By Fr. Vladimir Aleandro and Dn. John Zarras
On June 4, 2005, Christ the Savior Church in Southbury, Connecticut was consecrated. It was started twelve years before with just two families. At the time of the consecration more than one person came up to me and said: “Father, You must have done some good fund-raising and saved every penny to build this church.” My response was: “Since our first days we have asked people to tithe, giving from their heart with thanks to the Lord. We then tithe the top 10 percent of that to help those in need. I really believe because we have made that our priority, God has blessed and continues to bless us so richly. When we come before the Lord He will not ask us about our beautiful church, its icons or buildings. He will ask us as persons and as a parish community how we fed, clothed and took care of the poor and those in need.”
When Fr. Michael Koblosh, the founder of this parish, started the Martha Fund, it was based on scriptural principles of giving. Initially the top 10 percent was put aside for those in the parish who had need. As we grew and our funds grew, this became extended to a much wider use. People often ask why it is called the “Martha” Fund. It is named for Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus. Yes, Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and chose the better part, but to do that, they still had to eat and live. We hope that by taking care of the needs of others, we are enabling them to come to the Lord’s feet and choose the better part. We believe that by ministering to others, we are also at the Lord’s feet taking care of His body and listening to Him.
There are times in a small community like ours when it is difficult to meet our expenses, but the money set aside in the Martha Fund is designated for those in need. It is no longer for our parish use. Whenever we have been tempted to cut back or dip into this fund, we trusted and were blessed. People new to our parish, both converts and those of Orthodox backgrounds, are edified by this vision of giving and ministering. They are moved to tithe on their own.
Below are an overview and guidelines for the Martha Fund. Each parish can develop their own way of setting their priorities.
Martha Fund Parish Guidelines—September 11, 2005
1. Martha Fund Overview
The Martha Fund traces its origin to the birth of the parish as a mission of The Orthodox Church in America. Its purpose is to anonymously provide financial help and assistance to those in need. Since the parish depends on the stewardship of its members for its financial needs and encourages all to strive to practice tithing (giving 10 percent of one’s income), the parish in turn sets aside 10 percent of its annual income for the Martha Fund. Giving alms, acts of charity, and helping those in need are clearly what Scripture, God’s very Word, asks us to do as followers of the Lord. Engaging in this charitable activity can best be understood in the following quoted scriptural verses taken from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: 9:6-14.
“The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. As it is written, ‘He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’
“He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for great generosity, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God; for the rendering of this service not only supplies the wants of the saints but also overflows in many thanksgivings to God. Under the test of this service, you will glorify God by your obedience in acknowledging the Gospel of Christ, and by the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others; while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God in you.”
The history of Christ the Savior parish gives witness and testimony to the very truth of the Christian duty of giving, and the scriptural promise that is associated with it, in making it a core belief and practice of the parish community.
2. Funding the Martha Fund
In each year’s operating budget, an amount equal to 10 percent of the total pledged individual financial commitments received by the parish shall be placed into the Martha Fund to be disbursed in accordance with the guidelines established herein. Funds that have not been expended from previous years shall remain in the Martha Fund, to which the current year’s deposits will be added. It is the intent that the Martha Fund distribute annually in a responsible manner all that it receives, keeping, when possible, a minimum balance of $5000 in order to be prepared for emergencies.
3. Disbursements from the Martha Fund
Martha Fund disbursements are to be prioritized in the following order: parish family members, Orthodox Church organizations and individuals, individuals and/or church/social welfare organizations from the greater Southbury/Woodbury community, in accordance with the guidelines given herein. In addition, the Martha Fund shall be used to assist and encourage young adults from the parish to engage in mission activities, and in special circumstances, to provide assistance to others in need while performing their missionary work. The disbursements shall be approved on an individual basis at the regularly scheduled Steward Representatives meetings.
Parish Family Guidelines:
Confidentiality: Requests for financial assistance from parish family members shall be directed to the parish priest, who shall acknowledge such requests and act upon them in complete confidentiality; i.e., only he shall know the name of the requestor and the type or amount of financial assistance required.
Types of requests eligible for assistance: Aid for financial hardships shall always be limited to the paying of bills for goods or services directly to the provider of the goods and services. Payments shall never be made directly to the individual requesting assistance. The assessment of need shall be made by the priest. Assistance can take the form of payments for medical, housing, and food costs, and utilities or such other needs that are deemed appropriate and necessary by the priest.
