Of all the statistics in the United Church Year Book, perhaps the most important ones are about identified givers to local expenses and to the Mission and Service Fund. Because giving is at the heart of God. “For God so loved the world that God gave . . .” And learning how to give — with no thought of return, with no conditions attached, with no hesitation — is the core spiritual exercise of practising how to love as we have been loved by God.
The United Church began tracking identified givers (everyone who receives a tax receipt) in 1962. Like most of our statistics, the number of givers to local expenses declined for a decade. But unlike most of our statistics, it increased by 50,000, or 12 percent, from 1971 to 1986. Then, between 1986 and 2012, the number declined by almost 50 percent, from 466,000 to 240,000. Today, the threshold to be among the 10 percent of pastoral charges with the most local givers is 225. Half of pastoral charges have 93 or fewer givers to local expenses.
Generosity and empathy are built-in human instincts. But translating these instincts into daily practices requires nurture. Where can we learn to give as God gives, to love as God loves? This kind of giving is becoming a countercultural way of life.
For most of my ministry, I was always a bit embarrassed to preach the annual stewardship sermon. My salary, housing and travel were noticeably large bits of the budget. It looked like I was preaching for my supper. And so one year, I shocked my poor finance committee by saying, “We don’t want your money. Give it to someone else. We want your hearts. We want you to discover the joy, the exhilarating freedom from worry that comes from giving as God gives and loving as God loves, and from doing that every day in every way.”
This is the blessing of being an identified giver. It is the blessing we celebrate at Christmas as we welcome the birth of the child — a gift to us all from the original Identified Giver.
Rev. David Ewart is a United Church minister in Vancouver.
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