Pledging Generosity

Giving is on the rise, just not to churches. This is a trend reported in an excellent discussion (http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2014/09/10/churches-need-a-new-giving-model/34017) on the failure of churches to keep up with cultural changes and the consequences it has on carrying out their missions. The author poses some explanations for this trend. It may be in part due to church leadership struggling to communicate the missions of the church and the benefits they provide. In some cases it may be due to antiquated practices, e.g., annual pledge drives (although I still think pledge drives provide value and more on that later). This discussion focuses on the merits of giving to the church and participating in our annual pledge drive. If you are not already pledging, hopefully the discussion points here will help you to reconsider its merits. If you are pledging, hopefully this will highlight the benefits that you’re providing HTELC by doing so.

Generosity comes from a desire to make the world a better place. We all want to know that our generosity is having the maximum impact, and we all have many options for how to direct our generosity. I suspect that for many, making a charitable donation often seems like the more attractive option compared to “giving to the church”. This may be because many charities have clear, narrowly-scoped missions that are easy to understand, e.g., Doctors Without Borders or the SPCA. Alternatively, “the church” might get conceptualized as a removed institution with unknown overhead and vague or muddled missions.

The institution image is not a good look for a church, especially when you ask younger people. Younger people are distrusting of institutions. But it’s not just younger people, there is a society-wide erosion of institutional trust. Interestingly though, religious organizations rank highly among institutions that have kept their trust relatively intact (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/04/30/millennials-dont-trust-anyone-what-else-is-new/). Still, this effect surely can compound when the church asks not only for money but for its members to pledge their giving. Few people like to be obliged, and requesting a pledge risks making the church seem overbearing.

The church is of course an institution, but we all know that the church is really the congregation of people inside the building. And we’ve chosen to be a congregation in part because we have a similar vision of what God’s Kingdom on Earth looks like and how we should direct our efforts toward establishing it. So “giving to the church” is really like giving to ourselves in that we are pooling our resources as a congregation to have a greater impact on the world than we each could individually.

Like-mindedness is one benefit of giving to the church, and so how does annual pledging fit in? HTELC isn’t requesting your pledge to be overbearing. It’s simply that it’s much easier to give in certain times. This is as true for HTELC as it is for a household. Recently, our financial secretary compiled a quarterly report, which showed that two thirds of the general fund was contributed by those who made a pledge to do so. Imagine if your employer guaranteed 66% of your pay, but the remaining third was discretionary, that is, the portion not guaranteed might fluctuate depending any number of factors. Of course, you would try to develop an accurate expectation based on prior years. But still, in this scenario, the uncertainty might incline you to be reserved in your generosity. In the same way, pledges help reduce uncertainty, which helps our congregation give generously while ensuring that we’re able to keep the church lights on.

Speaking of keeping the lights on, the majority of the general fund finances (about 93%) go toward facilities, staff salaries, and things of that nature. This brings up two thoughts. First, I think it’s worth recognizing and celebrating that HTELC has been able to send 7% of the general fund outside of our walls to make the world a better place. And this doesn’t even include special offerings or untracked giving like the food bags our members prepare for Raleigh Urban Ministries, which HTELC has achieved the one ton mark multiple times (http://www.urbanmin.org/crisis-history/), or the hundreds of quilts that Sisters in Service have made for Lutheran World Relief (https://lwr.org/get-involved/quilts). Second, the physical structure is of course important as a place to worship and congregate, but the building is also critically important for carrying out our missions. It serves as the place where many of our members gather to carry out God’s work, as well as non-member organizations, e.g., organizations that serve incarcerated individuals or those dealing with substance abuse.

HTELC is an extraordinary, outward-facing congregation that is dedicated to improving the world we live in. We rely on time, talent, and treasure to carry out our missions. If you are not already pledging, please consider it. If you are pledging, it does not go unnoticed and we thank you for the benefit that it provides.

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They’ll know we are Christians by our love –Carla Osborne

“Say ‘hi’ to God for me!” This is the greeting that my husband, a non-churchgoer, gives me each time I leave for worship at Holy Trinity. When I return from worship, I often reply, “God says ‘hi’ back.” While people may question how we can coexist with such different views on religion and faith, I’ll agree that it’s not always easy.

But Tim is also a mirror of sorts. He makes me examine my spiritual health on a regular basis. Our daughter Emily, baptized and confirmed at Holy Trinity, is an interesting bridge between us. As you might suspect, the majority of our disagreements about church attendance and participation centered around Emily.

The fact is even if you and your spouse or significant other are completely on the same page when it comes to matters of faith, being a Christian is hard. Everything seems to be increasingly divided in our society and there’s no shortage of topics that incite inflammatory social media remarks and religion is one of the hot button topics. If you make a remark about politics —which is often linked to religion — you have a 50-50 chance of offending someone. We get our information in sound bites that do anything but encourage introspective thought.

