It almost didn’t happen. And when it did, it was truly providential.
Back in the early days of my ministry, almost 40 years ago, the diocese charged parishes two different amounts, Allotment and Outreach, to meet the diocesan budget. Allotment was obligatory; the parish lay members could not take their seat at Synod if it had not been paid. Outreach was suggested but voluntary, with no consequences if it was outstanding. I remember major parishes taking their seats at Synod with very little contributed in the Outreach column. They claimed they did their own mission and outreach, and many of them did. I also remember major parishes fully subscribing their Outreach request, plus doing their own parish mission projects, but not taking their seats because they’d failed to pay all of their Allotment.
Times changed. A few years later, Synod recognized the unfairness, combined both amounts into an Assessment and renamed the provision to lose a seat (and more importantly, a voice) at Synod for those who fell behind.
Every year the needs grew, however. By the early 1990s, the diocesan budget was in a very grave state and had to be reduced drastically. That meant that our diocesan outreach and mission projects were also going to be cut back substantially.
A new way of funding this outreach ministry was proposed: develop a unified campaign, like a church-wide United Way, to ask parishioners directly to donate to these missions. There was strong opposition to the idea. Why should Outreach be removed from the budget and left to the whims of parishioners’ chequebooks and not be required from parishes? If Outreach was truly central to the Gospel, then it should be front and centre in the budget. If people were so certain that it could continue to raise the required amount voluntarily, why not put the more sensitive, people-oriented work in the budget and ask for voluntary contributions to the administrative portion – paper clips, staff and archives?
The arguments had merits, but it was clear that the diocesan budget was going to be cut severely. If Outreach continued to be part of the diocesan budget, it was going to be cut back, too.
So, 20 years ago, with the support of Fr. Jeff Brown, then chair of the Community Ministries Board, Ann Keating its director, and a newly created board to oversee the new direct ministry fundraising project – Richard Parton, Rogers Gardham and Ward McCance, among others – FaithWorks was born.
It has been a resounding success. As diocesan budgets have gone down substantially in real dollars from the early 90s, the commitment to the ministries supported by FaithWorks has increased. An additional round of cuts removed about $1 million from the diocesan core budget in the early 2000s, but FaithWorks’ gifts continued to increase. New ministries have been launched to meet emerging needs of people in various parts of the diocese. Good funding for other ministries has provided a launching pad for their independence in seeking broader support.
Parishioners are presented directly with the stories and hopes that their donations will fund. It is so much better than a portion of their regular offering being directed to projects they had likely heard nothing about.
Because parishes receive 15 per cent of undesignated FaithWorks’ donations for their own outreach projects, creative new work is happening locally.
FaithWorks is an opportunity to tell stories that link what we give to how it is making a difference in real people’s lives. And the institution of FaithWorks has allowed us to invite partners from the wider community who would never support church budgets directly, to join in supporting outreach to people in the community in need through our agencies.
We give thanks for those whose vision and energy made it happen, for those who give generously, for those who minister faithfully and for those whose lives have been touched.
The Diocese of Toronto now contributes some 16 per cent of its total budget to FaithWorks’ ministries, plus another 20 per cent to the national and international church beyond our own diocese. Clearly, Outreach has retained a central focus in our lived proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
FaithWorks has been a resounding success, something to celebrate, although it almost didn’t happen.