Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Stewardship Prayer

Almighty God, whose loving hand has given us all that we possess; Grant us grace that we may honour thee with our substance through the support of our parish church. 

Filled with your love, we respond to your call to be disciples of your Son.  Unite us as a community of your disciples. Open our hearts and minds to your abundant grace so that we might become good stewards of your gifts.

As good stewards, teach us to receive your gifts gratefully, nurture them responsibly, share them selflessly, and return them to you with increase, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Where your heart is....

October is Stewardship month in most parishes in the Episcopal Church.
Stewardship campaigns are about more than getting you to fill out a pledge card and setting a budget.  They are about your priorities of treasure, time, and talent, and ultimately about faith.  Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  An important question to ponder in the coming weeks is, “Is Jesus where your heart is?” and if so, are you honoring Him in His Church with your treasure?  Furthermore, what part of that faith in Jesus is expressed at, nourished by, and encouraged by this parish?  Study, contemplation and prayer are necessary elements to answer these questions, and in the coming weeks this column will be dedicated to that contemplation, as well as with other materials.
God actually has more to say in Scripture about money and possessions than most other topics.  It is important because they can be a distraction, a stumbling block, an idol, and a cause of much anxiety.  It can also be a great blessing to be shared, and used to glorify God and serve his kingdom.  It depends on where your heart is.
Does St. John’s have a place in your heart?  How is God calling you to support her?

St. John's "Brand and Package"

It may seem strange to see marketing terms used when talking about Stewardship in the Church, but they can actually be useful when discussing who you are as a parish, and how you present yourself to the world and potential members.   

St. John’s is a unique place.  In Metro Detroit there is no other church, Episcopal or otherwise, that is like St. John’s.  There are certainly parishes in other major cities much like St. John’s, with similar attributes.  But in our area there is no other place with this package.

Individuals are generally drawn to one or more aspect of this package, but all play a part in defining and strengthening the brand.  To diminish or change a portion of what we do here is the endanger damaging the brand, and its attraction to the whole.  For example, when Coca-Cola changed the recipe for its successful product, they damaged its brand for several years.  This is not to say that we can’t be looking to make improvements.  All must be done with an eye to the greater whole of who we are and what we do.

            What are some of the portions of our brand that make up the package here at St. John’s?

1)      Traditional Anglican Faith – No deviations theologically to the faith as the Anglican Communion has received it from the witness of Scripture, and the traditions and ministry received from the Apostles.
2)      Traditional Worship/Liturgy – Based on that traditional faith as codified in the Book of Common Prayer from 1549 to 1928.  The form for ceremonial was restored in the Anglican Communion by those involved in the Oxford Movement of the mid - 19th century, of which St. John’s was an early proponent.
3)      World Class Music – St. Augustine said that “He who sings prays twice”.   Music has been a vital aspect of the worship in the Anglican Communion, and especially so here at St. John’s.  Our English choral tradition lifts the heart, promotes right belief, complements our Prayer Book worship, and edifies the faithful in ways that are deeper than words can express.
4)    Biblically sound and inspiring preaching and teaching – The clergy strive to make the Word of God relevant and challenging so that the faithful can be both comforted in His Holy Word, and challenged to grow in greater holiness.
5)      Remarkable Building – For over 150 years these grand buildings have stood on this corner of Woodward Ave as a witness to the strength of the Gospel, and its architecture inspires one to worship God Almighty in the beauty of holiness.  In addition to aiding in worship, our facilities are used for education, social gatherings, and they host a variety of parish ministries and community groups. 
6)      Our downtown urban location – Although some think is a disadvantage, we embrace being centrally located among the sport stadiums and theatres, near major highways, and easily accessible for those who travel from as far away as Ann Arbor, Algonac, and South Lyon on a regular basis.  The neighborhood also continues to see new and renovated housing and loft apartments which attract people to move into the neighborhood surrounding St. John’s
7)     Warm, welcoming, and encouraging fellowship – Many people have said that as much as they like a combination of the first 6 items listed, it is this seventh one that brings it all together and keeps them coming back to St. John’s.   At Coffee Hour or Potluck luncheon after worship on Sunday, at various Social Fellowship Outings, or in one another’s homes, we come to know one another and care for each other.  This strengthens our bonds to each other, and to the parish, through the common denominator of our faith in Jesus Christ.

What are the things you like best about St. John’s?  Two, three or four of the items may jump out at you as your favorites.  Another one or two you may find you don’t take advantage of, or perhaps you are not too interested in.  And there may even be an item or two that doesn’t strike your fancy at all.   If you put together even a small group of parishioners I am sure you will find all parts of the package covered in a ‘favorites’ column. 

So what does this have to do with Stewardship?  With the exception of numbers 6 & 7 (neighborhood and fellowship), all of these items are covered by the parish budget.  It is the responsibility of the Vestry to allocate funding for these various items so that they are supported, encouraged, and kept in good repair to the Greater Glory of God and proper packaging of the brand. 
The substantial part of the funding comes from YOUR PLEDGE AND FINANCIAL SUPPORT of St. John’s Church.  What is St. John’s worth to you?  Are you willing to support her? 

As we spend time in October discussing Stewardship, know that the Vestry works hard to ensure that what we are doing today is to the greater glory of God now AND will also be here, God willing, in future years and decades.  Your generous support of this ministry not only ensures we will be here on Sunday and available during the week, but also for future generations, that they may be led into all truth and to know Him through the ministries and worship that we hold so dear.


