I’ll let you into a little professional secret. There are two themes which vicars do not like to preach about. The first is the Trinity, for the preacher is afraid that s/he will either make a technical slip over some aspect or advanced doctrine, or will bore everyone to breaking point. The second is giving.
The reason for such reticence over preaching about finance is complex. First of all, there is still the belief in some circles that the Government pays for the Church of England. That’s easily answered; it doesn’t. In countries like France and Italy the state pays for most of the church buildings, and in countries like Germany and Denmark, the whole cost of the church is paid for by a church tax! There’s no such system in England. Secondly, there is the often repeated statement that the church is loaded with money. In centuries past, that may have been true, but it isn’t now. Yes the Church of England does have investments, but that is practically all now used to pay for its pension bill. Additionally, the church does own a lot of buildings, but it isn’t easy to flog off Westminster Abbey! Thirdly, there’s the problem that vicars feel that they are raising money to pay for their own incomes. There is a bit of truth in this, although the system we use in South Yorkshire pools all of the money and then allocates it out across the whole county to enable ministry to happen throughout the area. In ancient times some clergy earned more than others and, as a consequence, some clergy were rich and some were poor. That changed a long time ago and now all parish clergy are paid roughly the same, which is about £2,600 less than the average salary in Britain.
Yet it is appropriate for clergy to preach about giving. The primary reason for this is that the Bible has much in it about giving. The stress here is not upon duty, but in giving to God and his ministry as an act of thanksgiving for all that he has done for us. The key emphasis is upon offering all of our lives: our time, our talents and our finance back to God in praise and worship. So preaching about finance is not about making demands or trying to create some sort of guilt trip; it’s about helping us all to reflect upon God’s grace poured out for us. It’s about being people who appreciate all that we have, to be truly grateful and to offer all that we have to God with thankful hearts.
Yes, there are tough issues to be addressed. We live in times when many people are struggling to pay their way and poverty is becoming more and more common. That is why we set up our Foodbank last year. However, a key factor that we have to be aware of is that there are fewer vicars around today and when churches lose one they can no longer assume that they will find another. Additionally, we are rapidly approaching the point at which churches have to be financially strong enough to stand on their own two feet, without being subsidised. I suspect that many people don’t realise that it costs us roughly £1,000 a week to run St Saviour’s. So when a vicar preaches about finance, it isn’t about paying for him or her, it’s about whether the church can pay its way and sustain its ministry. That’s the tough reality that we now face.
Yet, the only way that churches can really survive financially is not through making demands and putting up thermometers outside church buildings etc. The key is about being a church where the worship and preaching inspires people and helps them to find grace in their relationship with God. When a church becomes such a place, giving is no longer a burden but a delight. And in that context I think most vicars love to preach!