Generosity… on a String

I love it when my son has play dates with his friends. I am relieved from my duties as chair of the beleaguered entertainment committee and can watch from the kitchen window while getting dinner ready. In addition to a much needed break I also get valuable insight into human behaviour by observing two five years-olds at play. Curiously enough I often see at least a handful of parallels to our wonderfully idiosyncratic church—in this I mean the good, the bad, and yes…. the ugly.

Whether they originate with my son or one of his friends, during every play date there will inevitably be grievances and offences over which I am called to mediate. Given that I am brandishing knives of one sort or another the wee lads have learned to choose their moments wisely before bringing their supplications into my kitchen. When they do burst through the door, the theme is always the same: someone did something the other one didn’t like and now someone wants to pack up his marbles and go home. It gets me thinking about many of the church conflicts I have observed and I wonder if they aren’t rather similar.

As a diocesan stewardship officer I was often asked to respond to financial crises in the church. During the first meeting people were ready to shine their analytical lights into the middle of the room, on the usual suspects: too much overhead, too few people, consumer culture, the list goes on. During subsequent meetings however we would more reluctantly end up in the corners with a flashlight where the cobwebs (and the truth) live. We’d inevitably discover that the financial crisis was owing to someone who packed up his marbles and went home because of something that made him unhappy. Worse still we’d often discover that others had packed up their marbles and stayed—watching the mayhem unfold from their pew while letting an ever-dwindling offering plate go by.

This is an ugly reality of church life that we rarely want to talk about—it’s something we’d rather leave in a darkened corner—but it’s a reality we must confront in order to become the loving, welcoming communities many of us pay lip service to wanting to be. As the body of Christ, this act of giving (or not) with so many strings attached becomes the equivalent of an infection or abscess in the body, a dire affliction that prevents us from being as healthy as we might otherwise be.

Personally I might love to see a great big messy fiesta every Sunday; a starter of happy clapping, followed by a main course of BAS and a dollop of BCP on the side. But the church is not a restaurant and worship is not a menu. To withhold God’s gifts because I don’t get my way would be so incredibly ungenerous and unloving. Yet the equivalent of this consumer ideology—the very one we claim to loathe—can emanate from within the church and when it does it shows us the dark side of our own generosity.

I don’t really know what the solution to this problem is for the church except for us to pray long and hard—individually and corporately.

The way I handle it during the play dates is much simpler of course. In a firm and loving tone I say unequivocally “I don’t care who is responsible for what…work it out boys or the play date is over.”

In this blog, Michelle Hauser, manager of annual giving, tackles the topic of generosity—from small stories of daily inspiration to the overall mission of the church.

  • Anonymous

    “work it out or the play date is over”
    Love it! It is the inevitable result of unresolved conflict.

  • Evan Young

    What happens when you are in conflict with either members in your parish, or with decisions that have been made? I’m not talking about the kind of ‘no substitutions’ you can’t get fries with that menu issues that your post suggests. But deeply personal conflict, one that has been raised with the vestry / incumbent etc. and either not resolved or not addressed. At some point it is completely correct, for your own health and self respect, to terminate your financial and personal support for an organization and depart.

  • Hazel Mackenzie

    excellent article – simply put – isn’t it all about mutual respect

  • Jason Antonio

    Grammar correction: It should be “offence” with a C. That’s the Canadian way.