It didn’t really seem to fit anywhere else; it seldom fits anywhere comfortably. So I am just randomly tacking it on here after Parts 1 & 2. The awkward issue is $$$$.

The financial realities of life have changed massively in the 38 years I have been a priest. And nothing has improved.

When I started out in the church business, the only question/discussion/argument (?) my young bride and I had was whether our church giving should be 10% of our gross income or 10% of our net. 10% was never open to question; it was the rule. I forget whether we ended up agreeing on gross or net. Either way the Canadian Revenue Agency, has frequently taken a skeptical view of our financial giving.

But I know we are a dying breed and for good reason.

I began my priesthood living in a Rectory. It never occurred to me I would ever do anything else. But life changed. After nine years it became evident that it only made sense to purchase our own home. So, with modest family help and our own savings, we made a down payment and shouldered an %11 3/4 mortgage. Even with only one income, the payments were not crippling since the price of our new home was less than a 1/4 of what it would be today.

While the price of that home, in which we still live, has certainly quadrupled, my salary has not. And that is the problem. Few young families could afford the home we now live in without at least two incomes and probably still with extended family help.

The Bank of Canada estimates that the cost of goods and services in Canada between 1980 and 2019 has increased by 217%. People have less expendable income today than they had when my wife and I were starting our wee family.

If there is any money left over at the end of the day for charitable giving, there is a plethora of options available just waiting to scoop up the extra cash before it settles too deep in anyone’s pocket.

So, most churches today have fewer financial resources than they had in the past. In addition, churches today need to pay for things that were once at no financial cost.

In the years I was growing up, my mother almost never had paid employment outside our home. But she worked tirelessly in the church. It is just what the Rector’s wife did, and so did many other people. There were more volunteer hours to pour into church than are available in any community I know of today. So today there are costs to ministries that were once done without financial remuneration.

How is the church to stay afloat with reduced resources and inevitably increased costs?

I have no answer to that question. The community I serve has been blessed in most of the years I have been Rector with mostly balanced or slightly surplus year-end financial reports. This has been partly due to our generous giving congregation, but also a modest church building, and streamlined staff who do vastly more than they should on the salaries we provide. But I see dark financial clouds on the horizon.

I feel anxious that I may be passing to my successor an impossible situation. Will the next Rector of the church in which I serve, need to spend hundreds of hours working on elaborate fund-raising campaigns? Will the congregation need to establish a diverse economy church with varied sources of income provided by creative alternatives to free-will offerings? And, perhaps most threatening of all, if the church gets too creative in its fund-raising initiatives, how long will it be before local governments come knocking looking for payment of property tax from which we are currently exempt?

I have no answers to these questions. There were financial challenges when I started out in this business, but nothing like the order of magnitude currently facing the church.

In the end, I suppose, I fall back on three principles that have always guided my approach to money in the church:

1. We must cut our coat to fit our cloth. We need to find ways to live within the financial means available primarily through the free-will giving of those who find spiritual nurture in our midst. This means we will seek to avoid all techniques of pressure and manipulation to raise funds for our great agendas and will conform ourselves to the parameters our offerings define.

2. We hope to model as a parish the generosity seek to encourage in parishioners. While needing to be responsible, churches are not in the business of harbouring financial resources. What are often called “deficit” budgets could perhaps be reframed as “investment” budgets. We seek to invest in the future life and health of the church by boldly investing in the present available resources. We are not in the museum business simply preserving archaic institutional patterns that we find familiar and comforting.

3. We need to start with trust. Paul wrote in Philippians “my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4;19). Of course what I consider my “need” may not be the same as what God considers my “need.” But, I choose to trust that, when I place my confidence in the power of love, the true “need” of our community will be met.

In the end, it may be that financial reality challenges the church to re-focus on our true task as a community of faith. Church exists to serve as an instrument to encourage people to look beyond the material necessities of life and to consider the deep hidden inner journey of the spirit and to live in the world from that deep place of truth and light within. If we fulfill our true priority, there is no telling what the future may look like, but we will know we have been faithful to our true calling. What more can be asked?