by Christina Hockman
With just one week to go until the end of this year’s Canvass (aka pledge drive), we’re posting the remarks that Christina Hockman, the UUFP’s Intern, shared at the “Big Event” last month. Chris introduced them by noting that they were the result of some soul-searching regarding her own personal giving when her home church was doing its own Canvass a few years ago; she hoped that this thought process, this story line would resonate with the UUFP’s members and friends just as it did with her home congregation. So if you’ve already pledged, thank you! But if you haven’t, we hope that Chris’ remarks will inspire you to pledge today! You can do so via the UUFP web site by clicking here right now.
I’ve been thinking about how much my church is worth to me. If I were asked to put a price tag on my congregation, how much would it be? I know I care about my congregation a lot, but church communities don’t come with price tags. There are no admission fees at the door, like at the movies. There are no monthly fees like the gym. But then again, church is more than a product or a service that can be rented or purchased.
Church giving is more complicated. No one tells me how much I owe, or sends me a bill that I’m obligated to pay. It’s an honor system, for goodness’ sake. I determine how much I’m going to give, and it’s my responsibility to follow through, if at all possible. If I don’t pay, no collection agencies will come after me and my credit rating won’t be ruined. There will be no repo man towing my car away at 2am. All that’s keeping me on the “straight and narrow” is my own conscience and sense of commitment to something greater than myself. No responsible business person would run a company this way and expect to stay afloat. Can you picture this honor system at Target or CVS? I think it would go something like this:
Ma’am, are you ready to check out? Okay. Just place some bills in the basket as you leave. Oh, no, we don’t use prices. How much? Just pay what you can; it’s all good. Have a nice day!
I would love to shop at that store.
Church is not a consumer product or service. It’s not transactional. It’s not pay-to-play. It’s so much more than that. It’s a voluntary, self-supporting, self-sustaining community. We give, in accordance with our personal means, so that our community may thrive, so that we may thrive in it, and so that we may help the world to thrive. This is quite amazing. Our accountability is solely to each other. Think of the level of trust, care and commitment that is required for this bizarre and beautiful system to work. Everyone contributes voluntarily, and the community continues — and it has continued, year after year, for more decade after decade! I think that’s pretty remarkable.
As I continue to ponder giving to church, I turn my thoughts to how I spend my money. I’m not rich, but there are some things — little luxuries — that I really like, and I spend some money on them. I really enjoy eating out. I love clothes and shoes, and I’m a little ashamed to admit that I really enjoy my Verizon FIOS cable TV. But overall, I’m very careful and responsible with my money: I don’t go on mad shopping sprees or foodie binges, or subscribe to all the premium channels.
But when I think about what makes my life truly meaningful, my list of “likes” changes a lot. Most of the meaningful things in my life — family, friends, church — do not have a price tag. This makes me wonder, am I really putting my money where my values are? Cute clothes and shoes fulfill my vanity. Dinners out fill my appetite, most often with extra calories that are in direct conflict with my vanity. Verizon FIOS entertains me. I really do like all of these things.
But then I think about my congregation. My congregation opens and challenges my mind, opens my heart and feeds my soul. It reminds me on a weekly basis about what is really important in life. It gives me the gentle kick in the pants I need to become less self-involved and more interested in others and the world around me. That’s actually what I value.
My thoughts turn to all of my friends in my congregation who have given me so much, the ministers who have taught me how to be a better person, fellow leaders who have been the greatest mentors, the religion that has supported me in my spiritual quest — all of it giving me the space and the challenge necessary to grow. That’s what I value.
I think of the lives this congregation has saved, which I believe to be absolutely true. We may not be in the business of saving souls, but we do save and transform lives. My mind goes to the stranger who is coming to visit us next week. She’s practically given up on church until she comes to our service. I think of the look on her face when she says, “Where have you guys been all my life?” That’s what I value. And that’s why I give to my church.
I think of all the babies, yet to be born, who will have the privilege of being raised Unitarian Universalist, here in our loving care. I think of our long-time members who acquired our land, who constructed or renovated our buildings, who kept the church engine running year after year, decade after decade. They are the ones I value. They are why I give.
For the people who will care for me if I get sick, or have a personal crisis, or if I just feel alone; the people with whom I will work for justice: they are the ones I value. They are why I give. Somehow shoes, clothes and meals out just don’t compare.
People often equate giving money with sacrifice, that giving more money to church will result in some painful net loss. But what if I lost this congregation? That would be a real sacrifice. To lose out on the staff we need for the church to grow, that would be a real sacrifice. To lose programs when they’re needed most, that would be a sacrifice. To lose our ability to fulfill our mission, that would be a tragedy and a sacrifice. Not being able to maintain the buildings where we worship and learn and grow together, that would be a sacrifice, too.
I challenge you today to take a look at where your money is going, and if it is consistent with your values and priorities in life. What are your clothes, shoes and Verizon FIOS, those things you really like but may not need as much of? Do you value them like you value your church community, like you value this congregation? Is it really a sacrifice to give more to something you care about, something that adds layers of connection and meaning to your life?
And you know the really funny thing about giving more? It’s that it doesn’t hurt. It actually feels good. A friend of mine calls it the giving buzz. Giving a gift of true significance is audacious, unexpected and joyful. Giving fully and freely is countercultural, a naughty act of defiance in the face of a consumerist society.
That giving buzz doesn’t just come from giving money. It comes from the satisfaction and joy you feel when you’re living out your values. Put your values into action by pledging today and be happy about it! Be proud of it!
I ask you today to make your love for one another, for this congregation, tangible. Give of your resources; give of yourself. Put your money where your values are, and enjoy the giving buzz!