God's Word for today

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Some thoughts on the Church and money

As I prepare to become a minister, I've been giving a lot of thought to developing some views on certain "financial issues" concerning people's relationship with the Church.

I'm not talking about tithes and offerings, nor am I referring to the massive stipends that Phase 1 probationers earn (yeah, right!). Rather, I am trying to develop some "policies" that I would like to apply in my future ministry.

The views expressed are my own opinions - which are quite strongly held, I must say! But I am open to teaching if someone can point me in the direction of MCSA policy or (far better still) Scripture that indicates that these views are unfounded in any way.

Please insert comments sharing your thoughts as well.

I am completely opposed to the concept of a minister charging a fee to conduct a wedding. My view is that performing a wedding is a service that the Church offers (the Catholic Church considers it to be a sacrament). Since the minister officiating at the ceremony is receiving a stipend, he or she is in a sense already being "paid" to do the wedding, and therefore to demand an additional fee would be wrong.

However, should the couple or their families wish to make a donation to the local church, I believe that this can be accepted with thanks, provided that the money is paid directly across to the local Society's account.

I also have no problem with the church levying a fee if the couple wants to hire the hall, have flowers, an organist, etc. arranged by the church. Very few (if any) couples would not want these. However, it should be theoretically possible for the couple to get married in church free of charge. Also, any charges levied should be on a "cost-recovery" basis only.

My view on funerals is similar to that of weddings. There is enough of a financial burden on families when a loved one dies, without the minister adding to their woes by sticking out his or her grubby paw.

One also hears these stories of ministers refusing to bury someone because the deceased did not pay their monthly pledge to "their" church, or the pledge book is in arrears. This practice is apparently quite prevalent amongst historically black societies, where (for example) the person is a member of a local society in one of the inland cities, and supports the inland church financially, but when they die, they are taken to their "homeland" church to be buried.

Please understand that this is NOT an attack by me on anyone's culture! What I have a problem with is when a minister places finances above providing a means of grace to the deceased and their loved ones.

Once again, if the family wants the church to provide all the "trimmings", I have no problem with the cost of these being recovered. My position concerning a voluntary donation to the church is the same as for weddings.

I was aghast when a couple of months ago, a member of the congregation whose child had just been baptised in the service approached me to enquire of the amount that they must pay for their baptism certificate. Upon seeing the confused expression on my face, this mother told me that when her younger children were baptised, she had to pay the minister an amount for the baptism certificate, otherwise she would not receive it.

In all my years of being a Society and Circuit Treasurer, I have not once seen any line item on a 4S or 4C Schedule (the annual financial report of Societies and Circuits respectively) that was designated "Income - Baptism Certificates", I can only presume that such amounts paid for baptism certificates were pocketed by someone.

However, even if such amounts are paid into the church's account and disclosed in its accounts, I cannot believe that we can consider charging people to receive the sacrament of baptism?

And as for cost recovery - how expensive can a baptism certificate be? Ten rand at the most? If a local Society at which I am ever called to serve is so hard up that it cannot afford even this token gesture of a baptism certificate, I will pay the ten bucks in myself!

Travelling and accommodation allowances
Many Societies pay their ministers - often on demand - a travelling and accommodation allowance for attending District events, such as Synod. I have a problem with this, and let me explain why:
  • Circuits that host Synod normally provide accommodation for delegates who are from out of town. Granted, we're not talking the Sandton Hilton here - congregation members usually host visiting delegates in their own homes, and (particularly in rural Circuits) such accommodation can be rudimentary at best. However, the hosts often open their homes at great inconvenience and sacrifice to themselves, and if Rev. High-and-Mighty believes that such accommodation does not meet their exacting requirements, they are quite entitled to fork out the cost of more "suitable" accommodation from their own pockets. I don't see why demands for the cost of such accommodation should be placed on Societies or Circuits.

  • Secondly, if a Circuit is adhering to the stipulations laid down by the Methodist Connexional Office, each minister should be receiving a monthly travelling allowance, which is deemed to cover a certain amount of travelling each month. If you are travelling in excess of this stipulated distance, then by all means submit a claim for the excess travel at the rate laid down in the Yearbook. But don't demand extra money up front for travelling - especially if you intent to share cars to travel to Synod. (On this note - at the last Synod, five of us travelled in my car, and it was interesting to note that the lay delegates who received nothing from their home Circuit gladly chipped in for petrol, while the ministerial delegates who receive travel allowances - I know this, because as Circuit Treasurer, I pay them - did not offer one cent towards the cost. It's not about the money - it's the principle. I wouldn't dream of travelling in someone else's car on a 700km round trip without offering something towards fuel!)
Oh, and while I am on this soapbox, what are your thoughts about a minister receiving an allowance from his home Circuit for accommodation, then deciding to make use of the hosted accommodation anyway? And then not paying the (unused) accommodation allowance back to the Circuit upon his return?

When I worked for a corporate, we were given advances whenever travelling outside of South Africa (within SA we were expected to use our credit cards and submit an expense claim upon our return). Whenever we returned from an overseas trip, we had to account for every penny. The difference between the initial allowance and our expenses (supported by vouchers) had to be refunded to the company.

So what does one call it when the "change" is not paid back? I call it theft, but apparently there are those that call it "their due".

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