It's a long title! It's a week of a lot of posting. And it's a week that's made me think quite hard about a lot of things.
On Wednesday we had our annual Home Mission visit, when we are asked to talk about what's going on in our church life and get asked questions about our application so that a recommendation can be made about how much money we should be given. The visitors have a thankless task, there's a very limited pot of money to share between far too many small churches and some churches, like Dibley, have been recipients for an awfully long time. The visits in the previous two years I've been here seemed very innocuous, no really searching questions about money or mission or even much about ministry. This year was quite different. Lots of probing questions which, whilst entirely justified, left me slightly irritated and feeling a little vulnerable too.
A few days later, now that things have had a chance to mull away in my subconscious, I begin to undertsand why I was miffed, and the extent to which that says something about me, about my little church and about the process/system.
In recent months I have finally managed to get the church to allocate a sum of money for mission, recognising that this is after all why we exist! The reality is that until now a small group of people have dipped deep into their own pockets to cover expenses for mission/outreach/evangelism events because (a) the church does not have the money and (b) if they put it into the offering it'd get swallowed up in running costs. Unfortunately this leaves us between a rock and a hard place: either we increase our direct giving, and HMF funding goes down, or we remove our mission budget and HMF funding stays at the same level. Whilst HMF requires us to state out mission priorities, it doesn't expect us to draw money to pay a minister in order that we free up funds for mission (since effectively it then, arguably, funds our mission). It's a tricky one!
We try to be thrifty in our expenditure and good stewards of the money we do have - I recently spent a fair bit of time sourcing a good secondhand portable loop system rather than spending all our 'DDA enabling fund' in one go. This seemed the right thing to do - but now we are being asked why we have a pot of money set aside for this, and other purposes, when we could use it for other things. It's a fair question but it grated because of the care that's gone into being careful with what is after all God's money. We do need to look at all our metphorical jam jars of money - especially perhaps the 'music fund' (formerly 'organ fund') - and ask why they exist. To be fair to our visitors, they were less concerned about the DDA fund than the other odd pots of cash, but perhaps they'd like to explain to my church meeting why the music fund should be closed and the cash released!
I'm not sure this really goes anywhere - it serves more to make me ponder the tensions of serving God and the need for money, of balancing the call to mission with the desire for full time ministry, of trying to share out fairly a limited resource for funding. That and the sense that we are now caught between a rock and a hard place: mission or ministry or a bit of each? Home Mission is a great thing, and I am truly grateful for the suport we receive from them, both financially and in encouragement. It's just a shame that there is no easy way to escape the tensions that arise for little churches such as Dibley BC.