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Congregational Giving

Canon Chris Hollingshurst | Presentation to Congregation 19 November 2023 at 9.45am

I don’t have a fraction of my colleagues’ history at Guildford Cathedral but, as many of you have observed, I feel so glad after almost three years to be somewhere that feels like the right place and time for me – and I am grateful to God.

Whether in a parish or a Cathedral, talking about Christian giving can feel awkward. We know that there is a prevailing cultural reserve which inhibits us from talking about money. However, I want to set my reserve aside today, and share as directly and as succinctly as possible what the Church’s teaching has been around financial giving.

The Bible is full of texts about the generosity of God – and that’s where all this begins. So we read about

  •             The ordering and the beauty of God’s world
  •             Harvest provision for God’s people’s physical needs, even manna in the wilderness when they had gone astray.
  •             The gift of life itself: breath, comprehension, speech, skills and talents, relationships, love in all its forms
  •             The giving up of God’s own self, God’s own essence in Christ, at immeasurable cost, that we might know the life of eternity in this world and the next (not for nothing is this the most famous verse in the Bible: For God so LOVED the world that he GAVE his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him might not perish but HAVE eternal life
  •             Then there are Jesus’ Parables of the widow’s mite, the Sower, and (this morning) of the Talents
  •             Lastly, the pooling and sharing of wealth and possessions in the early church

There isn’t time today to elaborate on the full, huge story of God’s generosity – I guess we have another 364 days in the year for that. The key thing now is the response to the prior, the all-initiating, generosity of God. Giving is God’s way, and, when we do it, is an act of worship and thanksgiving.

Of course, we are giving back to God what has always been God’s to begin with.  Indeed, we could say that the question has less to do with what of ‘our’ wealth we offer to God and more to do with what of God’s wealth we keep for ourselves in the face of God’s generous provision for us.

What might this look like in practice?

There are three key principles from Scripture and Tradition.  The first principle is that our giving – our offering – is regular and planned. It isn’t casual, occasional, or an afterthought. It’s not about our leftovers. Some churches even teach that giving is the very first item of expenditure, giving to God’s work before we spend on anything else. They derive this from St Paul’s commendation of the Corinthian Christians who are supporting neighbouring Christians on the basis of giving (in Paul’s words) ‘first to the Lord’.  If this sounds challenging, it’s because it is – and I will leave it to you to ponder what it might mean personally.

If the first principle is that our giving is regular and planned, the second is that it is proportional. As many will know, there are texts in Scripture which speak of tithing – that’s giving to God 10% of what we have. Long-standing Christian teaching refers to this. Some churches take it literally, others use it gently to highlight the principle of a percentage. Proportionality is scriptural; indeed it is reflected in this morning’s gospel reading. Those to whom more is given are invited to offer more; those who have less are invited to offer less – each in proportion to their resources.

In recent years, the Church of England has specifically asked regular worshippers to view the tithe as the amount of their total outward (if you like ‘charitable’) giving across all causes. Within that, then to consider giving half of the tithe – so, 5% of income – to the local parish or congregation.

I know some here worship regularly in more than one church context but working on the basis of 5% to local church and/or the Cathedral might be a useful starting point - a marker by which to ponder at this time, including when Graham follows on from me shortly.

After regular and proportional giving, we come to a third principle – less of giving, more of offering. Some traditions use the word sacrificial. Those of us presenting today talked about that word – sacrificial – in our planning and we recognise that there is a danger of it feeling pressurising or over-bearing. Nevertheless, if we barely notice our giving, what does that say to the One who calls his followers to deny themselves, take up their Cross and follow Him?

It’s obvious that regular, planned and let’s call it costly Christian giving will mean that we have to sacrifice our desires to spend money in other ways - there will be a tangible cost – but (and here’s the thing) there will also an impact for good through the church community.

So – there we are – that is as brief as I can make this today. We – you and I - are invited to consider our offering to be a response to the generosity and grace of God, built on three principles of giving:

  • Regular and planned (first to the Lord)
  • Proportional (a deliberate considered percentage calculation)
  • Sacrificial (or, if you prefer, costly with real impact within the church we belong to).

Does any of this negate the value, the commitment, the sacrifice of our other existing giving – including of our time and talents? Not at all. All our commitment to the Cathedral is welcomed and enormously appreciated. It’s just that – today – it is right to consider our financial offering on its own terms. 

For generous giving is an act of worship and thanksgiving. Giving is God’s way.