Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Spirituality of Financial Management

From the September 2016 issue of The WORD of Saint Timothy's, Herndon.

“Pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, that we may appoint to this duty.”  Acts 6:3

This summer, Rick Wilson resigned after twelve years as the treasurer of Saint Timothy’ Church.  We all owe him a great deal of thanks for the way in which he has discharged his responsibilities with steadfast patience, integrity and care.  For twelve years Rick has been a careful and diligent steward of the resources entrusted to us to God’s work. 

One almost never hears of someone committing to such a demanding (and often thankless) role in these days when so many responsibilities and social activities fill people’s calendars.  Maybe he didn’t think he would be at the task for so long when he first took it up.  But Rick has been faithful, pressing on to complete tasks week by week, and carefully training those people (two of them) who will continue in his stead.

Rick has been the classic “behind the scenes” worker, coming in on weekends and burning the midnight oil to keep up with the demands of our large and complicated organization.  A highly skilled professional, his generous donation of time and talent has saved our congregation tens of thousands of dollars in accountants’ fees.  Most importantly, Rick has maintained the trust that is absolutely essential for the management of church finances.

It’s interesting that the early church’s first major conflict centered around financial management. 
As the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, He drew people together into a common life, where people shared their financial resources with each other as a sign of their love for each other.  The community soon began providing a daily distribution of food to the widows among them, who had no other means of support. 

But the process wasn’t being managed carefully.  The author of Acts tells us that there were “murmurings,” a deadly thing in community life just as much then as now.  The “Hellenist” widows, those from a Gentile background, thought they were getting less than the “Hebrew” widows.  The resulting protests threatened to divide the church when it had only just begun to knit together. 

The solution was to choose seven well-respected and capable leaders to administer the finances of the new congregation.  The seven were solemnly ordained with prayer and the laying on of hands and became the first members of the order of deacons. 

For much of church history, the management of finances remained with ordained deacons, who counted these administrative tasks among their duties in caring for the poor and stewarding the gifts of God’s people.  Paintings of deacon saints often show them with the keys to the church treasury.  A few European cathedrals today maintain a post for the canon treasurer, a cleric who continues this work as part of his or her service of God.

We may have chosen the wiser course in handing these tasks off to lay people.  My seminary training, at least, didn’t provide the kind of detailed training in accountancy that one needs to do this work well.  It’s also a beautiful thing when people dedicate the skills and knowledge they have developed over so many years to God’s service. 

But financial management in the church remains a matter of great spiritual importance, even if we don’t still expect our treasurers to take vows and wear clerical dress.  The money we administer belongs to God.  It is given as expression of people’s faith.  It’s meant to be used for work that draws people closer to God and makes His loving purpose more tangible in their lives. 

Rick has meditated on these things for many years.  I’ve also talked about them with our new treasurer, Jean Shepherd, who is just as skilled as Rick was and brings the same deep commitment to her work.  I know that Jean will maintain the same trust that Rick has stewarded so carefully in the days ahead.

Please take the time to thank Rick for his service.  We are planning a way to honor him as an entire congregation in the near future as well.  It’s important to celebrate deep faithfulness, and to thank God for those who are steadfast in His service, maintaining the trust that unites us to each other and to Him. 

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