What’s the difference between fund-raising and stewardship? Stewardship is when we pray before we put our hands in your pockets.
That was a joke told at the fourth annual Anglican/Episcopal Stewardship and Christian Philanthropy Symposium, held in Toronto in November. But 235 participants, the largest turnout ever, heard from an array of speakers that stewardship is no laughing matter.
While North Americans give more than $175 billion to churches and not-for-profit organizations each year, Anglicans and U.S. Episcopalians still rank among the lowest per capita givers. But the problem is often with clergy and lay leaders, not those who don’t give, said Rev. Gordon Cosby, co-founder of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour parish in Washington, D.C.
“It’s sad when I hear an Episcopal minister say there are only three more stewardship campaigns until retirement,” he said.
The church needs to get back to its essence and find a vision of its role in the local community before it can do effective stewardship, Mr. Cosby said. “If we are not ministering to the poor, we are not ministering. Our ministry is not authentic without ministry to the poor.”
Mr. Cosby also pointed to the growing divide between rich and poor. In the U.S. there are now 170 billionaires (compared to 13 in 1962), 250,000 multi-millionaires and 4.8 million millionaires.
“Yet these people are not giving the way even the robber barons gave,” he said, referring to rich industrialists from the early part of this century, many of whom set up large charitable foundations.
Another presenter at the two-day conference, Rev. John Robertson, financial development consultant for the Anglican Church, spoke on planned giving.
The most basic step in planned giving is to get churchgoers to make out wills. In Canada only 50 per cent of people who should have a will, have one, Mr. Robertson said. In Newfoundland only 15 per cent have wills. About 80 per cent of planned giving comes from bequests.
“Both short-term and long-term goals are essential if you are asking people to be generous,” he said. Clergy and lay leaders need to feel comfortable talking about money. “We have to remember that in the Gospels Jesus talked far more about money and possessions than he did about love.”
Anglicans also need to be more open in telling people about the mission work they support in order to generate more gifts, said keynote speaker Rev. John Erb, director of the Anglican Foundation of Canada. “We’re always hearing about the work of the Salvation Army in downtown Toronto. Yet I know the Diocese of Toronto has more work going on. We just don’t know how to sell it.”
The approach to giving needs to be positive. “You don’t go into a parish and say if you don’t give more you won’t have a full-time priest anymore. They’ll give less.”
He urged people to make personal contact, go to the smallest parish, lift up the smallest project. As an example, he cited the foundation’s work in helping rural parishes throughout Canada install indoor plumbing, where there are now outhouses.
Bob Bettson is a freelance writer living in Toronto.