Recently, the Ontario government announced a reopening plan that would see public activity return to pre-pandemic levels. It is an aspirational objective, that’s for sure. And while the plan may be off by weeks, if not months, it points us in the direction of masking and contact tracing as optional, the end of capacity limits and a return to singing in churches and using the common cup. This is what a new year potentially holds.
We’ve all heard the term “build back better.” The same phrase can apply to the Church as well. As we prepare for a time when the pandemic is reduced to flu-like status, we need to think about how to reacquaint people with regular worship, fellowship, community engagement and welcoming new members. Many of us feel out of step with what used to be familiar and is essential to who we are as Christians.
As I noted in my article last month, the experience of stewardship practice during the pandemic has revealed success stories and exposed profound vulnerabilities. As we return to increased public activity in our parishes, let’s be mindful of ways we can build back that encourage new ministry, growth and engagement. Here are seven ways each one of us can help our parish during the transition.
Sign up for Pre-Authorized Remittance or electronic funds transfer. Parishes in which at least 50 per cent of their givers use a first fruits method of giving fared the best during the most difficult period of the pandemic. Every parish should strive to achieve this figure.
Consider increasing your offertory giving. Many parishes have been reluctant to request increased giving, as the pandemic had a negative impact on employment, especially in the service sector. Most industries have bounced back, and employment levels are nearing pre-pandemic levels. Some people saw their savings increase as travel and discretionary spending decreased. Now would be a welcome time to increase your financial support to your parish and other diocesan ministries.
Draw up a will or update your current one. Remember your church or favourite diocesan ministry when planning your estate gifts. A gift of encouragement (see Acts 4:36) is a wonderful testimony to the values you profess now.
Say thank you. If you are in leadership, thank your donors. If you are not in leadership, thank those who are. The last two years forced many to carry burdens they were not prepared for.
Invite someone to church. There is a timeless bit of fundraising wisdom that says, “people give to people who give.” That same wisdom can apply to church growth: people will go to church with people who go to church. In our secular age, being a seeker can be intimidating. If you know of someone who is seeking, invite them to an Anglican church.
Encourage your parish to tithe to outreach. The tithe remains the measure of generosity that is most widely admired and yearned for, and it is a challenge for most of us. It is precisely because it is such a challenge that parishes should lead by example and endeavour to donate 10 per cent of their revenue to outreach, including 5 per cent to FaithWorks.
Preach and lay witness about stewardship and its benefits. While it might seem obvious that we need to talk about generosity, there is a general reluctance to preach on this topic. As newcomers begin to rediscover our churches, giving to ministry should be an important component of Christian discipleship.
A return to normal will not happen overnight, and there will be those who are reluctant to jump into the newness that life after COVID-19 will bring. I find it difficult to believe that it could be mere months a way – but I crave it. I long for public Bible study, parish potluck socials, men’s breakfasts, lessons and carols at the cathedral and the sound of our voices in common praise. I long to return to my office in downtown Toronto in the company of wonderful colleagues and dedicated volunteers. Zoom has helped us cope, but it’s not ideal (at least not for a fundraiser).
Hopefully, these suggestions offer achievable goals for Christians seeking to deepen their relationship with the Church and Jesus. Individually (and collectively), these suggestions have the potential to be transformative to both the giver and receiver. They can enrich ministry in our parish and our community while at the same time making us feel good that we are making a difference. And they can help our parishes build back anew as we adjust to post-pandemic life.