Parish Finances

By Lena Thames

Today as Orthodox Christians we realize that the spiritual and material aspects of Church life are not only related, but in a real way united. For many of us, this renewed enlightenment has come about through the Church’s current emphasis upon stewardship. Through the All-American Councils, diocesan workshops, church publications, and guidance in our parishes, we understand that we are called to share God’s gifts of time, talent, and material resources. All dimensions of our lives ultimately belong to God and we have the responsibility of using them as wisely and as well as possible.

Good stewardship, however, is not just something practiced by individuals within the Church. It flows through all aspects of the Church. This certainly includes our corporate parish life, and more specifically, the stewardship of monies and resources entrusted to our care. While this seems obvious, its practical implementation is often easier talked about than done.

TENDENCIES TO AVOID

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What follows are some thoughts regarding unhealthy tendencies that can creep into the financial dimensions of parish life, as well as a few of the ways we may avoid or correct them. By no means is this material all-inclusive, but it offers some practical ideas which may be helpful as we strive to strengthen the Body of Christ. By following a few accepted financial norms, we can nurture trust and confidence and prevent unpleasant situations.

We must be aware of the temptation to be too casual in dealing with parish financial matters and in the handling of church funds and records. This has nothing to do with a question of honesty. Our parishes are usually staffed by volunteers and therefore a very relaxed atmosphere often exists. This is especially true if the parish or mission is small. Although records are generally kept, they are sometimes improperly maintained because routine bookkeeping is incomplete or not performed promptly. Sometimes income and expenditures are not itemized, or are possibly misposted, resulting in confusion over expenditures. Inevitably this makes the work of an audit committee very difficult, and more importantly results in unreliable financial reports being prepared for parish use. Understandably, parishioners wonder if their hard-earned offerings are being handled and used properly and they begin to lose confidence in the financial system as a whole. In fact, there may be no intentional wrongdoing, but the Body of Christ itself is harmed because suspicions and uncertainties can develop.

Another poor practice is to place all the financial matters into the hands of one or two individuals - usually the treasurer and/or the assistant treasurer. This becomes unfair to the individuals involved, for no one should have to carry the burden of responsibility alone. In addition, when one or two persons are solely responsible, misunderstandings, negative feelings, and questions can easily arise. Such singular control is poor accounting practice and can be very dangerous. The entire parish community including the priest, parish council, and membership as a whole must have a general awareness of the financial aspects of its communal life.

BASIC TENETS OF AN EFFECTIVE SYSTEM

To avoid these problems, the accounting system of a local church should be simple to understand and easy to follow. Here are some basic tenets of such an effective system.

Pertaining to cash receipts:

  1. Two unrelated parishioners, ideally members of the parish council, are responsible for counting and recording the collections.
  2. The collection records and validated bank deposit slips are checked so as to be in total agreement.
  3. Deposits are made as soon as possible after counting.
  4. All designated funds, special collections, and transfer of funds from one account to another are promptly recorded by the treasurer. This facilitates the determination of any parish tithes or assessments owed.

Pertaining to disbursements:

  1. The parish budget is usually approved at the annual parish meeting. Any unusual needs are discussed by the elected parish council and decisions are documented in the minutes.
  2. No payments are made by cash, only by parish check.
  3. All expenditures are supported by receipts, with the exception of those which are regular and ordinary, such as salary, mortgage, etc.
  4. Two authorized signatures appear on every check.
  5. Bank reconciliations and other financial records are prepared promptly.
  6. Explicit explanations are provided on check stubs, written reports, etc. especially of any unusual or ambiguous items.
  7. Payments are made promptly, thus avoiding credit problems or unnecessary interest charges.
  8. The treasurer regularly updates the parish council regarding any outstanding debts or foreseeable extraordinary expenses so that proper consideration may be given.

Although these procedures may appear demanding, they are actually basic and essential steps. Used without exception, they will provide consistency and promote openness. This will build confidence in the elected parish officials, eliminate the temptation to judge others, and promote unity.

Every aspect of Church life has spiritual applications and affects the unity of its members. We should strive to grow together in the love of Christ. In doing this it is far easier to prevent problems than to resolve them once they have entered our lives. God has given us all good things. We must wisely use them to build up His Church and make it grow and prosper.

A C.P.A. by profession, Mrs. Lena Thames was formerly treasurer at St. John the Theologian Church in Gainesville, FL. and is presently a member of the Audit Committee at the Dormition of the Theotokos Church, Norfolk, VA.

An Orthodox Understanding of Stewardship

By Benjamin D. Williams

How should a person living at the close of the second Millennium, especially one living in our North American culture, approach and understand the subject of Stewardship? Clearly it is not a new subject. We have all grown up hearing about it, being told what it means, and instructed in how to practice it, have we not? Yet if our instruction had been as good as we recall it, if we had learned our lessons well, if we truly understood the historic Orthodox Christian meaning of stewardship, wouldn’t we be better stewards? Would not our Churches be in better condition? The fact is that much of what we have learned about stewardship is either incorrect or only partly correct. There are two main reasons for this: much of what we have learned has been out of context, and much of what we think is Christian teaching on stewardship is not - it has been imported from our culture.

Let’s briefly consider these two problems. Most Orthodox Christians only hear about the subject of stewardship when it is related to money. When dues are being assessed, when there is a fund drive or some other financial program, then homilies are preached on stewardship, much talk goes on about “financial stewardship,” and we are challenged to become better stewards by giving more money! In other words, for most of us, stewardship and the giving of money to the Church are one and the same. That is not Christian stewardship. That understanding of stewardship has been ripped out of the larger context of living all of our lives as “good and faithful stewards.”

As if that problem is not bad enough, much of our understanding, definition and practice of stewardship are shaped by our culture and society. We grow up and live in a society where material advancement and personal pleasure are the number one goals. The purpose of life, our culture tells us, is personal satisfaction. This cultural perspective on the purpose of life shapes our thinking about the faith, and all of us bring it into the Church. It shapes our understanding of stewardship, among other things, because it is the exact opposite of what Christian stewardship is all about. We are persons created in the image and likeness of God, and we were created to be stewards. We are called to live a life of stewardship, stewarding the life and creation of which we have been created a part, in the most responsible and productive way. The message of our culture, that our purpose is to “live the good life,” is the opposite of our purpose as Christians. Stewardship is the golden thread that runs through and holds the Christian life together.

Stewardship As Christian Identity

Within this understanding, we must begin with the acknowledgment that all of life is a sacrament, in that in every aspect of life we may experience and commune with God. This communion ranges from the most natural - like experiencing a beautiful sunset, to the most divine, communion with God in the eucharist. We must come to see that “all the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it.” (Psalm 24:1) As Fr. Schmemann challenges us, our human role is to offer back to God in thanksgiving, all that He has given to us. (For the Life of the World, SVS Press, Crestwood, NY, p. 24)

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From this realization comes our understanding of Christian stewardship - managing the resources that God has given us, administering the elements of life. One of the best ways of thinking about stewardship is that it is the only truly appropriate human response to what God gives us. We experience all of life as a sacrament, and we steward all of life in response.

Consider for a minute the original usage of the term “steward.” Our English word steward comes from the Greek word oikonomos, and literally means “house manager.” Oikonomia, or stewardship, literally refers to the management of a household. Stewardship is a task, a responsibility bestowed on one person by another - usually by a master. Our Lord used the terms steward and servant frequently, as recorded in the Gospels. St. Paul uses them the same way in his epistles. In I Peter, every Christian is charged to “be a good steward of God’s grace.” (I Peter 4:10) St. Ignatius of Antioch told the faithful that they were “stewards in God’s house, members of His household, and His servants.” (Epistle to Polycarp, 99) He holds these three aspects of our way of life in dynamic tension: being stewards, being members of God’s household, and being servants. St. Ignatius can encourage us to toil, suffer, run, and rest, because these important aspects constitute our way of life as Christians.

