Our stewardship season has drawn to a close. For the past several months, our church community has spent time in prayer, considered what God is calling us to do together, and each of us has made commitments of time, talent, and treasure based upon how we feel called to be a part of what God doing in and through Bethlehem Lutheran Church. As we tally the numbers on the financial side of things, its clear that there are some major changes in store for us in 2010—that God has in mind something very different than the way we have been operating. During the month of January we will be preparing together a budget and plan for mission in 2010 and will be making decisions on this at our annual meeting on January 31st. We will need as many people as possible participating in this process, so we can get a clearer vision of where God is calling us go and what God is calling us to do with the abundant resources he has given us to use in his mission in the world.
Here are the facts (in round numbers): As of December 13th (at the end of our stewardship campaign), the giving estimates you all submitted for 2010 give us an operating budget of just over $70,000. (There are likely to be more gifts coming in, but its hard to tell just how much.). Sharing of our building costs with Bethany Presbyterian, Emmanuel Metropolitan Community Church, Hearts and Rainbows Preschool, and the AA and other support groups, frees up an additional $20,000 (though only for the next two years for sure). That brings our total up to just over $90,000. This is an amazing abundance and comes from both small and large gifts: 7 commitments were for $300 or less for the year, 16 were for $300-$3000 and 7 were over $3000 (some significantly over $3000). Whether your resources are meager or plentiful, you have committed generously to God's mission through Bethlehem (and these figures don't include the gifts of time and talent which are no less valuable). Thank you for your prayerful and abundant gifts to God's mission. Through you, God has unleashed $90,000 for his purposes in Spokane (and that doesn't even include the other places we share our gifts). And in these uncertain financial times, that's nothing short of a miracle.
The question before us now is: “How is God calling us to best use these amazing gifts for his purposes in mission for the sake of the world?” Although our stewardship campaign may be over, the task of stewardship is not a once a year thing—its a way of life. How are we as a community going to be good stewards (caretakers, managers, trustees) of the gifts God has entrusted to us? Or, in other words, how can we use this $90,000, our building, and the gifts of time and talent of our community in the best possible way—in the way God is calling us to?
I recently discovered Bethlehem's financial information from 1989 and the budget for 1990. 20 years ago we had an income nearly identical to what we have today and we gave nearly $12,000 to the synod for the work of the wider church. As I've read the annual reports of the years since then the theme has been “Let's keep what we've got going for another year.” And with some creativity (and a bit of begging) we have. But as you know, 20 years ago a dollar was worth significantly more than it is today, and it seems like our costs for everything from electricity to health care keep going up—doing things the way we've always done them just costs more and more every year and so we've had to do less and less. Our draft budget for 2010, based on a trimmed down version of the way we've done mission and ministry at Bethlehem for our entire history, comes in at just over $130,000 and that's before we include the over $10,000 shortfall from our 2009 budget.
In the past we've kept things afloat by holding bake sales, working at baseball games, serving coffee at rest areas, by pressuring one another to just give more, and by failing to keep our commitments to the synod and the ELCA. For the past three years we've kept things going with the help of a Transformation Grant from the ELCA. But we're at the end of that help and need to figure out how it is God is calling us to use our resources in mission for the sake of the world. We've reached the point where “just trying harder” isn't going to come up with the additional $40,000 - $50,000 we need to keep doing things the way we have always done them. Perhaps our problem is that God is calling us NOT to do things as we always have, but to engage in mission and ministry in a whole new way. And while we're falling short on resources to do what we've always done, perhaps we have more than we need to do what God is actually calling us to do.
In the past year we've gotten clear on how God wants us to use our building—not keeping it for ourselves but sharing it widely. Today mission and ministry take place in and from our building pretty much every single day of the week. Prayers are prayed, quilts are sown, couples are counseled, the Bible is studied, God is worshiped in many ways, forgiveness of sins is given and received, alcoholics find community, drug addicts find ways to stay clean, and lonely people find others to share their lives with. And from all of these communities God multiples our efforts, sending us forth to visit the sick, help our neighbors, care for the poor, and make a difference in God's world. Sharing our building in fact hasn't diminished our resources, instead God has given us more: $20,000 more to use for mission rather than keeping up a building and new partners for living out God's mission together. In some ways it doesn't make sense, but God's economy is like that—the more we give, the more we receive.
The question before us in the next month is this: How can we do with our finances the same purposeful reflection and transformation that we've done with our property? How can we reshape the ministry that we have to make the best use of the financial abundance God has provided for us? I truly believe that God gives us the resources that we need to do what God is calling us to do. $90,000 and a prominent building on a major road are amazing gifts—and its no wonder God is calling us to use them for the sake of others. Our task as a community is to figure out just what we think God is calling us to do with these gifts and then to set about doing it. It's not going to be easy, its going to take our entire community to figure out, and it will likely mean making some tough choices and perhaps even putting our survival on the line. But we can trust that God has something in mind for us—perhaps a new mission we haven't even dreamed of yet—and not only will God show us the way, but will give us what we need to do what he is calling us to do.