Stewardship Sunday

Each May we dedicate one Sunday or worship to reflecting on our practical stewardship of the church.  Here, Rector Alan summarises his thoughts on our blessings and challenges:

I fear that this is going to sound like an election manifesto for the ‘Generosity Party.’ (Either that or a pastoral letter from someone definitely not an Archbishop!)
I preached about stewardship at the end of May. The subject made me realise how much of my ministry has been about the movement of things, and how my theological training, which may well have filled my head and heart with the lofty transcendence of the Christian faith, yet left me totally unprepared for a ministry of the movement of things (chairs, hymn boards, bank accounts, bodies, etc.). ‘We have become a church of crypts,’ I observed ruefully, of ‘towers, vaults, sacristies, safes, funds, burial grounds and masonry; of stone, roofs, doors, fences, gates, silver and plate; of treasurers, solicitors, deeds, charities and registers; of personnel policies, of health and safety schedules, of safeguarding practices,’ to name but a few of the articles that comprise the ministry of things.

It’s true. ‘We have become a church which requires a huge expenditure of energy just to keep the wheels in motion, even if we are not always clear what direction we wish to travel in. The more we plan the less we rely on God,’ (said, I becoming more preachy), ‘the more anxious we become the less we lean on his providence, the more taxing the business of managing becomes the quicker we lose a vision of the kingdom of God.
I then presented my manifesto for the ‘Generosity Party’, as follows: ‘Stewardship at St Giles is different to stewardship in other places. In the country parish that I knew, stewardship meant that if the people did not give the church would not be. It was a fairly simple message, as you can imagine and it was easy to scare people. You can only be in debt for so long before someone says, ‘Enough is enough.’ The people did give, I am pleased to say, or at least gave enough to stave off the clerical bailiffs from the door.
‘The primary stewardship of St Giles is to guard and nurture the gifts and generosity of those former times, through whose bequests of land and property and money we are enabled to continue. The Duchess Dudley and Caroline Clayson’s of the past, among others, have made possible a bedrock of stewardship that remains, and shall remain, the primary resource of the ministry and mission of this Church. (You would not need a calculator to work out that those who do come would need to be giving far more than is reasonable to keep the show on the road). No matter. Providence has been good to us. Providence has been on our side.

‘My appeal is not a desperate one, therefore, but it is heartfelt: I wish you to lead generous lives. I know the usual line, and have used it myself before, that we who follow a generous God must needs be generous ourselves; but this year I offer a variant on this. I wish you to be generous because it is good for you. I wish you to live full and fulfilled lives and to live towards the world as one who wished to bless and not curse it, so that you might, one day, be able to say that you have left it just a little bit better than it was before; and for this you will need to be generous: generous with the gifts you have been given, generous with love and laughter if they are yours to share; certainly generous with faith, not lecturing or hectoring or patronising others, but offering them due love and courtesy; and, yes, generous with money, (and yes, including St Giles) but also generous towards others. If there is something that really matters to you then follow the example of the apostle James and ‘visit the fFatherless and widows in their affliction;’ and if you can’t ‘visit’ them yourself then make realistic provision for others to do so. It is intrinsically good to be generous. It frees us from thinking that everything is ours, and ours alone; and that way freedom lies.’

What the election means for the Church

In this month’s parish magazine, Rector Alan reflects on the recent Pastoral Letter about the forthcoming letter authored by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York

We have a collective emergency all of our own making. We have an election on our hands. What are we to do? Where are we to turn? Left, right, centre – what do they mean anymore? Help is at hand in the form of a pastoral letter issued in May by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. It acquired some exposure at the time but less now. Thursday, 7th June will soon be upon us.  The archbishop’s guidance may help.

After commending us to pray for those standing for office, the letter bids us to ‘set aside apathy and cynicism and to participate, and encourage others to do the same,’ our guide in such engagement being the ‘Christian virtues of love, trust and hope.’ As a country, they feel, facing ‘deep and profound questions of identity,’ the election provides us with an once-in-a-generation opportunity ‘to renew and reimagine our shared values as a country.’

They point to three key characteristics: cohesion, courage and stability. ‘Cohesion is what holds us together. The United Kingdom, when at its best, has been represented by a sense not only of living for ourselves, but by a deeper concern for the weak, poor and marginalised, and for the common good;’ which here translates into education for all, housing reform, creating communities as well as buildings, and a confident and flourishing health service and, abroad, into sustaining the 0.7% commitment to overseas aid, standing up for those suffering persecution on grounds of faith, and supporting campaigns against slavery, trafficking, and sexual violence.

Courage will lead to ‘trading agreements that can reduce the drivers for mass movements of peoples.’ We are to be ‘an outward looking and generous country [making] distinctive contributions to peace-building, development, the environment and welcoming the stranger in need.’ ‘Courage also demands a radical approach to education, so that the historic failures of technical training and the over-emphasis on purely academic subjects are rebalanced.’

Finally, ‘stability, an ancient and Benedictine virtue, is about living well with change. Stable communities will be skilled in reconciliation, resilient in setbacks and diligent in sustainability, particularly in relation to the environment.’

A re-evaluation of the importance of religious belief also needs to take place. ‘The new Parliament, if it is to take religious freedom seriously, must treat as an essential task the improvement of religious literacy.’ ‘We look forward,’ they write, ‘to a media and political climate where all candidates can feel confident that they can be open about the impact of their faith on their vocation to public service.’ This is because religious belief is the well-spring for the virtues and practices that make for good individuals, strong relationships and flourishing communities, virtues which are not unique to Christians, but which do have their roots in the Christian history of our four nations. If treated as partners in the project of serving the country, the churches – and other faiths – have much to contribute to a deep understanding and outworking of the common good.

‘Cohesion, courage and stability,’ they conclude, ‘are all needed in our response to the continuing national conversation about migration and refugees. Offering a generous and hospitable welcome to refugees and migrants is a vital expression of our common humanity, but it is not without cost . . . The pressures of integration must be shared more equitably. These deep virtues and practices – love, trust and hope, cohesion, courage and stability – are not the preserve of any one political party or worldview, but go to the heart of who we are as a country in all of its diversity. An election campaign, a Parliament and a Government that hold to these virtues give us a firm foundation on which to live well together, for the common good.’