Stewardship does not mean being hit up for an annual pledge to the Church. It is not being enlisted in a financial campaign for the new building. It is not even tithing. Rather, it is a well-rounded view of life and an incarnation of that view based on theology and ecclesiology—the giving of time and talent and treasure. Thus stewardship is a state of being. It is based in service. The steward is in the employ of his master. Therefore the most important aspect of being a steward is serving.

We Act As If We “Own” Creation

We modern humans act as if we “own” the creation and can do with it as we wish including destroy it. We treat and mistreat animals as if we had the right to destroy them. In a passage by Erik Herbermann (a contemporary horse trainer) that should give us pause about how we order our lives and how we treat creation (or those we are responsible to lead), he says:

Since by the power of our free will, we are agents over our own desires, we are fully responsible for our thoughts and words and, subsequently, the deed or physical manifestations which result from them. We are responsible for what we do with all the things over which we have stewardship. We horsemen, therefore, are responsible for our relationship with the horse and for its well-being while it is in our care. Accordingly, it is our duty, as stewards, to come to know enough about the horse that we do not, in any way, cause it mental or physical grief, either because of ignorance about its nature or due to lack of control over ourselves while we are dealing with it.
(Erik F. Herbermann, “On Stewardship,” Dressage and CT’, August, 1992, p. 5)

This is a Biblical view of stewardship, and it should typify our lives. If it should be true of the horseman and the horse, how much truer for the Christian? Think of the parables Christ Himself used to convey the same message: the vine dresser, the good and faithful servant, the good Samaritan, the talents. Out of this understanding of stewardship, out of this worldview, we realize that all we have is really the Lord’s, that we must care for it and offer it back to Him in thanksgiving. We are all called to be “good and faithful stewards.” Then, and only then, is stewardship real. Then, and only then, are we fully living life. Then, and only then, are our tithes and offerings acceptable in the sight of God. (This principle is reiterated at every Divine Liturgy, when after the Commemoration the priest proclaims with the Gifts of bread and wine elevated, “Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee, in behalf of all, and for all.”)

Transforming The World In The Wrong Way

We have a world full of examples of bad stewardship: e.g., pollution, brutality, pornography, waste, servitude, apathy, abortion, environmental destruction. We must understand and incarnate stewardship at both the micro and the macro level. The micro level means me: where I live, how I live, and how I interact with all with which I come into contact. The macro level means the world and how I interact with it, and how I am a responsible member of the human race.

These are not just abstract philosophical concepts having no direct bearing on our lives. Bad stewardship is in fact transforming our world in precisely the wrong way. The negative health and economic consequences of it fill the news. Such things as the deforestation of the Amazon, the desertification of large land masses in Africa caused by over-grazing and stripping the land of all vegetation, the changes of weather due to depletion of the ozone layer, the unchecked release of pollutants that destroy ozone, are directly caused by bad stewardship. The rampant increase in world population is due to many different causes, but it also adds up to bad stewardship - more people than our world can support.

The imbalance between available food supplies and rampant population growth fuels much of the death and suffering in our world today. Consider the growth in world population: in 200 AD it was approximately 200 million people; by 1825 it reached the one billion mark. “The next billion was added in only a hundred years. A further billion (taking the total to 3 billion) took about thirty-five years from 1925 to 1960. The next billion was added in only fifteen years (by 1975) while the increase from 4 billion to 5 billion took about twelve years and was completed in the late 1980s.” (Clive Ponting, A Green History of the World, New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1991, p. 240).

Need we be concerned that the population has grown so exponentially? In one sense, perhaps we needn’t, as long as we can feed and care for all those people and not irreparably damage the earth. But we cannot. Notwithstanding the development of agriculture and industrialization, most of the people in the world live a meager existence with inadequate food and shelter. However, since stewards are supposed to care for the world and to “steward” its resources, consider a very graphic example of the consequences of human population growth: animal extinction. “Between 1600 and 1900 an animal species was made extinct about one every four years. By the 1970s this had risen to a rate of about 1,000 a year. At present about 25,000 species of plants, 1,000 species of birds and over 700 species of animals are on the verge of extinction. In the tropical forests about fifty species of plants and animals are being eliminated every day. At this rate it is estimated that in the 1990s about 1 million species (almost 20 percent of the total in the world) will become extinct.” (Ibid., p. 193)

Would it surprise you to hear that even the AIDS epidemic may be the result of bad stewardship? In a recent article on viral epidemics, the following excerpt describes the process and the future consequences for the human race of this form of bad stewardship:

The emergence of AIDS appears to be a natural consequence of the ruin of the tropical biosphere. Unknown viruses are coming out of the equatorial wilderness of the earth and discovering the human race. It seems to be happening as a result of the destruction of tropical habitats. You might call AIDS the revenge of the rain forest. AIDS is arguably the worst environmental disaster of the twentieth century so far. Some of the people who worry in a professional capacity about viruses have began to wonder whether H.I.V. is the only rain forest virus that will sweep the world. The human immunodeficiency virus looks like an example rather than a culminating disaster.
(Richard Preston, “Crisis in the Hot Zone,” The New Yorker, October 26, 1992, p. 58)

Not only does this research neutralize the hysteria about the origins of AIDS, it also clearly lays the guilt at our own doorstep. Like the Pogo cartoon of so many years ago, “We have seen the enemy. . . And he is us!”

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that these “environmental concerns” only matter to the environmentalists. On the contrary, these issues must be of concern to every Christian because we are called to be stewards. Not only is environmental concern part of our stewardship, the enormity of the problem today should make us realize that the solutions are very limited. That is why the late Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrios issued a landmark message on the protection of the environment in 1989. After lamenting the extent of environmental destruction, he said, “Man is destined not to exercise power over creation, as if he were the owner of it, but to act as its steward, cultivating it in love and referring it in thankfulness, with respect and reverence to its Creator. Unfortunately, in our days under the influence of an extreme rationalism and self-centeredness, man has lost the sense of sacredness of creation and acts as its arbitrary ruler and rude violator.” (Patriarch Demetrios, reprinted in The Orthodox Church, v. 29, Nov/Dec 1993, p. 5)

A Spiritual Crisis

A sacramental understanding of life drives us to recognize that the environmental crisis is not merely a physical one. It is a spiritual crisis. Consider this eloquent observation by Elizabeth Theokritoff:

Increasing numbers of people conclude that the way out of the crisis requires spiritual renewal: not just a change of habits, but a change of hearts - in Christian terms, repentance. Tragically, the environmental implications of our Christian Faith are so little understood, even among Christians, that the Church is the last place most people look for spiritual solutions. They are more likely to turn to the worship of Mother Earth, or native American religions, or witchcraft, or New Age spirituality. Yet this realization that the world needs salvation requires a change of heart, is a challenge to the Church.”
(Elizabeth Theokritoff, “Thine Own of Thine Own,” The Orthodox Church, v. 29, Nov/Dec 1993, p. 5.)

The proclamation of Patriarch Demetrios calls all human beings to repentance, and asserts that the Orthodox Church believes the solution is to be found in the liturgical, eucharistic and ascetic ethos of the Orthodox Tradition. Theokritoff points out that “A eucharistic ethos means, above all, using natural resources with thankfulness, offering them back to God. Such an attitude is incompatible with wastefulness. Similarly, fasting and other ascetic practices make us recognize even the simplest of foods and other creature comforts as gifts, provided to satisfy our needs. They are not ours to abuse and waste just so long as we can pay for them. We worship as a community, not as individuals: so a liturgical ethos is also one of sharing.”

