Money and the Church
by Ron Nicola
from The Word, October 2003
“Money and the Church” is the title of an article the Department of Stewardship has used in its parish workshop programs for many years, and the phrase is also the focus of an initiative being launched by this department. The author of the article, Fr. James Worth, is identified in the article as the pastor of the Transfiguration of Christ Church in Denver, Colorado. The former codirector of the Antiochian Archdiocese Department of Stewardship, the late George Dibs, introduced me to this article in the late 1970s or early 1980s, and its clarity and style fit beautifully with the workshop materials we were developing. I never had the pleasure of meeting Fr. James, but if his pastoral skills were reflective of this beautiful article, I am sure he served the Lord in a manner befitting our Orthodox teachings and traditions.
Money and the Church was a subject the Antiochian Archdiocese had not systematically explored prior to 1975. When Metropolitan Philip, in his wisdom, established the Department of Stewardship in that year, a process began which continues to this day. Many assumed at that time that money and the Church belonged to two separate realms. The Church had its spiritual mission, and to the extent money was needed to enable that work to move forward, the faithful organized to provide the needed financial resources. Introducing the concept of Christian stewardship as a department within the Archdiocese was done to begin an educational process focused on linking money and the Church in a manner consistent with ancient Biblical teachings of the Church. While practices had evolved over the years that resulted in a loss of knowledge of these truths about the Orthodox Church, they nonetheless were ever-present pillars of our faith that needed to be reestablished.
An early initiative taken by this department was to introduce the word “stewardship” and define its meaning in the Christian context. “Stewardship is what a person does after saying, ‘I believe,’ as proof of that belief.” This definition was articulated and explained by a dedicated servant of the church, Mr. Ernest Saykaly, the first chairman of the Department of Stewardship. His excellent work laid the foundation upon which this department has operated for close to thirty years. Workshop exercises and written materials were developed which introduced the notion that the word stewardship could, in fact, be defined using many different combinations of words as long as an awareness of certain truths were expressed. Stewardship was not just about money. Stewardship included money, our financial resources and blessings, but it was also about the giving of our time and our talents to the work of the Church. All three of these components, however, time, talents, and resources, were given not simply because they were needed by the Church to fulfill its earthly mission, but to serve as the expression of our faith in God and our thankfulness for the many gifts and blessings He has made possible in our lives.
“Stewardship is the offering of one’s self as He Himself was offered to us.”
“Stewardship is the caring for the needs of one another.”
“Stewardship is being devoted and totally committed to serve God and His church morally, spiritually, physically, and financially as an individual and collectively as a family unit.”
Teaching about the meaning of stewardship has been the central focus of the Department of Stewardship since its inception. Many parishes and missions in the Antiochian Archdiocese now have stewardship committees. Parishes regularly launch initiatives designed to foster the giving of time, talent, and resources to the Church. There are countless indications that the faithful understand stewardship is scripturally based and that it is because of our faith in God that we understand the need to give. We know that the Church has needs and that our giving helps meet those needs, but we want to grow in our understanding that the amount we give should not be limited to the Church’s needs. Truly, we must not give because the Church needs what we have to offer. We must give because God has given us so much. not to give of these gifts freely, generously, and cheerfully is to compromise the expression of our faith.
“The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).
The progress made in the area of incorporating practices of Christian stewardship within our Archdiocese, while significant since 1975, needs to be accelerated when it comes to, “money and the Church.” In the article Fr. James Worth authored many years ago, he wrote:
To ask, ‘How much should I give to the Church so that Her essential mission may continue?’ is perhaps not the correct question to ask at the beginning. Rather, the essential question must be: ‘How much have I been given?’ What has Jesus Christ accomplished for me? How much does the work of Christ and His Church mean to me?
The new initiative being launched by the Department of Stewardship will challenge the notion that we give to the Church based on the needs of the Church. We must be open-minded, prayerful, and receptive enough to realize that this long-held notion needs to change and we must revert to the true teaching found in the Bible and in the teachings of the ancient Church fathers. We give to the church because so much has been given to us. In the context of determining how much money an individual gives to the church weekly, monthly or annually, it truly does not matter if the church needs a new roof. It does not matter whether or not the church has a mortgage. It does not matter how much the church pays monthly in utility expenses. It does not matter if the priest is young or old, single or married, has one child or ten. What matters is what our faith teaches. If we give according to this practice, all of the church needs will be provided in abundance.
“Freely you have received. Freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
“Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine” (Proverbs 3:9-10).
“On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come”(1 Corinthians 16:2).
“Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Much work needs to be done to achieve progress with this new initiative. Years, even generations, of customs, traditions, and practices in our parishes have led many to believe that the methods by which our churches raise and collect money are the only methods allowed in the Orthodox Church. While never implying or challenging the good intentions or the faith of our predecessors or those whom we love as brothers and sisters in Christ, we lovingly, patiently, yet steadily must begin to educate ourselves with respect to money and the Church. There is much to say, much to learn, and much to read on this important subject. The Department of Stewardship will attempt to further its mission by working to help this educational process, but all of us must first pray on this important subject and realize that the current way is not the only way. And it may not even be the right way. Money and the Church are truly one and the same, with our faith and the teachings of the Holy Orthodox Church being the bond that links them together.
“And Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and he saw a certain poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all put their surplus into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on” (Luke 21:1-4).
Ron Nicola is Chairman of the Archdiocese’s Department of Stewardship.