Financial caps for individuals: A maximum individual cap of $500 for any single payment for an individual shall apply without necessitating a need for the individual to agree to counseling with the priest. Larger amounts may be considered, conditioned upon agreement between the individual and the priest that counseling may be necessary, as decided by the priest.
Multiple requests for financial assistance during any one calendar year by any one individual shall be limited to $1,500. In exceptional cases, as deemed appropriate by the priest, the priest may bring to the attention of the Steward Representatives, at their regularly scheduled meetings, a request for their approval of expenditures exceeding the maximum annual limit. Under these circumstances, the identity of the individual in need shall not be revealed to the Steward Representatives. Discussion shall be limited to the nature of the assistance required along with the reasons the priest is in support of exceeding the normal established maximum limit.
Orthodox organizations, other Orthodox parishes, and/or individuals from other Orthodox parishes:
It is recognized that The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) on a regular annual basis makes appeals for support of various departments and ministries of the Church. Four such appeals regularly scheduled are the February Missions Appeal, the June Seminaries Appeal, the September Fellowship of Orthodox Stewards Appeal, and the November Charities Appeal. At the beginning of the calendar year, once the parish budget has been established and approved by the parish, the Steward Representatives, in their meeting, shall agree to an equal amount to be given in the ensuing year to these four appeals. Other appeals that shall arise from time to time, as necessity dictates, shall be brought to the parish Steward Representatives for determination of the amount to disburse for such appeals.
In addition to OCA appeals, it is recognized that appeals are received annually from the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA) for sanctioned Orthodox ministries. Two such ministries, the Orthodox Christian Mission Center and International Orthodox Christian Charities, shall be supported in like manner and in an amount equal to the four OCA regular appeals. Other appeals from SCOBA shall be brought forth to the parish Steward Representatives in their meetings for determination of the amount to be disbursed for such appeals.
Other Orthodox parishes have occasion to seek support from Christ the Savior in the forms of solicitations for Commemorative Event Books or special one-time programs in the life of their parish. Individual requests of this nature shall be brought forth to the parish Steward Representatives for consideration. The attempt shall be made to distribute like amounts to these requests where possible, although it is recognized that each request may require special consideration.
From time to time there arise extraordinary needs of individuals or families in other Orthodox parishes that surpass the ability of the home parish to meet. Requests of this nature shall be brought to the Steward Representatives for consideration of providing support from the Martha Fund.
Parish Sunshine Fund:
As necessary, the Martha Fund shall also be used to pay for flowers/other appropriate gifts for those parishioners who are hospitalized or recuperating at home from illnesses, and for the appropriate show of condolence to the families of members who fall asleep in the Lord. Guidelines for giving for these needs shall be reviewed and established annually.
The Martha Fund shall have its own checking account in which all funds shall be maintained. Signatories to the checking account shall be the parish priest and parish deacon.
The parish monthly financial report shall include a Martha Fund summary report of total monthly expenditures and deposits/transfers from the church general account and shall be reconcilable to the checking account disbursements and deposits.
The Martha Fund shall be subject to an annual audit, although names of recipients receiving personal assistance will remain confidential.
5. Revisions to These Guidelines
It is recognized that these Guidelines may be subject to revision from time to time. Revisions shall be made only after thorough discussion at a Steward Representatives meeting by two thirds of those present at the meeting. Revised Guidelines approved by the Steward Representatives shall be shared with all parish members at parish monthly meetings and/or posting on the parish bulletin board.
The Steward Representatives referred to in the Martha Fund Guidelines are those individuals who volunteer each year to oversee one of the nine areas of parish life that need to be addressed to make the parish run smoothly. Examples are education, finances, maintenance, outreach, community contacts and services, evangelization. Sometimes one person, sometimes two or three people, volunteer for a given area. Approved first by the parish priest, their names are then submitted to the parish at its annual meeting to be affirmed by the community. They serve for a one-year term, and can reapply to continue. These Steward Representatives function as a parish council does, and meet monthly.
Fr. Vladimir Aleandro is the pastor of Christ the Savior Church, Southbury, CT. Dn. John Zarras serves there as well.