Personal Stewardship

But what about stewardship in my own life? It is one thing to see and understand and critique good or bad stewardship on the macro scale; it is another to take personal responsibility for it. And, besides, while it may be in vogue to do certain things which smack of good stewardship (like recycling newspapers or not using wood stoves), it is easy to cop out of any responsibility for macro-level stewardship. It is “the government’s problem,” it is “such a big issue,” and besides, “I can’t change anything, anyway!” In our hearts we all know that this isn’t true, but one of our fundamental flaws as humans is to be reactive, not proactive. In other words, rather than be responsible and anticipate problems, we wait for them to develop before we realize we have to change our behavior.

This irresponsible approach occurs on the personal level, too. Consider our personal stewardship of the earth as it relates to the transportation we use. We choose to drive cars that pollute the air, soil, water, and vegetation because cars are fast, powerful, and convenient. We even insist on having multiple cars for convenience sake, largely refusing to be a part of mass transportation. Thus, we Americans have a highly polluted economy that is dependent on oil companies and auto manufacturers - so dependent that we find it difficult to implement better stewardship methods.

What about other resources which we are to steward? Certainly they include the things around us: e.g., land, animals, possessions. And what about our children? Are they not God-given “resources” put in our charge to steward for a reason? Are we practicing good stewardship toward our children when both parents work and our children are raised (shaped and influenced) by others who may not share our values? Is it good stewardship to allow our children to spend as much as 500 hours a year (as some researchers tell us) of unsupervised TV viewing—knowing full well that they are spending more time with the TV than with either of their parents or teachers? Is it good stewardship to allow our children to unquestioningly absorb the values of our hedonistic society? Are we not being poor stewards of their moral and ethical instruction?

We may even see child molestation as a result of bad stewardship. Experts tell us that children who have a poor relationship with their parents are most at risk to be molested. Such children quickly follow someone who seems willing to befriend them - primed for abuse by their parents’ poor stewardship.

If on the Day of Judgment you are asked how you stewarded the God-given resources put in your charge, how will you answer? Will you just say, “But Lord, come on, nobody ever told me they were resources! How was I to know I was supposed to steward them?” And what will Church leaders say when confronted with the fact that the word “stewardship” has come to be narrowly used as a way to get money? Shame on all of us for either letting it happen or condoning and perpetuating the improper use of the word.

Are Humans An Integral Part of Nature?

Why have we lost the Christian ideal of stewardship? To answer this question we must first answer another - are humans an integral part of nature, or are they separate from it and superior to it? The modern scientific worldview regards the world of nature as something external to humanity - not as something of which we are intrinsically a part. This worldview assumes no living connection between humanity and creation. It no longer sees nature as “the living garment of [man’s] own inner being. Consequently, man has also lost the sense of his role in relationship to the rest of creation. Displacing himself from nature, depersonalizing and objectifying it, he has destroyed the harmony and reciprocity that should exist between them.” (Philip Sherrard, The Eclipse of Man and Nature, West Stockbridge, MA: Lindisfarne Press, 1987, 39) This change in worldview is so fundamental, so basic to who we are as members of modern Western society that most of us don’t even know it is ours; and fewer still realize that it is an inherently un-Christian and ungodly view of life. The result of this change is that mankind has become the exploiter of nature, rather than the steward of it.

Stewardship is clearly a part of the Christian worldview that is based on the fact of unity with nature and the desire for harmony with it. We have to realize that it is not enough to want to be good stewards, to long for a society that practices stewardship, to try to bring about stewardship in our own society. We have to realize that we live in a culture that is fundamentally opposed to stewardship! Sure, there is lots of talk about stewardship, but most of the talk is romantic and based in idealism. There are lots of hard-working and well-intentioned people trying to improve things in our society, but they are unlikely to make any change, because the society we live in is fundamentally opposed to it. Why is this?

It is because “The West has developed technically in direct relationship to the decline of the Christian consciousness, for the simple reason that the ‘secularization’ of nature that permits it to be regarded as an object and so to be exploited technically, is in direct contradiction to the sacramental spirit of Christianity, wherever and whenever this is properly understood ...” (Ibid., 67) In other words, as soon as you tell yourself that you are not a part of nature, but are apart from it, you are in the position to exploit it. As soon as you lose the sacramental view of life, life becomes something to be used for your own selfish purposes. It is not easy to be a steward in a culture that denies stewardship.

There are as many suggested solutions for the environmental crisis as there are concerned people. So what do we do? Most of the suggestions are good ones, but in and of themselves they will do little. The starting point has to be a change of heart. We have to re-discover the historic Christian view of life as sacred, as a sacrament of which we are a part and which we may offer back to God in thanksgiving. And then, we have to participate fully in the sacramental life of the Church, for unless we become part of the sacrament of life, unless we have a eucharistic understanding of life, we will be unable to be good stewards and will have little effect in the world.

Stewardship As A Way Of Life

If I am serious about stewardship, I have to be serious about restoration and full communion with God. And, if I am serious about full communion, I will undertake the spiritual struggle to achieve it - and with the grace of God and many tears, I will attain it. Then, when I have my own house in order, I may begin to consider focusing on other things. That is the spiritual foundation of stewardship. If we would begin to approach stewardship in that mannerâ??spiritually, and with a commitment to purity ourselvesâ??our stewardship would please God. Instead of just worrying about recycling aluminum and plastic, we would be focusing on fulfilling our role in the sacrament of Life. Only when we see life as a sacrament of which we have an intrinsic part, will we change our hearts and our behaviors, and be good stewards. And only when we have a grasp of the spiritual dimension of stewardship, can we begin to understand and practice servant leadership and be good leaders.

Have you ever thought about your relationship with the Church from the perspective of good stewardship? It is a challenging proposition. We are to care for and nurture all those resources (God’s gifts) within the Church. We are to care for and nurture the Church itself, because she is a resource - a gift from God for the life of the world. We are to love and support, care for and nourish all who are in it - those within and without our little circles, those who dress well and those who don’t, those who are cool and those who are crass, those who are successful and those who are failures. And then, recognizing Christ’s challenge, we have to look at being a good steward within the Church as nothing less than practice for being a good steward outside the Church.

We are each ordained (Contrary to what most lay people think, ordination is not reserved for the clergy. Baptism and chrismation are rites of ordination for every believer into the “royal priesthood.” See I Peter 2:9) by God to be stewards of His spiritual gifts, seen and unseen, material and immaterial, physical and mystical. Stewardship within the Church is not just limited to the building or to financial offerings. A good steward is concerned with the optimal use of all the gifts, talents, and responsibilities of the organization placed in his or her charge. This means that a caring attitude cannot be limited to some aspects at the expense of others. A good steward’s decisions and actions must reflect a caring for the entire body, from the least to the greatest within it.

An Inclusive Way of Life

Good stewardship is an inclusive way of life. It includes the loving treatment and care of others. It includes giving to the poor. It includes financial support of the Church. If we have a Christian understanding of stewardship, and if we are good stewards, then all of these elements are part of our lives. We move beyond selfishness and stinginess toward giving as Christ gave. We do so because we realize that selfishness is a sin; it deceives us into thinking we “own” things eternally. Consider the revelation that was given to St. Anthony, founder of monasticism, about the holiest person he ever met. “It was revealed to Abba Anthony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and everyday he sang the Trisagion with the angels.” (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, translated by Benedicta Ward, SLC, Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1975, p. 8) The physician in Alexandria gave to the poor whatever he had beyond his needs.

Holiness and good stewardship are inseparably linked. This physician was a good steward because he was holy. Or, should we say that he was holy because he was a good steward? The point is, we cannot separate them.

