I want to start this entry with the following disclaimer: I am not currently employed by any Christian-affiliated organization but I have been and hope to do so again.
I am grateful for having had the opportunity to do meaningful work with compensation and I am even more grateful when I remember that my paycheck started out in an offering plate. What little income I currently earn as a free-lance writer for Presbyterian-related publications also starts its path toward me as a ten or twenty-dollar bill pulled out of a wallet or a pocket and folded discreetly in someone’s hand as they await the solemn passing of the often decades old offering plate. As a free-lance writer and occasional pulpit supply preacher, I remain aware that my income, meager as it is, is someone else’s sacrificial gift. In these economic times, tithing has become both more important and more potentially sacrificial as jobs disappear, savings dive with the market, and paid hours are cut in the workplace.
Obvious hustlers aside, those who work for the church are not doing it to get rich. Still, it is helpful to have enough to buy food, clothing, and shelter. Good works does not cash well at the local grocery store and if basic needs can not be met then people have to make different choices. My father-in-law started his working career as a Dutch Reformed Ordained Minister. He served several congregations in the New York City area and he and his wife made the dollars stretch a long distance till the first child arrived. At that point it was no longer possible to reconcile the families' needs with the congregation’s ability (or interest in) to support them. He and my mother-in-law are now retired school teachers. I tell this story just as one example of how real life forces choices.
Today marks the end of a weeklong, unpaid, mandated furlough for all who are employed through the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly Council. I don’t know how this is going for the people who live and work at the GAC offices in Louisville. I know I’ve lived through skipping a week’s worth of income and survived but it wasn’t fun. I think skipping a week of income is probably better then losing all income but still, if you aren’t paid a lot of money to begin with then there isn’t a lot of back up to make up the loss. Its not like these people can skip a week’s worth of rent or mortgage payment or stop eating. The loss will be felt.
Perhaps skipping a week of income is the best solution where there are no good choices. Certainly there are many Presbyterians who are experiencing even deeper catastrophic loss as well as billions of people surviving for a year on what is a day’s income for many Americans.
Even so, we need to pay attention. If we are advocates against hunger and poverty and for hope and wholeness then we need to also pay attention to what is going on in our own backyard.
I don’t have any better solutions, I don’t know what should have been done differently or if anything could have made it any better. I’m not that smart. All I have is faith in a God who is always working toward the good for all of us and that often - but not always - things work out okay. The not always part? That’s an undeniable reminder that we are living in a broken world that falls short of the coming household of God. When it gets here, its going to be great but in the meantime, lets try and keep an eye out for each other.
In a time when money simply disappears - how do we continue to act with compassion and with justice for each other?
Anitra Kitts is a freelance writer, a graduate of SFTS (M.Div. '06), and an occasional supply preacher.