I went to worship last night at Solomon's Porch in Minneapolis with my friend Rachael. Their space was spectacular. I kept having the opinion that our burgeoning community should never have it's own building... that is until I walked into that one last night. There was art everywhere, including an enormous goose flying overhead (which I believe in Celtic Christianity is a symbol of the Holy Spirit). The sanctuary, which is sizable, was filled with sofas and easy chairs in the round. I am in love. Being able to sit in a comfy sofa for worship was a big plus for me (especially as it was over 2 hours long!) Folks were friendly. The music, while not terribly conducive to congregational singing (which I am partial to), was well done and not at all vapid like in so many other churches.
Their pastor, Doug spoke about the finances of their community. Apparently they had been relying on a few major givers who "had the gift of giving" while others "had the gift of music, or art, or other stuff"...a system which they are now having to rethink. This community had decided at its inception that they would plan each year's budget based on the actual giving from the previous year, rather than basing it on pledges as many churches do. It seems as though that worked for 8 years, each year the giving having increased form the previous year... until now. Several major givers are no longer part of the community and the church is now in a major financial crunch. After Doug's talk a member got up to talk about tithing and rather than the "joy of giving" talk of a congregational tither, this guys gets up and basically says, "I'm here to tell you that I'm a lousy tither, seriously, it's really hard for me to give, but I want to get better at it, so let's do it together." I thought it was brilliant.
I left there thinking about the financial reality of the emerging church. House of Mercy, another Twin Cities emerging church which must be around 10 years old now, is also in a financial crisis.
There are a few issues. One is that the postmodern urban young adult population is not rolling in money. But the other is the fact that we in our culture have this pernicious reality of being profoundly affluent while having a mentality of scarcity. I include myself in this. So a lot of folks in the emerging church think that putting $5 or $10 dollars a week in the plate is sacrificial. But we'll buy $100 jeans and $5 coffee and $50 concert tickets. I wonder if it will be possible in our new community just getting off the ground in Denver if we can establish a DNA of radical stewardship: environmental, physical, financial, spiritual. It kind of has to be a whole-life thing of joy and defiance in the face of our culture of consumption and selfishness. Giving away 10% of our family's income is a small step toward realizing that none of it is ours in the first place, so we release a small portion into the world believing that it will help accomplish something better than if we spent it on ourselves. We free ourselves form the bondage of that money each month and it can feel like an act of defiance, but it never feels like on obligation. The question is how can this be shared with a new community? Any ideas???