Good stewardship is meaningless without spiritual practice, because of sin and its endemic selfishness. Our salvation depends on us being self-less; to give of ourselves to others as Christ gave Himself to us so that we may thereby be restored to the divine image.

Can non-Christians be good stewards? Certainly! Orthodox Christianity teaches us that life itself is a journey in and toward the Kingdom of God. Every human being is on that journey. (Consider the opening sentence from the final prayer of The First Hour: “Oh Christ the True Light, who enlightens and sanctifies every person who comes into the world, may the light of Your countenance shine on us so that in your light we may see the unapproachable Light.”) And, God gives gifts to each one for their life’s sustenance. (”...For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:45.) What motive do non-Christians have for practicing good stewardship? Who knows? Maybe they are close to the Kingdom. Maybe it is out of pure selfishness. Maybe it is out of concern for the environment they will leave the next generation. The point is, our faith teaches us that the higher way of stewardship is out of love for God. We cannot and should not concern ourselves with trying to judge the orthodoxy of the motives of others. Rather, we should focus on our own goals of achieving purity and sanctity.

A Practical Counsel

So then, how do we live as stewards? One of the counsels of St. Anthony is perhaps the most practical and cuts through all of the mixed motives: “Indeed, if we too live as if we were to die each new day, we shall not sin . . . When we awaken each day, we should think that we shall not live till evening; and again, when about to go to sleep we should think that we shall not awaken ...If we are so disposed and live our daily life accordingly, we shall not commit sin, nor lust after anything, nor bear a grudge against anyone, nor lay up treasures on earth…” (St. Athanasius, Life of St. Anthony, 36) Nor, we might add, will we be anything less than good stewards!

If we understand stewardship properly, then being stewards will become our way of living; and this higher calling will experience and encounter life in all its facets - its joys and its sorrows, its victories, and its setbacks. We can muster the courage and strength to travel on this stewardship journey because “God is with us.” Good stewardship brings joy into the lives of others, helps those in need, enables those who desire to improve, loves and cares for the people in our lives, cares for God’s creation, supports the Church financially, participates in the sacramental life of the Church, teaches and guides others, nurtures the gifts which God has given us. All of these factors are qualities of good stewardship. If practiced well, all of these qualities can become normal parts of life. Returning to St. Anthony, which event in his life do you think provided the holy physician in Alexandria the most joy? Giving away all of his excess to the poor-the very thing that convinced St. Anthony of the physician’s holiness!

One of the greatest limiting factors to our stewardship is that we don’t practice good discernment. We make decisions on a legal, contractual level. You see, most of us bring a contractual understanding to the subject of stewardship. This simply means that for most of our lives, and especially at work, we have learned that we are supposed to get something in exchange for what we give! We must have an equal exchange of value. If I give you forty hours of my time per week, then I expect to get paid in return. I contribute my expertise, I get paid. A contractual mindset, applied in all circumstances, will kill stewardship. A contractual approach to giving means we are not truly free. By contrast, unqualified giving without constraint is a mark of freedom. When we bring a contractual understanding to our giving, then not only are we not free, but God is shortchanged. God has already given us much; our life, our possessions, and His Son! And now we want to strike bargains with Him?

St. John Climacus said, “It is better to insult your parents than it is to insult God.” (St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 3, “On Exile,” Classics of Western Spirituality, New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1982) God gives to us without strings. We must reach a level of spiritual maturity from which we can give back to God without expecting to get more in return. If we don’t, then our attitude and behavior are downright sinful. Broadening this discussion to include God’s Church, the problem is that we, in our contractual mindset, expect to receive in like kind from the Church when we give. We expect to get equal or greater value for our money. This attitude can easily degenerate into viewing the Church as a dispenser of goods and services. This is not a Christian attitude, it is a cultural understanding we have accepted. Such a view betrays a lack of understanding of the Church’s vision and misunderstands our identity as members of the Body of Christ.

Toward A Definition Of Christian Stewardship

Can we now build a definition for stewardship? How might we describe “stewardship in action?” The following list is adapted from one prepared by Ron Nicola:

1. Stewardship is our active commitment to use all our time, talent and treasure for the benefit of humankind in grateful acknowledgment of Christ’s redeeming love.

2. Stewardship is caring for the needs of others.

3. Stewardship is offering one’s self to God as He offered Himself to us.

4. Stewardship is what a person does after saying “I Believe ...”, as proof of that belief.

5. Stewardship is learning how to be a responsible and concerned caretaker of Christ’s Church; it is learning how to enjoy Church life and be happy in Church work, for in Her dwells the fullness of the Spirit of God.

6. Stewardship is devotion and service to God and his Church as persons, as families, as deaneries, as diocese, as national Church, and as the Church universal. (Ron Nicola, “Stewardship - A Set of Basic Principles,” The Word, November 1982,4.)

Perhaps we could summarize the points just mentioned this way: Christian stewardship is a life in service to God and His Church motivated by our thankfulness for His love to us . “...In that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” It is the wise and proper use of all the gifts God has entrusted to our care. (See Romans 5:8) What then are the essential elements of stewardship?

THE ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS OF CHRISTIAN STEWARDSHIP

1. Acceptance of the belief that all life and life itself is a gift from God.

2. Freedom to choose not to sin and freedom from the constraints, pressures and temptations of the world that smother the expression of this belief.

3. Life in the Spirit which is characterized by behavior that uses and nurtures the time, talents, and treasure entrusted to us by God.

Ben Williams is the national sales manager for Protocol Systems Inc., manufacturers of hospital technology and support equipment. Ben is a member of the Orthodox mission in Midvale, Utah and is author of the books, Oriented Leadership and Orthodox Worship.

And God Saw That It Was Good

By Fr. Alexis Vinogradov

An Orthodox Christian Perspective On Ecological Justice And Change

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen. 1:1)

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Luke 21:33)

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Revelation 21:1)

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How can Christians who have been separated for so long historically and culturally, articulate a coherent vision on ecology? It is admitted by most that the Bible can provide a starting point for that effort. Yet the Bible is not a neat manual for figuring out Christian principles of operating in this world. It is filled with the kinds of paradoxes quoted above. The writers of the first book extol the wonders of creation. The writer of the last book paints in maddening detail the destruction of this world and the establishment of a new Creation. If one stops at Genesis it seems clear that man’s stewardship of nature, his work at restoring Eden, is the prime directive. Yet if one focuses on the eschatological accounts (the “final” things) in the New Testament, one might conclude, after all the intervening stories and events of human strife and failure, that it’s all doomed for destruction, anyway, and noted paleontologists lend sobering scientific precision to that theological conclusion.

Yet if the Bible is neither a precise manual of cosmology, nor an irrevocable theological treatise, it nevertheless holds a universal key for Christians concerning the connections between humans and the created order. But it is essential to enter within the living traditions of Christianity, to learn how the Bible is lived, if we are to grasp this key. If discussion, writing and advocacy are taking place with great pathos and urgency in the domain of ecology, it is for two reasons. First, it reveals a common perception that something is tragically remiss in our relation to nature, something for which Christians themselves are responsible and in which they are implicated. Secondly, the debate proves that there obviously does not yet exist a common theology and prescription for this tragedy, and although important principles have been articulated, there is yet no consensus on methodology and priorities.

It is admirable to advocate the use of recyclable coffee cups, carpooling to reduce gas emissions and consumption, printing on both sides to save paper and postage, planting of trees to counter the ravages of lawn maintenance, and so on (the list is vintage by now!). Such advocacy touches universal sensibilities and appeals to anyone minimally conscious of the limited resources of the planet. But it does not yet address the specifically “Christian” contribution to the debate, which after all, should be the mandate of Christian churches. Having said this, I should emphasize that Christians must go about this task not simply to add “another point of view” to the problem, but articulate what they believe to be the one tenable and universally true vision. This is not the work of “theologians” as specialists, but the comprehensive effort of specialists as theologians—those who think, act, pray, and live a true theology (in the patristic sense). This is particularly difficult in a relativistic culture which abhors absolutes and regards any vision claiming catholicity (in the broadest meaning of this word) as bordering on fundamentalism.

