A Living Sacrifice, week 5, practical matters and closing act

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1

Secular people don’t easily understand the commitment that Christians have towards giving to their churches. It is easily confused as a tax imposed upon the believer, or the cost of attending the show. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Giving in church is the willing sacrifice of the believer in the most ancient act of worship revealed in Holy Scripture. As such, the offertory is a central act in the service of Holy Eucharist, when the tokens of our living sacrifice are presented at the altar to God.

As a practical matter, our gifts are the operations and maintenance funds for the parish. Having recently been on the Vestry and still regularly following the parish financial statements, I personally testify that our gifts are thoughtfully and carefully used. You may be confident that Holy Trinity is a worthy recipient of your tithes and offerings. As an aside, Lindisfarne Hall, even though the school is a ministry of Holy Trinity, is funded through student fees and gifts that have been designated specifically for that purpose. The school maintains separate accounts which it reports to the Vestry for oversight. Although the school would be pleased to receive your gifts, such gifts should not be made in place of your regular offerings to the parish.

This is the last article of this year’s in-gathering of estimated giving. Thanks to all of you for your participation. It is also the last week to actually put your card in the box. After this week, if you have not yet participated in our campaign, such as it is, you may keep your eyes peeled for our letter that will contain an estimated giving card and a stamped self-addressed envelope with which to return it. That’s not nearly as satisfying as dropping a card in the box, and you may also save us more than a dollar and some administrative effort by doing that now before you go home.

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:15-16

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A Living Sacrifice, week 4, love and sacrifice

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1

In the worship of the offertory, we take a portion of what we have been given and return it to God. This act of personal, material sacrifice is our solemn gift of love and thanksgiving (oblation). It is not incidental that the gifts of bread and wine are brought forward during the offertory and that our gifts are also placed on the altar.

Saint Paul writes, present your bodies as a living sacrifice reflecting on the historical meaning (Old Testament) of sacrifice, substituting ourselves (our selves, our souls and bodies) perpetually, not to make up for our shortcomings, but as our spiritual worship. That said, although we cannot literally put our selves, our souls and bodies on the altar, our material gifts are the tokens of our living sacrifice.

Through our offering, we are able to manifest the great commandment: THOU shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (BCP p. 69) The emphasis in the great commandment is not sacrifice, but love, yet note the definition of love that we have all learned: The voluntary sacrifice of self for the benefit of the beloved.

Considering that you are reading an article about the stewardship of money, and since the collective amount of the tokens brought forward to the altar actually sustains our parish, how does one know when one is giving rightly? I have often written in past years about the tithe, the practice of giving ten percent to God, through the church. The Hebrew people were under the law and were required to tithe. Christians are not under the law and are not required to tithe. Not having a strict guideline for giving is a dilemma. On one hand, the tithe is the measure of giving that we know from holy scripture is pleasing to God, Christian giving is more complicated. Ten percent is a good place to start, and it would seem odd that Christians might let themselves give less generously than our spiritual Aramean ancestors who lived in tents. It boils down to proportionate giving according to our means. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required. (Luke 12:48)

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:15-16

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A Living Sacrifice, week 3, counting the cost

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1

Jesus tells his disciples about the cost of discipleship by using the analogy of a man building a tower saying, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” Luke 14:28

Like the builder who must first count the cost of his tower, the vestry will preside over the development of a parish budget for 2018. Our finances are a lot like yours, paying our expenses with current income. Our income is your weekly offering, your sacrifices. By planning well, counting the cost, the vestry is able to squeeze the best value from your weekly gifts, and we are able to accomplish the work God has put before us, and that’s why we ask you to give us an estimate of your next year’s gifts.

One of the main things the vestry has to consider is the generosity and faithfulness of the congregation. At Holy Trinity, this has been the cause of great joy as participating households (those providing their estimated giving) increase, estimated giving increases, and best yet, actual giving not only increases, but in recent years, has always exceeded estimated giving, as shown in the table below.

Year Participants Estimated Giving Ordinary Income
2018 ?? ?? Increasing Needs
2017 49 $205,974 $215,000 budgeted
2016 47 $193,933 $215,131 actual
2015 44 $176,780 $196,899
2014 44 $162,762 $187,532

In church finances, this is almost unheard of. Parish leaders across varying traditions must almost always plan on receiving less than people have indicated they would give.

Cutting to the chase, if we are to meet the challenges of increasing prices, regular building maintenance, decent clergy and staff compensation, and other proper expenses that you can easily imagine, the regular giving of the people also has to increase. We trust those needs will be met by a combination of increased giving from long-time members and new streams of giving from those who have recently come.

This is a perfect time to be among the first to help us count the cost. Please complete your card and place it in the box near the baptismal font.

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. Hebrews 13:15-16

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