Something’s been bugging me all afternoon. Earlier today, while checking out my Facebook, I found a reply to a post on the wall of a “de-churched” friend. The post was in the “I’m spiritual but not religious” vein, and didn’t really bother me too much. What really got under my skin though, was a comment that said “Keep away from the church, all they want is your money.”
So, to respond to the accusation that all churches just “want your money”, I would like to clarify what most churches do with “all that money”. Although there are some glaring examples to the contrary, most churches understand the money they have been given by their members as a sacred trust and to be used to further the mission of the church, a mission to care for others. I began by thinking about all the ways that my tiny little church uses “all that money”. In the past 3 months, we have:
* Provided and served lunch to over 150 inner city residents.
* Packed 70 bags containing socks, mitts, toiletries, and blankets to be distributed to the homeless for Christmas.
* Packed and sent 50 shoeboxes to Third World Countries.
* Supported an individual who is working on a project to raise awareness of poverty in Canada.
* Distributed more than 100 hampers of food to the poor.
* Supported a family during a drawn out death of a family member by assisting with round the clock care.
* Supported a family after the sudden death of a loved one.
* Held funeral services for both of the above, including providing the funeral lunch (at no cost).
* Provided meeting space at minimal cost to 3 self help groups.
As the only paid member at the church, I am keenly aware that my salary is the largest line item on the budget. Yes, I am paid a reasonable wage, but in comparison for others with similar levels of education, my salary would be considered low.
But more to the point, what do members of the church get for their money? First of all, they have 24 hour a day, 7 day a week emergency support for all manner of things. In the past 3 months I have spent untold hours meeting with people (including those who are not members of the church) giving them a uncritical, caring and listening ear as they have dealt with some very serious issues; issues such as addiction, sexual orientation, life threatening health issues, marital problems, employment issues, job loss, and grief. I sit on a number of community boards, organize events to educate and mobilize people to address community issues such as domestic violence and homelessness. And of course, I spend a great deal of time praying with and for the members of my church (and others who come seeking help–often those who have nowhere else to turn) and helping them develop their own spirituality.
I don’t know what the commenter means by being spiritual, but I would assume that it has something to do with a relationship to the Divine. Most religious systems provide a structure so that this relationship to the Divine can be expressed through activities that are focused on making the world a better place. Members of churches are simply people who are religiously spiritual, people who understand that a spirituality that does not result in serving others is self-indulgent and not a true spirituality at all.
Yes, institutional religion does require a financial commitment from its members. Ad yes, we are almost always struggling to keep the budget balanced which often results in requests for more money, but that money isn’t spent to support the institution, it is spent to make it possible to carry our our mission to the world. I wonder how much those who call themselves “spiritual but not religious” give of their time and finances in the way that members of religious congregations do?