The result of a prevailing culture relativism is that even when the Christian vision is articulated with force and clarity, it is relegated to the “religious” domain, to that special twilight zone that one linguist friend calls “theo-speak”—it is received by the intellectual community with patronizing civility and gratitude, and subsequently shelved among the appendices or “inspirational” works. We thus have the double task of defining precepts common to us as Christians, and secondly of communicating these precepts in a living, effective way.

“We Talk The Talk, But ...”

The French Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov, (+1970) a man whose personal life and work are living testimony of love for neighbor, of “ecology” in the most profound sense, makes a harsh condemnation of his own family of faith, when he writes that the failure of Christianity lies with the failure of Christians to be credible witnesses of their own teaching. (“A Letter to the Churches of Christ,” in L’Amour Fou de Dieu, Paris, 1973, in French). Another Orthodox theologian, martyred for his own courageous witness (+1990), the Soviet priest, Fr. Alexander Men, also wrote that Christians have ceased to bear their ministry as the leaven within a pagan society. Put in modern jargon: we talk the talk, but we don’t walk the walk.

In the same collection of texts cited above, Evdokimov makes the critical point that ultimately it is not even a question of postulating a specifically Christian “agenda” to a problem, but rather that the individual Christian who lives and functions within the culture must infuse his whole activity with a particular turn of mind and heart that becomes infectious by its self-evident truthfulness rather than by a religious label or mark which brands him a specific “type.” Here one discovers the radical opposition of two approaches in the Christian debate: is the Christian Church a limited, defined institution operating within the world and culture(s), or is the culture and society itself subsumed and transfigurated within the Church that has no boundaries? Does the Church stand as a lonely prophetic voice outside of culture and speaking to it, or is She the “leaven” concealed deep within the measure of flour (Matthew 13:33)?

Any coherent Christian “position” on the ecological (or for that matter any other socially relevant issue) must face these questions first. Do we simply provide sanitized position papers for legislative agencies (government, corporate, or even ecclesial) or do we provide a believable living witness of what true Christian ecology actually looks like?

Unique Persons

This question places us squarely before a fundamental point of Christian life. Christ comes not to humanity in general, not to a particular culture, not to confront political ideologies, but for encounter with specific, unique persons in every age and culture (”...I do not pray for the world, but for those persons whom you, Father, have given me…” “...I have chosen you disciples out of the ‘world’ (meaning the nameless collective). His followers have names. These apostles in turn communicate and witness to persons and communities who have names (one has only to read their letters). What a contrast to the modern “efficient” listserver and media which reaches out to the nameless crowd. In The Brothers Karamazov, the Russian writer, Dostoyevski, reveals our contemporary dilemma through the person of one efficient doctor, “how he loved humanity, but how he couldn’t stand his neighbor!”

So, too, our advocacy cannot legitimately take on collective proportions before it is demonstrated in personal, sacrificial deeds vis-a-vis our neighbor who has a name. In short, Christians have an enormous task of personal transformation ahead of them if they hope to have any lasting and meaningful impact on society at large. The communication of a Christian worldview is not the presentation of ethical ideas, but an encounter with the living Christ through living witnesses—an encounter so radical, that it provides a whole change of one’s itinerary, one’s usual agenda, hence the notion of repentance, change of heart and mind, metanoia. This understanding has its foundation in the very theology of the Incarnation. The “truth” about which Pilate asks stands face to face before him in the Person of Christ. The Word of God, communicated as Love, lived personally, directly. Pilate cannot see, not because the “message” is ineffective, but because his heart is closed, because he is unwilling to turn from his pre-set course.

Abstract Teaching Vis-a-Vis Personal Witness

 

This problem between abstract teaching and personal witness came into sharp relief at a conference on ecology I attended some time ago. To be sure, there were interesting and sincere papers and presentations. Most inspiring (for this participant at least) was the account by Fr. Michael Oleksa about the organic connections between faith, life, industry, and nature among the native Alaskans, the innate “ecology” of a people who live the Incarnation. Yet many of us delegates arrived at this conference one to a car, we stayed in luxurious hotel facilities, we ate what everyone eats in hotels with no regard to nutritional value or waste, we sported clothing which keep the chemical rayon and polyester industries churning out their pollution. We looked and acted pretty much like anyone else who might care little about ecology.

From this “crowd” of ecologically-minded activists (myself included), my thoughts drifted to two monks who live on a hill north of the Vermont/Canada border. The abbot is a disciple of Lanza del Vasto, who founded l’Arche, a Christian educational community in France based on principles of non-violence. (Lanza himself was a personal disciple of Ghandi). Over many years these monastics had evolved in their life a radical version of what today is popularly called “The Simplicity Movement.” Their guiding vision is rooted in a Christian understanding of man and nature, so exquisitely described in a paper by Bishop Kallistos (Ware). (“Through the Creation to the Creator,” Third Marco Pallis Memorial Lecture, London, October, 1996)

As the monks happily subsist on meager proceeds from iconography, every facet of their daily routine is an act of conscious communion with the Creator, a liturgy in which man is the priest, the mediator, the one who offers. Nothing is done with speed or “expediency.” Nothing is a means to get on to something “more important,” the way we would wolf down a sandwich to get to an “important” meeting. Every act is a sacrament, important in itself. Everything is fabricated and consumed with the consciousness of processes involved in the production.

On a stroll through his woods, when the abbot, Fr. Gregory, recently mused, “I can’t imagine how Paradise can be much better!”, it was clear that he wasn’t only describing the outward forms of their existence, but pointing to an inner key, to Paradise truly regained in the human heart. For me, the image of that life endures far more powerfully, and speaks volumes more than the most articulate papers and theological treatises on ecology.

The Vision Discovered

 

When that vision is discovered and witnessed, there is no need to break it down into its components, to ask, “What are the specific aspects that make that life particularly ecologically-conscious? How can we appropriate aspects of this particular community in, let’s say, the ‘urban’ context?” The very point is that we have witnessed how someone lives and is transformed in relation to Christ, taking the Gospel with utmost seriousness and joy—a life that is a complete affront to the prevailing culture and an implicit judgment on it.

It is up to each of us subsequently to give that “how” our own personal shape, not as clones of another individual, but each called to live his own unique Christ-bearing life. For the most part, we Christians appear profoundly “happy”, content within the prevailing culture, for the most part we drive up in large private vehicles to our comfortable churches, we probably engage in some conscience-saving good-will activities with little impact on our personal resources or time, and with easy conscience we consume, as do our non-religious neighbors, twelve times the world’s per capita consumption of goods (so the statisticians tell us)!

“Interiorized Monasticism”

 

The Russian writer, Sozhenitsyn, long after his years of exile and imprisonment, continued to write in the smallest print, using every blank space on small sheets of paper. This was not a quirk, but rather the fruit of a lived experience, the imposed awareness of how infinitely precious and tenuous is each morsel of God’s creation. Many who endured such deprivations ended up grateful to their captors for the transformation and peaked awareness of life which resulted. If life sometimes offers this unwitting martyrdom, the Church has historically espoused a voluntary martyrdom leading to a similar transformation—the martyrdom of the desert. No one will intelligently argue against the impracticality of a mass exodus for the wilderness (although the monastic movement seems to be gaining adherents), but the spiritual equivalent is what several Orthodox writers have called “interiorized monasticism” or “untonsured”, unofficial monasticism.

