Devotion by Andrea Nortz
To piggyback on the Kevin Hart and Kevin Prime's talks, I too feel blessed to be a member of Elim Lutheran Church–blessed to be a member of the Elim Family. Our church is beautiful–both physically and spiritually. It is a pleasure to worship together in this physical space; it nourishes my soul to worship together in this spiritual space. Over the years there has been no doubt that our church is remarkably generous in terms of our time, our talent, and our treasure. Because Pastor Kathryn told me to make a 3-5 minute speech, with which I am planning to comply-and because I would undoubtedly leave something major out–I will not list all the many ways we have impacted the world beyond our church. Whenever there is a fundraising call for donations for a cause, I know it is safe to say that Elim members rise to the challenge.
Fundraising, however, is not the same as stewardship. Stewardship is taking care of all that is gifted to us by God–a God who has given us everything we need. Stewardship is one way of expressing our love and our gratitude to God. Just as environmental stewardship is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of nature’s resources, religious stewardship is an ethic that embodies responsible planning and management of our time, talent, and treasure. In this way, we are stewards, not only to our church but to all mankind. By ensuring that we meet the operating needs of our church we will ensure our ability to spread God’s love and continue to be able to help others.
So today I am here to talk about stewardship specifically through a Treasure’s lens. If this were a PowerPoint talk, I would show a slide of the dollar bill just to avoid any ambiguity. Having said that, I do not want to overlook the immeasurable time and talents that our members donate to Elim. When I was a child we each got an offering envelope and I remember asking my Dad if I could borrow 25 cents. (Just to put that money in perspective, you could buy 5 candy bars with it!) He looked at me and asked if I was going to pay him back–the definition of borrowing–or if I was asking for him to give me 25 cents. It might have been my first lesson about stewardship for my church. We are asked to give, and the amazing thing is that God will pay us back!!
At the most basic level, stewardship at Elim means that we must cover the cost of operating our church. We want to keep our doors open, our bills paid, and our pastor preaching, in order to have the vehicle for all of our other mission work. Our full-time pastor conducts two services each Sunday, leads a weekly Bible study, helps at the Interfaith Food Pantry, sings in our Choir, has established the Communion Kids classes, leads Confirmation, welcomes new members, baptizes babies, and visits members who are homebound or ill. Our pastor knows us. This is what we are asking our members to pledge to allow us to keep doing– by filling out a Commitment Card next Sunday. Truth be told, our giving does not currently cover the cost of our pastor, staff, and facilities maintenance, although I can assure you that our financial shortfall will not be a problem this fiscal year (through May 31, 2022) because we received PPP grants from the Federal government which will cover the deficit.
We have many, many generous members and we are deeply thankful for their gifts. However, to be blunt, our expenses are greater than our revenue each month by $6,000 to $7,000. There are a number of explanations for this. Expenses have increased due to both inflation as well hiring a full-time pastor. In fact, about 70% of our expenses are for salaries and wages. Just as for schools in which the major cost is for teachers. Additionally, 7.5% of our giving goes to the synod. Revenue (giving) has decreased in part because sadly some of our dear members have passed on and others have moved away. We are so grateful to the approximately 100 member families who regularly give financially to the church. We also want to reach out to those families who haven’t yet considered regular financial giving to explore their options. Again, I want to emphasize that there are many members giving of their time and talent which is not reflected through this treasurer’s lens. We also anticipate that groups that used to rent our facilities will gradually return as Covid restrictions ease and that could begin to decrease our deficit. We also are looking at other forms of income for Elim, but that is not in the immediate future.
So what am I asking? Well, if 60 more families were able to start giving $25 per week/$100 per month, that would cover our shortfall. Or if every family now giving to Elim added $60 per month, we would make up the shortfall. These are only two suggestions. We have so many unbelievably creative problem solvers at Elim who could make other suggestions. For our budgeting purposes, knowing before we draft next year’s budget what to expect (hence the Commitment Cards) will inform what we can and cannot accomplish as a church. Last week Kevin Prime explained his personal formula for determining what he chooses to give, but we all need to decide that for ourselves. Regardless, we would urge those not currently using either an online banking system or Tithe.ly to donate, to give one of them a try. For those unfamiliar with Tithe.ly, it is an online giving solution designed specifically for churches and used by Elim. The office staff can help if you have other questions. If nothing else, it will save you the cost of a stamp.
As the author, Lynn A. Miller put it: "Stewardship is the act of organizing your life so that God can spend you."