We will get to the meaning of the title in a moment, but first, I want to say that Christmas is a time to speak of gifts; indeed, to dwell on the meaning of Advent is to explore the inexpressible gift of Christ and Christmas. And while it is understandable and appropriate to talk about the gift of Christ, it is also appropriate to talk about over-consuming, which we addressed in an earlier newsletter. Yet another aspect of gifts, gift giving and gift receiving is the topic of dealing with money at year-end and at Christmas in the local church. It is an awkward topic and a difficult conversation, particularly since by December many churches, indeed many charities that we all support, are facing a short fall at this time of year. Kerry and I have experienced two churches in the CBWC family over the years that are particularly gifted at talking about this area. They are Grandview Calvary Baptist Church and Kitsilano Christian Community Church. May we talk about this topic for a moment.
I’m provoked to talk about how we ask for money at Christmas because of an announcement on this topic by Doug Bingham at Kitsilano Christian Community Church last Sunday. Doug, as a deacon at Kits, is an appropriate voice to be speaking about this issue because money has much to do with our walk of faith and our spiritual formation. Doug’s grandfather and uncles were involved in ministry and in wonderful projects like the starting of Keats Camps. Doug’s wife, Jan, is the daughter of Dave and Ruby Hayward. Both sides of this family have been faithful in their service and care of others and it is out of this heart of service and engagement that I find myself trusting Doug’s good humor and words.
First of all, it is important to deal with money as a spiritual issue and a practical one. Doug clearly explained what the church’s expenses were, what its revenue was and what the difference between the two was at the end of November. The church was at 92% of budget (what some of us wouldn’t do for that number) and awareness of that fact was being brought to the attention of the congregation for action. So much for the fact: it is also the way we speak of these things that is important as well.
Doug is well known within Kits church and is therefore appropriate for this task. He is also very funny, sometimes in the most outrageous ways. (In an excusable diversion, I want to tell you that he once did a fundraising announcement for a teen group that was going to Mexico. Doug told the congregation full of anxious parents and committed supporters that the teens had enough money to get down to Mexico but in order to get back they would need to sell one of their kidney’s — Don’t in your wildest dreams write me about this story – it is a waste of ink and I thought it was funny.) This past Sunday, Doug got up and in grand good humor suggested that the bad news was that they had a $6000 deficit. But the good news was that the American economy was in worst shape. He also pointed out that the exact figure of the deficit was just a little over $6000 and that he had a cheque for that amount, (I think it was $7), which the deacons had collected but the congregation was responsible for the rest.
So let me sum up this congregational Christmas ‘ask’.
- Spiritual leaders should speak about a spiritual matter like money
- It should be a normal part of conversation and not a surprise and not an exception
- It should come from someone that is trusted in faith, relationship and good humor
- It should be challenging.
I bring you to Doug’s last point. Having reminded people of their responsibilities and that they were in this together and that they could have fun talking about such an awkward topic, he then prayed that “that those who could give, would give and that those who needed to receive, would receive.” I can’t think of a better way of summing up the experienced gift and expectation of the advent season as we prepare for the birth of Jesus.
May each of us be challenged by the Spirit to give what we have regardless of the means that we feel we have. For those who are wealthier it will be more, for those of modest means it will appear as an even greater stretch. May we not leave ‘receiving’ to those who are simply economically more challenged than ourselves but may we understand that receiving is something that we all need as we seek to wait and receive the Christ child.