“Interiorized monasticism” means living in this world and society a life of profound Christian consciousness in every minute detail, of self-restraint in order to restore the balance, to free ourselves of the illusion of permanent private ownership, to treat every aspect and element of creation as the means of communion with my neighbor, as the sacrament of love with him and with our mutual Creator. We are sometimes tempted to drag the prophets and monks down from their holy mountains, to tell them their life is surreal, to convince them to join us in our good fight to save society. But in their silent witness it is they who lift us up, who demonstrate in concrete terms the possible impossibility of true Christian life, a life that can be lived precisely in this world.

This should not be construed as an appeal to sectarianism, which particularly as a modern phenomenon of ecology, has taken the form of many back-to-earth quasi-religious movements. For it is not a question of escape, of abandonment of the fallen industrialized world for the sake of an utopian agricultural Shangri-La. Nor is it a case that the world must be salvaged in and for itself, purely for the sake of good health, longevity, and general “prosperity.” But it is a question of reorienting priorities, of heeding Christ’s call to “seek first the kingdom of God,” so that all these other things are added, or rather placed in their true order and meaning, as we are reminded in her excellent thesis on the environment by the Orthodox writer, Elizabeth Theokritoff. (“Orthodoxy and the Environment,” in Sourozh, No. 58, Nov. 1994)

Communicants With God In His Creation

Only in this light do the apparent biblical contradictions which prefaced this article, vanish. For on the one hand, the world is indeed good and communicates to us its Creator; on the other hand, this very creation is not an end in itself, but must be transformed, perpetually renewed and recreated by those who are called to share in the creative act, by those who themselves are made in the image and likeness of the Creator.

In his landmark study, For the Life of the World (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY), Fr. Alexander Schmemann (+1983) summarizes the Orthodox perspective on man’s role. He reminds us of our place in Paradise as communicants with God in his creation, of the cosmic fall of man in his becoming the “consumer,” and of our personal restoration and the restoration of the world in the renewed eucharistic life, the life of offering and thanksgiving, as shown and lived in and through Christ, the perfect Man.

I write this in preparation for a conference on ecological justice in Estes Park, a place of incredible natural beauty in the heart of Colorado. Ironically, it will take considerable jet fuel and other expense and resources to assemble us there. A part of me wonders if we shouldn’t be meeting in a run down neighborhood of some smoggy American city—which context might be more sobering for our agenda? St. Basil the Great wrote in the fourth century: “the coat that hangs in your closet belongs on the shoulders of your brother who is naked, the extra shoes belong on the feet of the one who has none…” Certainly, we can complete St. Basil’s list as we step back and observe our own abundance and surplus. In the end, our only effective witness will be when the world looks at us, as it did at the early Christians, and exclaims, “My goodness, look at how they live!” Then they will know indeed if we truly love God’s creation, or if we just like to talk about how much we love it.

Re-examination Of Our Mode of Christian Life

If, for this writer at least, the primary mandate is clearly the re-examination of our very mode of Christian life, this should not, at the same time, stalemate our zeal and concrete efforts at ecological justice. We do have unprecedented opportunities for creative dialogue and work. A world shrunk by instant communications has erected bridges between cultures—political, economic, and religious. We need to ford these bridges civilly, but fearlessly, speaking and hearing each other with urgency and without sentimentality, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

Additional Bibliography

Orthodoxy and Ecology, A Resource Book, Syndesmos, P.O. Box 22, 11-950 Bialystok, Poland, FAX 48-543-747. Also available from National Council of Churches Bookstore, PO Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515-0968. (800) 762-0968. Specify Book number EJ 9740, $15.00. Includes references to other resources on ecology.

Sourozh, Journal of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate in Britain, c/o E. J. Robeson, 13 Carver Rd., Herne Hill, London, SE 24, 9LS, England. Contains the article by Elizabeth Theokritoff and others on the theme of ecology. (Copies may also be purchased from St. Vladimir’s Seminary Bookstore.)

Fr. Alexis Vinogradov is pastor of St. Gregory the Theologian Orthodox Church, Wappingers Falls, NY. He is also the OCA representative to the National Council of Churches Committee on Environmental Issues.

Moving From A Dues System To Stewardship

By Fr. John Dresko

Additional Resources: Sample Financial Pledge Form

DEVELOPING A DESIRE FOR STEWARDSHIP

History/Older Parishes Every parish has an historical perspective about stewardship. If it is an older, established parish, its history may be such that stewardship was never taught. It may be that the “dues system” is the only system known in an older parish. In conjunction with that, perhaps the parish has always paid everyone for everything that had to be done—cleaning the church, directing the choir, caring for the grounds, etc. Any time someone challenges the status quo, there may be resistance. Nonetheless, even a parish still on the dues system and paying for everything done at the church can be motivated to move towards a complete stewardship program.

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The financial aspect of stewardship may be the last thing tackled in the program. In an older parish, perhaps the first principles of stewardship taught by a pastor or leader in the parish are those of time and talents. It is not unusual, for example, for a parish that still uses dues to struggle over paying bills. A first step towards complete stewardship may be to show the people how they can offer some of their time in cleaning, repairing, etc. which saves the parish money and offers something tangible from themselves to God. Once the desire to offer something to God is instilled, it is a logical next step to build a desire for other offerings. If a parish fights year after year to raise the dues to a level adequate to fund its budgetary needs, what happens in that the budget eventually takes hits in the very places it shouldn’t—salaries, education and outreach programs—because those are the easiest to cut.

History/Newer Parishes Even a brand new parish comes to a stewardship program with some perspective about it. Many new parishes more easily accept a pledging program because it is different from what was experienced in prior, older parishes. If the parish is begun with pledging and proportional giving principles, it is much easier to instill other basic Christian stewardship principles.

A true stewardship program is truly in place in a parish when the members give of their time, treasure and talent because they see the abundance they have been given as a gift from God. That gift is given back to God in gratitude and love. They are simply caring for that abundance while here on earth.

LAYING THE FOUNDATION

Once a basic desire for stewardship is there, it is important that a proper foundation and time frame be laid. A successful stewardship program cannot “click” into place just because it is a new fiscal year. It is recommended that a program be phased in over a few years in an older parish.

A basic system of voluntary, proportional pledging can be instituted over three years. Encourage those at a parish meeting to vote for the implementation of a three-year plan. If that is not feasible, use the first year for education and then try to pass a “two-year” plan at the following annual meeting.

The first year should be spent in simple education. Preach about stewardship. Write about stewardship. Talk about stewardship. Never, however, preach, write and talk only about money. There are times, of course, that money must be a particular focus of a lesson or sermon. Compare and contrast today’s (or even better, yesterday’s) parish with tomorrow’s under stewardship. The first year can create a real thirst and anticipation among the people.

The second year can be an “either/or” year. The people in the parish that are ready to move to voluntary pledging can be given that option. The people that like the “old way” can remain with dues for another year. This will necessitate two things: first, it may be necessary to change your parish bylaws. If your bylaws are very detailed and state even the amount of dues required in order to maintain membership, it will be necessary to change them to something a little more generic, with wording such as “to be a voting member, one must fulfill his/her financial obligations as set by the parish” or “...must have a signed pledge card on file with the parish council.” Changing bylaws may be even more difficult than planning the entire stewardship program. But if adequate stewardship education has already taken place, that small change can easily occur. It is at the pastor’s discretion.

A second step would be a special mailing to parishioners with a form enabling them to choose either dues or pledging, and a place to fill in a pledge amount on the card. On this form there can also be an area where they can volunteer in writing for various duties, offices and chores around the church, and a simple table of proportional giving where a parishioner can glance down and easily calculate what 5% or 10% of his income would be as a church offering. (See Sample at end of article.)