It’s hard to maintain one’s convictions and listen actively to the views that contradict our own, to be truly open-minded. Instead of tensing up the next time someone says something derogatory about religion or faith, before feeling defensive, think about where that comment may have originated. Did this person attend a church service and feel unwelcome? Are they parroting what they’ve heard friends or parents say? Have they witnessed any behavior from those claiming to be Christian that is “un” Christian?

This brings to mind a song we used to sing at Vacation Bible School: “Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” I can still hear the strings of the Yahama guitar as all of us kids chimed in, “by our love, by our love, yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love…” Nothing in the song suggests confrontation. Don’t talk about being a Christian. Go out and do it. As they say at NC State “Think and Do.”

Being a Christian is exhausting at times and takes a lot of mental energy. But anything that’s worth doing is often hard. It would be much easier to go with the crowd and not ruffle feathers, not discuss divisive topics, smile and nod and not disagree. It’s hard to be a Christian in an increasingly divided world, but what could be more worth the effort?

Where Everybody Knows Your Name by Carla Osborne

The sitcom Cheers is one of my favorites for a number of reasons. There is, of course, the fiery waitress, Carla Tortelli. There’s a catchy theme song, which isn’t a bad one to get stuck in your head as those types of songs go. Plus it aired in the awesome decade that gave us football-sized shoulder pads and big hair in both women and men’s fashion.

The sitcom has universal appeal in that the characters gather at Cheers because they find comfort there. It’s a home-away-from-home. While there’s a witty, well-written script the characters follow, we all crave that rapport. The characters aren’t perfect. In fact, they are far from it. And the regulars, Cliff Clavin, Norm Peterson and Dr. Frazier Crane, all sit in the same predictable spot each episode.

It’s sort of like church, isn’t it? Each Sunday, we enter Holy Trinity for worship and odds are, we’re going to be greeted numerous times by name before we reach the pew where we almost always sit. We don’t have a theme song, per se, but we have a wealth of musical talent in our congregation. We are a home-away-from-home for many members. We have a cast of interesting characters who care very much for one another. We share in the ups and downs of life together, no laugh track needed.

Sometime you wanna go

Where everybody knows your name,

and they’re always glad you came.

You wanna be where you can see,

our troubles are all the same

You wanna be where everybody knows your name.

 

source: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/tvthemes/cheerslyrics.html

Teach the Children while They Are Young by Bill Coley

When I was a junior in high school I was working as a part time scheduler for The Norfolk and Southern Railroad System. I had been taught all my life that I should tithe 10% of my gross salary to the church as we are told to do in the Bible. I had heard stories of how those who had tithed were blessed with more than they gave to the church.

I just kept it in the back of my head and never responded to the teachings of the Bible and my grandfather. I did not start my tithing until my grandfather asked me if I would like to be the custodian of the church and give up the job at the railroad, since it required me to come in and work late hours, 12:00 AM until 2:00 or 3:00 AM until all the train people had shown up for work. Not really liking working late and then getting up and going to school I said yes. I started as custodian for a great salary of $25.00/week and I remind you that this was in 1958 until 1960 during which that rate was fairly good for a teenager.

I remember very vividly receiving my first pay check the Sunday after my first week of work. I went to the office, where the people were counting the money from Sunday School and the finance secretary was writing checks and paying bills, and they handed me a check and told me to sign it and they would cash it for me. I did as I was told and paid little attention to the amount until they gave me the cash.

I was short according to my calculations. I went home after church and told my Dad that I did not think my pay was right. He told me to tell him why? I did and I felt that I was $2.50 short. He then explained to me that my grandfather had told the finance people in the office to hold out the $2.50 for my tithe to the church. I was not too happy but I accepted it and later in life realized that by not ever having it in my hands I never really missed it. I also have realized that I have been blessed many times over for giving my share of my talents to God and His service.

I was extremely happy when we brought in the Simply Giving at HTELC, and we immediately signed on to it and continue to use this. We never see it and do not miss it nor are we tempted to use what is not ours.

God does bless those who are cheerful givers both with their finance ability and their talent ability. God looks favorably upon those who are faithful givers with all of their talents.

The story summary, is to teach the children to be stewards while they are young and they will always be faithful stewards their entire life.

Passionate about HTELC’s Littlest Members by Mialy Rabe

Where do you find joy in your leadership at Holy Trinity?

I find the joy when I lead the nursery team as Coordinator at HTELC. I really like that call. I am devoted to it and I feel a sense of real friendship between all of us, love of the parents and the children we care.

What do you get out of giving? What are the fruits and joy of giving?

I get full peace and contentment out of giving. I enjoy giving when I know it is really needed. Personal giving provides me with tremendous satisfaction, especially that I know it makes a difference. It opens my heart and makes me more generous.

What does year round stewardship mean to you?

