November 6, 2014

A Second Collection

File this under “Borrowed from Another Church” or “How a Decentralized Budget Works.” I’m talking about how we raise awareness and investment for outreach at St. George’s, Valley Lee – what we call the Second Collection.

It’s really very simple: we’ve cut outreach from our centralized operating budget so that we can more effectively make the connections between the work of justice and the craft of worship on the Lord’s Day. During the offertory at Sunday worship, someone carries a large basket alongside the offering plates. The initial concept was that people would bring in non-perishable food donations to support the work of several local food pantries, along with their financial gift to support the church. People forgot to bring the canned goods, however, but they still wanted to help. “Can we give some loose change, instead?” a few asked. Which gave birth to the idea of the smaller basket that comes around during the offertory. (The related principle being that if you want to give money to the church, especially so the church can give it away, we’ll always find a way to support you in doing that!) People toss their loose change in the smaller basket and, for those who bring in the canned goods, there are larger baskets in the entryway to the church and parish hall.

What we flippantly call “outreach” in the church is really intended to be a much more radical thing. That is, we’re really talking about creating relationships of awareness and building the capacity for advocacy. The point is to expose people, including people of privilege, to those who struggle with not having enough, and to build that relationship between one’s Sunday morning pew and the immediate community’s real needs and opportunities. This isn’t all we do to engage the work of justice at St. George’s, Valley Lee, but the Second Collection is a very simple, very direct, and very impactful way to “strive for justice and peace.”

Communication – that is, listening and teaching – is important to developing this new approach. For starters, we feature a regular, weekly announcement. Additionally, we’ve occasionally changed the four food pantries based on what we’re hearing from our community and the ways they are – or are not – getting involved in and aware of the work of those places on the ground. Here’s how we begin the write-up in our bulletin and newsletter:

“On Sundays, we have two collections – one supports the mission of Christ through the church; the other, the mission of Christ in the world. The ‘Second Collection’ is a chance to donate food and/or loose change to four local food pantries…”

Near the end of the month, we call the food pantry next on our list and ask what they need, what they’re running short on, what demand they’re currently experiencing. This simple phone call goes a long way to building relationships with social service providers on the ground, and it further connects our Sunday morning worship life to real needs and opportunities in our immediate community. Paying attention to these connections is a huge part of an effective outreach ministry. So we continue the bulletin announcement thusly:

“…In November, we're supporting our friends at St. Mary's Caring -- the food pantry and soup kitchen on Great Mills Road. They report a special need for extra canned meats, vegetables and fruits, complete boxed dinners, pastas and sauces, peanut butter & jelly, juices and coffee and coffee supplies as well as toiletries and cleaning supplies. As St. Mary's Caring is also a feeding site, they appreciate larger-sized bulk goods, too. You can drop off food or non-perishables in the baskets in the entryway to the church or parish hall. As always, they’ll make use of any loose change you may wish to contribute; drop it into the Second Collection basket which is brought around during the offering time. The food pantry uses the money to buy much-needed perishables and other supplies…”

And we always make sure to report last month’s Second Collection total in our weekly bulletin and newsletter. That’s how the announcement wraps up: “…In October, thank you for giving $465.81 in 'loose change' to food pantry at Ascension, Lexington Park, our neighbors and friends. Thank you, St. George's!”

That’s the funny thing about the financial donations, and yet one more indication of how a decentralized budget works so well. It’s also why we put ‘loose change’ in quotes! Between November 2013 and October 2014, St. George’s raised and gave away $6,234.55 through the Second Collection. That’s an average of $520/month. December was our highest-giving month ($671.53), with March ’14 close behind ($665.76); whereas even our lowest month (Feb, with $399.60) wasn’t that low. These numbers also don’t include the hundreds of pounds of non-perishable goods. (I’ve seriously thought about weighing all of that, as well, but no one’s picked up the lead on that.) Whereas we used to struggle to give away $1K or $2K for outreach via the tired, old centralized operating budget, now we raise and give away so much more. Plus, the people would most likely never have given this ‘loose change’ to the centralized operating budget in the first place, anyway – yet one more reason to kick that old business model to the curb.

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