The third year of the program would be to make the voluntary pledge system the financial system for everyone in the parish. Pledge cards or forms would be sent to every parishioner, along with the parish budget, and a letter from the pastor and council president, reminding people about the change. This letter should be educational and reinforce what had been taught during the previous two years. It is very important to be realistic but bold in forecasting what people should be pledging.

Avoid the temptation to have a “hybrid” system—preaching and teaching stewardship and voluntary pledging, while demanding a “minimum” pledge. A minimum pledge is nothing more than the former dues with a different name. It also encourages the parishioner to continue to give the minimum. Moving to a stewardship system takes a great leap of faith. Trust God.

EDUCATIONAL FOCUS

Realistic expectations must be encouraged. Stewardship, and particularly financial stewardship, is not a “magic answer” to financial problems in a parish. Financial shortfalls can definitely be eliminated, but it is only through a real sense of sacrifice on the part of parishioners. The pastor and parish leaders must constantly keep part of the focus on this fact. They themselves must be totally committed to the stewardship program in word and deed, and must be examples to others who are still doubtful about Christian stewardship.

Part of the educational focus must be on the fact that a dues system and the resulting mentality is truly, in all objective measures, a losing system. It is not Christian, it is not effective, and it encourages the exact opposite in results than that which we would hope and expect. Parish dues are simply another bill to be paid, a tax that is to be as painless as possible: “What do I have to do to be a parishioner, Father?”

The parish budget, if there is one, is constantly under siege because to have a mission-oriented, growth budget costs money. When a realistic budget is formulated, the “dues” based on that budget may be $500, $1,000, or even more, per person. It is not fair, because there are people of genuinely modest means who struggle to pay their $250 or whatever dues the parish has asked. But it also is not fair because there are people of genuinely exceptional means who could contribute $5,000 or even $10,000 per year.

Don’t be afraid to use financial, scientific and logical arguments in the educational process. For example, even the person giving $5 to the parish each week is giving less each week as inflation erodes it. The bills of the parish go up, but giving does not necessarily match it.

Educational focus should also stress that the dues system contributes to the “smorgasbord” mentality prevalent in today’s church. A minimum budget does not include special projects, so the parish must go beg for funds to do special things. This places very special and important projects at the whim of parishioners.

Finally, educational focus must also stress that the whole dues system and its mentality create a vacuum in the other areas of stewardship. People who give little of anything freely, especially money, give very little freely of anything else they might offer. A person who is content to pay his/her dues at the last moment in order to remain eligible for the annual meeting is not likely to be a big donor of time and talent around the church. But when stewardship and freewill proportional giving take hold, it is a logical next step that time and talents will follow. We don’t want our people to pay a bill to the Church; we want them to love and care for it. We also don’t want people to be forced into unwillingly donating time and talent. The offering of time, talent and treasure should be a free offering of love from the heart.

PREACHING AND BIBLE STUDY

The Annual Parish Meeting is an Opportunity to Set the Stage for a Stewardship Program In general, the pastor’s report and the council chairman’s report can be one of two things. It can be a simple rehash of the past year’s events together with a look forward at some upcoming events on the calendar, or it can be a small rehash together with a vision for the parish. Long-term, medium-term and short-term goals are very important for any organization, but they are especially important for the organism that is the Church. The pastor’s report is the ideal place to begin setting the agenda in both time and vision for the movement into a stewardship program. The pastor can set forth a brief vision of what stewardship is, of where the parish is in regard to that vision, and where the parish should go from there. The council chairman and also the stewardship chairman—and there should be one—can do the same thing.

These reports should also be reproduced and circulated to all the parishioners in a newsletter or bulletin.

Sermons on Stewardship can be Preached throughout the Year There are particular Scripture selections that lend themselves well to these topics. In general, three rules for preaching about stewardship should be observed.

  1. Do not just preach about money. Preach about the positive aspects of giving. Preach about the positive aspects of sacrifice. Preach about the positive aspects of loving and caring for your parish. Preach about how God loves you so much that He gave you certain talents to share with His creation and the Church.
  2. Don’t be afraid to go outside of the Sunday lectionary to find good Scriptural lessons about stewardship. Many lessons can be found in the daily lectionary or from your own personal reading. When you find a particularly good passage for preaching, and especially if you actually preach a good sermon, record it on paper for further use. Publish it in a newsletter for everyone to read. Send it to your diocesan newspaper. The editor is always looking for good material. Contact the Orthodox Christian Publications Center and the Orthodox Church in America for its its use in educational material about stewardship.
  3. Don’t beat people with the topic week after week. Preach a good sermon about stewardship and then wait until God provides another opportunity, as He will. People resent having the pastor or a parish leader constantly harping on any topic, but especially stewardship. Pick and choose.

BUDGETING

A Parish Budget Must Be Mission and Growth Oriented It is recommended that spending be budgeted as the first step in the budgeting-forming process. In this way, true priorities and goals can be planned without the “burden” of knowing what income you have to spend. It is easier to challenge parishioners to meet spending and cut some expenses as you go along than to simply find out what the parishioners are willing to give without knowing what spending should be.

It is important to remember that a parish is non-profit. Too often, parish councils want a budget that has padding for a “rainy day,” when in reality that padding is just an excuse not to pay the pastor an adequate salary, or to minimize the kind of commitment each parishioner has to make. Be bold in your spending estimates! Be generous and realistic when setting salaries.

A basic budgeting process would include:

INCOME

Parishioner Stewardship
Candle Sales
Bookstore Sales
Discretionary Fund
Fund-raisers
Interest
Miscellaneous

EXPENSES

Salaries and Benefits
Pastor’s Salary
Social Security
OCA Pension Plan
Car Allowance
Health Insurance
Life Insurance
Continuing Education Allowance
Similar categories for others paid by the parish

Utilities Property Maintenance
Gas (Oil) Maintenance Expenses
Electric Insurance
Telephone Loan Obligations
Water/Sewer Capital Improvements

Church Expenses Other Expenses
Candles OCA/Diocesan Assessments
Envelope System Parish Stewardship to Others
Wine/Incense Charitable Commitments (e.g., FOS, etc.)
Church School Discretionary
Kitchen/Office Expenses Miscellaneous
Fund-raiser Expenses

Challenge the Parishioners in Their Stewardship When the spending estimates are generous and set, challenge the parishioners to meet that expense budget with their giving. Use the budget process to show the people that each expense is important. Rational people, when confronted with a realistic budget and sound arguments for the expenses listed, will see the importance of funding it. Use the “proportional giving” charts and figures to show people that, for the most part, they are giving very little of their income to God. Rational people, when they are educated to the fact that they have been giving less than 1% of their income to the Church, generally try to increase their support.

Sell Your Budget Mail the budget to each and every home in the parish along with the pledge forms. Show the people that the parish is responsibly planning and caring for itself and now needs their help to complete the process. Have as open a forum as possible. Ask for suggestions on improving the budget. Don’t be “defensive” in supporting the budget. Be matter-of-fact. These are the figures required to accomplish what we need to do as the Body of Christ.

Consider an Every-Member Canvas Appoint a committee to arrange a schedule and take the budget and pledge forms to each and every home. In those homes, discuss and explain the budget and the pledging system. Leave the pledge forms and assure the parishioners that you know the parish can depend on their support. The committee size can be based on the size of the parish. Members of the committee (which probably should not include the pastor) must be pledging proportionally themselves and must be enthusiastic supporters of the budgeting process.

The Parish as an Organization Must Have Good Stewardship PrinciplesAny sound stewardship program has to include a realistic support package in the budget for the priest. He is the one person responsible before God (and the bishop) for that parish and for the lives of everyone he shepherds. When it comes to the priest’s compensation, be fair and be guided by good will.