When discussing Stewardship the word “Tithe” comes up frequently.   What is a Tithe, and how does it apply to your spiritual life?

The Tithe is an offering to God of the FIRST 10% of your incoming.  In the Old Testament God requires this, saying the first 10% of your fields, flocks or vineyards are to be given as an offering to the Lord.  (Leviticus 27:30)  It is a sign and symbol of gratitude that the Lord has provided for you.  One of the offertory sentences for the Holy Communion Service sums this up saying, “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee” (1 Chronicles 29:14).  With the offering we show gratitude because it is 100% God’s and He has blessed us with the provision of it.  It is also a sign that we trust that God will continue to provide for us in the future as well. (Malachi 3:10).

In the New Testament Jesus mentions the tithe in reference to those who are doing it for appearances or self-righteousness, not with a joyful heart.  Rather than saying the Pharisees are wrong for tithing, he says our righteousness must EXCEED that of the scribes and Pharisees. (Matthew 5:20)  We should be giving and doing so with a right heart.

But throughout the New Testament there is reference to the support of the ministry and need to not be so attached to one’s possessions that they become a distraction or even an idol.  Giving with a cheerful heart is a great antidote to such a malady.

In the Book of Common Prayer we read in the Offices of Instruction, My bounden duty is the follow Christ, to worship God every Sunday in his Church; and to work and pray and give for the spread of the kingdom.  (p. 291) The support of your parish church, working toward the Tithe of 10%, is an important aspect that duty.   And to do so with a cheerful heart is a spiritual treasure.

If you are not tithing now pray the Lord to help you to move toward that level of giving to His Greater Honor and Glory, and your sanctification.

Where does our income come from?

As we continue contemplating Stewardship at St. John’s, a question arises, “what sources of income fund the budget at St. John’s?”
We have a contract with Olympia Holdings which operates our parking lot for events such as the Tigers and Lions games, the Fox Theatre shows, and other downtown events.  This accounts for a little over 27.5% of budgeted income.  Rental of the building, dedicated gifts, fundraising, and monies donated for outside use constitute about 9% of income.  Use of the endowment accounts for about 10% of the budget. 
The majority of the income for the parish comes from YOU, the good people of St. John’s.   For 2012 we have $240,000 budgeted for Pledge and Plate, and $25,000 for special appeal gifts.  For your giving we are grateful.
We are certainly blessed to have the parking income, which fluctuates from year to year based on what is scheduled or comes to the area, such as playoff games.  And we have come to a point of necessity that we have to let the endowment rebuild by not taking any income or principle from it for the coming year or more.  The biblical principle of allowing a field to sit fallow in order to be replenished (Exodus 23:11) is the principle applied here.
Two of the ways that we need to look to increase income in the coming year(s) include fundraising and giving.  Fundraising would be targeted at those outside of the parish.  A ride carnival is being discussed.  We could use more ideas and volunteers to lead the efforts.
But increases in giving, from those already in the parish (increasing toward the biblical principle of a tithe), and adding new members who will contribute to the income of the parish, are both going to be necessary for the financial health of the parish for the coming years. 

Where does the money go? Expenses...

Continuing our October Stewardship journey, we have looked at some of the theological reasons why we give to support the Church, as well as where the various sources of income originate.  As mentioned last week, the parking lot accounts for about 27.5% of our income, rental of the building, as well as special gifts and fundraising, account for 9% of our income, and about 10% of the income is from the endowment.  It is hoped that in the coming year we will not take any money from the endowment in order to allow it to replenish.  This mirrors the Biblical principle of allowing a field to sit fallow (unplowed, unplanted) in order to rejuvenate.  This needs to be done with our endowment.

In 2008, with the downturn in the economy, the Vestry cut many of the expenses of the parish, and have worked to keep them low.  What are the expenses at St. John's?

The largest single portion of the budget is for the staff; the Rector, two part-time office staff, and the resident sexton.  Including required benefits (health, pension, etc.) this accounts for 36.7% of our budgeted expenses.

Music Ministry (choirmaster, singers, guest musicians, instrument maintenance and supplies) accounts for about 23%.  The Edwards Organ Scholar is paid from a separate endowment, given for the use of music, and is not a part of the operating budget of the parish.

The building (maintenance, utilities, insurance) accounts for 22% fo the budget, outreach and diocesan apportionment accounts for 11%, office supplies and licenses/permits 5.2%, and adminstrative expenses/support services 2%.

The Vestry continues to look at ways to trim expenses, without damaging the "product" of who St. John's is as she seeks to minister.  And we believe St. John's is worthy of your support.

A prayer for St. John's Church

Bless, O Lord, this parish, and grant that Thy Name may be worshiped here in truth and purity, to all generations.  Give Thy grace and wisdom to our Clergy, that they may exercise holy discipline, and be themselves patterns of holiness, simplicity, and self-denial.  Bless all who worship here; take from us all pride, vanity and self-conceit, and give to us true humility and self-abasement.  Enlighten our minds, subdue our wills, purify our hearts, and so penetrate us with Thy Spirit, and fill us with Thy love that we may go forth animated with earnest zeal for Thy glory; and may Thy living Word so dwell within our hearts that we may speak with that resistless energy of love which shall melt the hearts of sinners to the love of Thee.  Open, O Lord, the hearts and hands of Thy people, that we may be ready to give and glad to distribute to our necessities.  Bless the founders and benefactors of this parish, and recompense them with the riches of Thine everlasting kingdom, for Jesus Christ’s sake.  Amen.