February 15, 2013

‘Tis the Season

Filed under: Financial Commitment,Lectionary — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 10:02 am

Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,

and to God the things that are God’s.” Mark 12:17a

Well, that’s a cut and dry statement! Very black and white. Does it have to be? I’m not so sure.

Let me share with you an intriguing—and very brave—experiment that one congregation in Maine has launched in this season.

Last autumn, as they began to consider their plans for annual financial stewardship, they decided to “move” pledging from its traditional place in the parish calendar and instead invite communicants to use the season of Lent as a time of prayer, discernment, and contemplation of their pledge. Thus these “forty days plus Sundays” become for them a time set apart, a time of priorities, and yes, temptations, as members of a baptismal community and as individuals of abundance and wealth.

I’m very curious to see how this experiment plays out. The model is brimming with opportunity for spiritual growth and new perspectives on generosity. But what I find even more intriguing is its serendipitous overlap with the secular financial season—this congregation is inviting people to pledge at the time of year when they most closely understand their earnings.

Last fall many of our congregations struggled with pledging. The “fiscal cliff” was causing tremendous anxiety for communicants at all income levels and in all circumstances—what would happen to unemployment benefits? How would the cost of health care change? Would the reintroduction of payroll tax change the calculation in proportional giving? Will I still be able to itemize charitable deductions? We just didn’t know. We made safe pledges or we didn’t pledge at all.

For this congregation, the conversation around pledging is coming after some of these unknowns have settled down. For those who have fixed incomes in the form of salary or defined retirement plans, pledging will be more confident, more accurate.

The timing is also better for those with variable incomes. Maine has a high rate of self-employment—farming, fishing, tourism, and small business are at the core of our communities. One of the questions I’m often asked in my conversations around the diocese is, “I struggle to pledge because I never know what I’m going to make.” Until now, my advice has been to submit a “safe” pledge, and then to encourage clergy and lay leaders to invite the congregation to revise their pledges once they have more information. This approach hasn’t worked terribly well—once pledging is over, the budget is adopted, and annual meeting has been held, people don’t really want to go back. Or they’re embarrassed or shy about bringing it up again. Or they simply forget. So here we have another potential advantage to this new model—move pledging to a time when people have good information.

But in the midst of all these practical advantages, here’s the thing that excites me the most: By moving the pledge conversation into Lent, we muddle up God and Caesar. Instead of wringing their hands over “how do we talk about money in church” these lay leaders have in effect challenged themselves to reverse the question, to bring God into the financial lives of their members.

What will happen when a communicant phones the tax preparer and says, “I need to have my appointment before March 22nd. I’m filling out my pledge card and I need to know the amount I’m tithing on.”

I can’t wait to find out.



  1. Lisa,

    Love this! I’ve used this as today’s ECF Vital Practices’ guest blog. I’m eager to hear how this works and would welcome follow up pieces to learn how this experiment is going. I’m thinking this has the potential to be a story for our fall stewardship issue.



    Nancy Davidge Editor, ECF Vital Practices Episcopal Church Foundation 815 Second Avenue, 7th Floor New York, NY 10017

    781.631.9134 (o) 617.901.4200 (c) Empowering Congregations to do God’s Work

    Comment by — February 15, 2013 @ 11:06 am |Reply

    • I know, right? I was so excited when the Sr. Warden told me what they were trying. i can’t wait to see how their results play out.

      Comment by Lisa Meeder Turnbull — February 15, 2013 @ 11:50 am |Reply

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