinary generosity of one man.

What is needed now is for everyone as parishes and as individuals to ask themselves ‘How generous do I want to be?’. 

Let me quote from the Revd Richard Jones who is spearheading the Diocese’s task force in putting this new scheme in to practice:

So what is the message? What do we say to six pensioners who form the congregation of an ancient church which may cost more to maintain than they can afford, let alone pay parish share on top. How can we ask them to be more generous than they already are. The answer is: we don't, if they are already being truly generous. We have to unlock generosity in other places which can afford to be more generous. And let's face it, are we really saying that we don't think the whole of our diocese can afford to pay for all the stipendiary clergy we would like to deploy to meet the ministry needs of all its people. And indeed to allow some initiatives for growth?

That means that here all our parishes have to ask themselves how generous they feel they can be. And that might mean some of the parishes which are hard-strapped being helped by others which aren’t. 

And it also means that individuals might have to ask themselves questions. Nationally about 3% of the population are regular churchgoers. Here the percentage is much higher, but even so, it means that the overwhelming majority of people here do not go to church, and I can only presume that none of them would call themselves Christians. Yet, a surprising number of them expect the church to be there for them when they need it for baptisms or weddings or funerals or just for Harvest Festivals or Carol Services. I am always interested in those cases - none of which, let me be clear, do I begrudge for a fraction of a microsecond - how the people concerned imagine that the church’s mission is maintained.

Much work will need to be done by the parishes over the next few months as they decide how much they feel they can really give. It will be interesting to note how individuals might respond as well. Our God is a God of boundless generosity: how do we react to that?

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