Later this month we will be embarking on Generosity Week as Stewardship teams across the Church of England remind us of the generosity of God and of our own call to be generous with the gifts He gives to us.
Giving is an intensely personal business. Like many vicars, I made it a point of principle when I served in parish ministry never to know who gave what financially to church. Fundamentally, giving is part of discipleship and an individual’s relationship with God. If people are going to short-change what they offer to God, they will be answerable to someone much more important than the vicar. The account in the book of Acts about Ananias and Sapphira withholding money is a cautionary tale.
I can’t remember exactly when I discovered the official Church of England policy on financial giving but I do remember that I had been worshipping in the Church for a number of years and was more than a little surprised to discover what it said. Perhaps that was because we didn’t really talk about money much in the parish where I worshipped.
The official policy of the Church of England on individual giving is that church members are encouraged to commit only 5 per cent of their net income to the Church and a further 5 per cent to other charities. My Christian upbringing in the Baptist tradition provided a different approach rooted in the biblical concept of tithing; that you gave 10 per cent of your income to the Church. If you wanted to give more, either to the Church or to other charities, that was fine but 10 per cent to the Church was the baseline. I naturally thought this would apply in the Church of England too.
The Bible does talk about money a great deal and it is something that Jesus consistently addresses in his parables and teachings, as with the widow giving all that she has to live on to the temple treasury; the parable of Dives and Lazarus; the sadness of the rich young ruler; or the warning to give to the poor discreetly so your left hand does not know what your right hand is doing.
The Bible also talks about the wonderful generosity and abundance of God who gives to us our every breath. We are reminded of this each week in the words of the thanksgiving prayer ‘all things come from you and from your own do we give you.’
As we give thanks for the generosity of God so we too recognise our call to give first to the Lord and for what we do with our resources to be an integral part of our discipleship individually and collectively.