Everyone I talk to has their own take on how to best provide real financial resources to folks in need and in the past few weeks I have whittled the different approaches down to three categories:
- Contributions to a community fund that pastors then refer folks to. This method is very connectional, allows for a sharing of resources, and takes the burden off of any one congregation or pastor... especially if they are not the ones actually managing the funds.
- Congregational "Love Funds." This money is held by a particular congregation, folks make donations to it and disbursement is at the discretion of the pastor.
- Connections to outside agencies and networks of support. This takes a lot of legwork and knowledge by the pastor to have these contacts built up in the first place when the need arises.
- Personal time/energy/money. Every now and then there is someone who needs a tank of gas or a meal and when we can and are able, pastors are extremely generous folks. As a colleague wrote me: what is needed and is it within my capacity to meet that need? I know of a lot of folks who go above and beyond and their mental health, energy and family suffer for it... your capacity is a lot different than your wallet.
These past two months, I am realizing how small the tanks actually are when it comes to financial assistance in our area.
I recently became the treasurer for our county ministerial fund and as soon as the cold weather hit, our funds went out faster than they could replenish themselves. We are at the point now where we can only provide assistance when we receive a new donation, and the need really is great out there.
Our local community fund has resources, but we have limitations on how those resources can be used. Time and energy need to go into revamping our guidelines and extending our reach... yet at the same time, as soon as we do so, I know that they will be used and gone. Used for good of course, but used all the same.
My congregational fund is not yet a separate and distinct account from the rest of our finances... I am not entirely sure how previous pastors handled the situation, but since I have been there I have budgeted for a set discretionary assistance amount. I think we exceeded the amount budgeted halfway through the year and asked for a bit more to be set aside... but even if we had ten times the amount of money, we would still have folks we would need to turn away.
I reached the point recently where I almost cashed in my paycheck and gave half of it to someone who really needed it... I'm young, I have a roof over my head, I thought... but I also have a marriage to think of, and my own bills to pay (higher now that our own heat is turned on), and setting myself behind isn't going to help anyone in the long run.
I felt so guilty that we couldn't do more as a church or as a community. I felt personally guilty. I didn't want to call and say no.
I think I was feeling convicted by the idea from James that if you say you will pray for someone who is hungry but don't give them any food, then you aren't doing anything for them.
But I think I reached a place this past week where I realized that we already were giving so much. Even if it wasn't the money needed to pay the bills, we were giving of our time. We were praying. We were listening. We were connecting. We were building relationships. We were doing what we could with what we had. And even extending ourselves beyond those points. We were sharing the love of Christ with folks as much as we could.
Money isn't everything. Sometimes it feels like that, but its not.
The hope of the world is Christ and Christ alone. Not a bank account. Not a fundraiser. Not a paid bill. But Christ.
And things out there are tough - all around they are tough. People are hurting because of broken relationships and they are struggling because of a lack of work and lack of funds. They are angry with systems that fail them and they are disappointed in the outcome of their work. And we sit and wallow in this muck and in the words of Rob Bell, "yell at the darkness for being dark."
Sunday we preached texts that told us to wake up. To stop lingering in the dark and to look towards the light. To remember that our salvation does not lie in these things. To live in the light of Christ right now. To be a community. To walk together. To live right now as if Christ had come again.
And when we do that... we have the strength to answer the phone call when the next creditor calls. We have the peace in our hearts that enables us to hold the hand of a loved one and tell them goodbye one last time. We can let go of the guilt and simply love the best we can, right here and right now.
Read more posts from Katie Z. Dawson at her blog, Salvaged Faith.