AFTER THE SYSTEM IS ESTABLISHED

Broaden the Vision A true steward offers the three “T”‘s (time, treasure, talents) to others. The ultimate stewardship to the Church is to offer oneself. Encourage church vocations as part of the stewardship process. Young men should be encouraged to study for the priesthood; everyone should be encouraged to study their faith and consider teaching, singing, reading, directing, etc. It is relatively easy to sign a check to the parish. It is much harder, in true stewardship, to give our lives to God in the Church.

There are also jobs that need to be done in the deanery, diocese, central church, and indeed, in the world-at-large. Offer some time as a delegate to an assembly. Serve on the Parish Council, Diocesan Council or Metropolitan Council. Attend faith study sessions at any level—parish, deanery, diocesan or national. Offer financial support outside of the local community to the seminaries, the national and diocesan appeals, international mission and outreach organizations such as Orthodox Christian Mission Center and the International Orthodox Christian Charities.

Broaden the Program A steward reaches a point of understanding when there is a realization that the church also must be a steward. Budgeting begins to include part of the parish income (ideally a tithe or 10%) for outside purposes. Following are some of the most common examples.

Community Outreach This can take many forms: visitation of the sick, the elderly, prisoners; a soup kitchen, a day care center; any type of outreach that begins to make the parish a steward to the community. The gospel reading of the Great Judgment (Matthew 25) is our scriptural inspiration for this. Set a percentage of the parish budget for this purpose.

Bequests Begin to educate parishioners to remember the parish in their wills. Wills are common now, but bequests to the Church are not so common. Materials are available from the Office of Planned Giving of the Orthodox Church in America to help educate parishioners in this matter. The parish, the seminaries, the institutions of the Church, the Central Church, scholarships, all can be remembered in wills. There are also very inventive ways to bequeath something before you die. Materials are also available for this.

Endowments An endowment is a fund set up that would simply build to a specified goal of capital. Once that goal is met, only the interest generated would be available for use. These endowments can be funded in many ways. People can will funds, the parish can budget an amount, contributions can be given. Some churches in this country have substantial endowments, some with capital of over $1,000,000. The interest generated allows more of the current donations to be used for other purposes such as outreach.

Stewardship is a way of life. It is the recognition that God has given us all that we have -even our lives. Nothing belongs to us. It all belongs to Him. We are but tenants in this world, entrusted with the care of those things God has given us. As stewards, we give them back to their proper Owner.

PREACHING/BIBLE STUDY SELECTIONS (NOT EXHAUSTIVE)

TIME

Proverbs 23:4-5—Do not toil to acquire wealth; be wise enough to desist. When your eyes light upon it, it is gone; for suddenly it takes to itself wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.
Matthew 5-7—Sermon on the Mount (cf. Luke 6-8)
Luke 10:25-37—Good Samaritan
Romans 12—The consecrated life
Titus 2:1-10—Time in relationships as stewardship
James 1:22-27—Be doers of the word, and not hearers only

TALENTS

Numbers 18—The Lord gives a priesthood to make the offerings for the people (tie this in with the “royal priesthood” of 1-2 Peter)
Proverbs 18:16—A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men.
Matthew 5-7—Sermon on the Mount (cf. Luke 6-8)
Matthew 25—Parable of the Talents (cf. Luke 19:11-27)
Luke 15-16—Prodigal Son, Dishonest steward
John 15:1-7—The vine must bring forth fruit
Romans 12—The consecrated life
1 Corinthians 7:7—I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.
1 Corinthians 12-14—Spiritual gifts
Galatians 5:16-6:2—Works of the Spirit
Galatians 6:2-10—Reaping what we sow
Hebrews 6:1-8—Apostasy and dead works
James 1:22-27—Be doers of the word, not hearers only
James 2-3—Good works and faith
1 Peter 4:10-11—As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace; whoever speaks, as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, as one who renders it by the strength which God supplies, in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.

TREASURE

Genesis 22—Story of Abraham and Isaac
Leviticus 25—Even the land keeps the Sabbath and makes an offering to the Lord
Deuteronomy 8:17-18—Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the light of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth; that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as at this day.
Deuteronomy 16:16b-17—They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed; every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessings of the Lord your God which He has given you.
Matthew 5-7—Sermon on the Mount (cf. Luke 6-8)
Matthew 19:16-26—Rich young man (cf. Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30)
Matthew 25—Great Judgment
Mark 12:41-44—The widow’s mite (cf. Luke 21:1-4)
Acts 5:1-11—Ananias and Sapphira
Acts 20:35—(Paul said) In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Romans 12—The consecrated life
Romans 13:6-10—Taxes, giving and money
1 Corinthians 16:1-4—Contributions
Ephesians 4:28—Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need.
1 Timothy 6:7-11—Love of money is the root of all evil
James 2—Care for the poor

James 5:1-9—Contrast between the cares of the rich and godliness

SPIRITUAL ATTITUDE ABOUT STEWARDSHIP

Genesis 4—Story of Cain and Abel
Exodus 35:4-5—Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “This is the thing which the Lord has commanded. Take from among you an offering to the Lord; whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s offering….”
Leviticus 1:1-6:7—Types of offerings expected of Israel
1 Kings 18—Contest of the offerings on Mount Carmel (“God vs. Baal”)
1 Chronicles (3 Kings) 29:13-14—And now we thank You, our God, and praise Your glorious Name. “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from You, and of Your own have we given You.”
Proverbs 23:26—My son, give Me your heart, and let your eyes observe My ways.
Matthew 21—Parables of judgment (read during Holy Week services [cf. Mark 11:11-23; Luke 11-12])
Mark 15:43-16:8—Joseph of Arimethea (Caring for the Body of Christ)
Luke 11:9-13—God is generous to us (cf. Stories of the “five loaves”)
Luke 14:12-24—Attitudes about giving; Great Banquet
Luke 16—Dishonest steward; Lazarus and the rich man
Luke 17:11-19—Ten lepers cleansed (thanksgiving)
Luke 19:1-10—Zacchaeus
Luke 19:45-46—And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” (cf. Matt 21:23-27; Mark 11:27-33; John 2:18-22)
John 6:27-51—God gives the Bread from Heaven; Jesus as the bread of life
John 21:15-25—Peter’s confession (if you love the Lord, feed His sheep)
1 Corinthians 6:12-20—Glorify God in your body
1 Corinthians 9:2-12—Apostleship
1 Corinthians 10:28-33—Do all that you do to the glory of God
2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15—The offering for the Jerusalem church
Ephesians 5:—Marriage as a mutual sacrifice—image of our relationship with the Church
1 Thessalonians 5:16-23—Give thanks in all circumstances
Hebrews 10:1-10—The offering of Christ is the only true offering
1 Peter/2 Peter—Pastoral exhortations about stewardship; royal priesthood

ORTHODOX CHURCH IN AMERICA MATERIALS

Resource Handbook for Lay Ministries
Handbook on Stewardship
, Department of Religious Education (1977)
Study Papers, Fifth All-American Council
The Orthodox Church, as well as Diocesan publications.

BOOKS ON STEWARDSHIP (not meant to be exhaustive)
Coniaris, Anthony M. Where Moth and Rust Do Not Consume, Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishers, 1983.
Knudsen, Raymond B. New Models for Creative Giving, Chicago: Follet Publishing, 1976.
Knudsen, Raymond B. New Models for Financing the Local Church, Chicago: Follett Publishing Co., 1974.
Schaller, Lyle E. Growing Plans, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1983.
Schaller, Lyle E. 44 Ways to Expand the Financial Base of Your Congregation, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989.

Fr. John Dresko is pastor of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church, New Britain, CT and is a member of the Metropolitan Council.