I am not really sure. Sometimes I am not sure what stewardship really means. When I studied “nonprofit organizations” at NCSU, my Professor said that the church does not use the word “management” but instead “stewardship”. I think I am a very good steward of God’s water, energy, gas, house, land. I am very careful not to trash it and not waste it. I am very grateful for all the material things I have and I thank God every morning because I do not deserve them, they are gifts that can be taken from me any instant. This earth is a gift and each day I should use for its care.

How is your passion expressed through your leadership at Holy Trinity?

Yes, I am passionate taking care of the nursery. It just warms my heart to do the job.

What difference can I make?

When I compare the world’s problems to my individual resources, I despair.  What difference can I possibly make to even one of these issues?

Can I solve world hunger? NO

Child abuse? NO

Homelessness? NO

Can I make a difference in this world?  Sometimes, it feels like the answer is “no.”

And then I spend a few days in New Windsor, Maryland, at the Church World Service/Lutheran World Relief warehouse.  For eight hours a day, I open boxes that are filled to overflowing with health kits, school kits, sewing kits and baby care kits. I repack them into a CWS or LWR box, weigh it, label it, put it on the conveyor belt and start again.  On the other side of the warehouse, volunteers open box after box of quilts, re-packing them in waterproofed  bales.  When I travel back to Raleigh, other volunteers will take my place.  The work continues year-round, with a warehouse always full of both items to be processed and items ready to ship to wherever they’re needed in the world.

Can I make a difference in this world?  In New Windsor, I understand that the answer is “yes,” with the help of God and his Church.  Sed Deus Dat Incrementum – God Gives the Increase.  Thanks be to God!

Merrilee Jacobson

Singing with the Lutherans by Garrison Keillor+

I have made fun of Lutherans for years – who wouldn’t, it you lived in Minnesota? But I have also sung with Lutherans, and that is one of the main joys of life, along with hot baths and fresh sweet corn.

We make fun of Lutherans for their blandness, their excessive calm, their fear of giving offense, their lack of speed and also for their secret fondness for macaroni and cheese. But nobody sings like they do.

If you ask an audience in New York City, a relatively Lutheranless place, to sing along on the chorus of ‘Michael Row the Boat Ashore’, they will look daggers at you as if you had asked them to strip to their underwear. But if you do this among Lutherans, they’ll smile and row that boat ashore and up on the beach! And down the road!

Lutherans are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony. It’s a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person’s rib cage. It’s natural for Lutherans to sing in harmony. We’re too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison. When you’re singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it’s an emotionally fulfilling moment.

I once sang the bass line of ‘Children of the Heavenly Father’ in a room with about three thousand Lutherans in it; and when we finished, we all had tears in our eyes, partly from the promise that God will not forsake us, partly from the proximity of all those lovely voices. By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other.

I do believe this: These Lutherans are the sort of people you could call up when you’re in deep distress. If you are dying, they’ll comfort you. If you’re lonely, they’ll talk to you. And if you’re hungry, they’ll give you tuna salad!

The following list was compiled by a 20th century Lutheran who, observing other Lutherans, wrote down exactly what he saw or heard:

Lutherans believe in prayer, but would practically die if asked to pray out loud.

2. Lutherans like to sing, except when confronted with a new hymn or a hymn with more than four stanzas.

3. Lutherans believe their pastors will visit them in the hospital, even if they don’t notify them that they are there.

4. Lutherans usually follow the official liturgy and will feel it is their way of suffering for their sins.

5. Lutherans believe in miracles and even expect miracles, especially during their stewardship visitation programs or when passing the plate.

6. Lutherans feel that applauding for their children’s choirs would make the kids too proud and conceited.

7. Lutherans think that the Bible forbids them from crossing the aisle while passing the peace.

8. Lutherans drink coffee as if it were the Third Sacrament.

9. Some Lutherans still believe that an ELCA bride and an LC-MS groom make for a mixed marriage.  (And when and where I grew up in Minnesota, intermarriage between the two was about as popular as Lutherans and Catholics marrying.)

10. Lutherans feel guilty for not staying to clean up after their own wedding reception in the Fellowship Hall.

11. Lutherans are willing to pay up to one dollar for a meal at church.

12. Lutherans think that Garrison Keillor stories are totally factual.

13. Lutherans still serve Jell-O in the proper liturgical color of the season and think that peas in a tuna noodle casserole add a little too much color.

14. Lutherans believe that it is OK to poke fun at themselves and never take themselves too seriously.

And finally, you know you’re a Lutheran when:

*It’s 100 degrees, with 90% humidity, and you still have coffee after the service;
*You hear something really funny during the sermon and smile as loudly as you can;
*Donuts are a line item in the church budget, just like coffee;
*The communion cabinet is open to all, but the coffee cabinet is locked up tight;
*When you watch a ‘Star Wars’ movie and they say, ‘May the Force be with you’, you respond, ‘and also with you’;
*And lastly, it takes 15 minutes to say, ‘Good bye’.

 

+From Music at Trinity website home page.