~ Building Towers ~
“Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?”
Dear Members and Friends,
A man with a parrot on his shoulder attended services at his local synagogue on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. As people mingled prior to the service, the man went through the congregation saying, “This parrot’s a great singer, and he knows Hebrew. Why, he can sing the service better than the cantor!” When people expressed disbelieve, he asked them to bet. Some placed bets of $10. Others bet $100 or more. Just as the cantor emerged, the parrot was set to fly to the front of the sanctuary and sing the service in his place. But when the time came, the bird just sat on the man’s shoulder, blinking, cocking its head, glancing about. When the two got home, the man couldn’t contain his rage at the parrot. “You stupid bird! You cost me almost $2000!” The bird responded coolly, “Yes, but think of the odds we’ll get now on Yom Kippur!”
Of course, our faith tradition calls gambling as “an abdication of stewardship.” And I’m not suggesting that we place bets on any aspect of our worship services. (Though the musicians do make wagers on which of the seven preachers will talk the longest at our community Good Friday service.) And yet, there is always a small degree of risk—not to say “chance”—when it comes to church. Investing in programs and personnel for children and youth is a gamble; what if those seeds don’t grow? Sinking money into a large building is a gamble; what if it becomes more an albatross than a tool for mission? Such frankness may not befit a newsletter, but it’s November—a season of gratitude and stewardship—so let’s put the topic out there: Our church has changed and grown much over the past seven years, but our budget has stagnated. Although we have far more children and youth than at any time in recent memory, financial giving has not kept up with that growth. As a result, we find ourselves trying each year to do more and more with the same small pot of funds.
This coming year is especially challenging because we enter it with all those “growing pains,” and a potential shortfall to boot. If pledges remain at the same level as they have for the past seven years, we will be faced with a gap of up to $50,000. This is due in part to the loss of a lucrative tenant: the DART preschool that used to occupy a portion of the South Wing. We’ve spread back out into that space quite nicely. We’ve got three classes meeting in rooms that, last year, were either occupied by DART or vacant. It’s nice to have those rooms back, but we could do without them. Ideally, we would find a new tenant to move in—and if you know of anyone who’s looking for space, please contact me! But in the meantime, this season of growth and revitalization presents immediate risks. Giving needs to increase by about 20%. Are there ways you can help with that? Might you consider increasing your pledge? Or making a one-time gift? Have you ever considered putting the church in your will? Or could you do as Michelle and I are doing: Continue giving to the church the same amount that you gave during the capital campaign—even though that extra pledge is all paid off?
It’s all a gamble, isn’t it? The call of Christ is never to ease and safety. It entails risk. We’re building towers, as Jesus says in Luke. As we branch out to become the church that we are called to be in these times, we must think in new (perhaps uncomfortable) ways about how to finance the construction of those towers. My philosophy of church finances has always been, “Don’t talk about money. If people are satisfied and feel a sense of ownership, they’ll give.” I trust this axiom mainly because gifts to the church are not really about money; they’re an expression of our gratitude to God, a return on the overflow of abundance that God lavishes on our lives. And yet, in these exciting times at Bower Hill Church, we need to think hard about how we’re going to pay for the towers—the ministries—that we’re putting up, stone upon stone. I’m confident that we’ll rise to the occasion, for I’ve never seen this congregation fail to meet the risks of faith. It’s one of the things I love about you.
In Christ’s Peace,
In other news, congratulations to the Rev. Tami Hooker, a member of Bower Hill’s Company of Pastors, who has been named prison chaplain of the year. This is a statewide award!