Stewardship and Abundance
Stewardship and Abundance During a Pandemic
Many churches, across not only the Episcopal Church but all denominations, have felt the emotional and financial stresses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Ours is no exception.
COVID-19 came at an interesting time for our parish. It led us to ask some serious and impactful questions: Could we close the final $1.1 million of our $8 million capital campaign? Would we see a dip in the annual pledging needed to allow us to minister in real and tangible ways to people at home? With our campus closed, how could we continue to meaningfully engage people in the life of the church? Could we pivot and remain relevant? These were tough but important questions. They moved us to work in ways that honor and celebrate the steadfast love of our community.
Our financial strength has been rooted in God and in confidence that our mission and vision, as well as our strategic plan – our response to God’s urgent cry to spread the Good News – were front and center. That is, we trusted that God would provide. When our natural instincts were to get stuck in the doldrums of the pandemic and the resulting economic downturn, to question whether we could quickly adjust to an online world, we simply needed to invite people into faithful generosity.
Successful appeals focus on the fundamentals of why we do church
In March 2020, we launched two appeals for the Rector’s Discretionary Fund. The first was in anticipation of the governor and bishop’s decisions to close the state and all houses of worship. We invited a few families to fund $74,000 for technology improvements needed for livestreaming and remote work for staff. A few weeks later, we identified more than 20 additional families to offset lost pledge income, pay our preschool staff while the school was closed (and no tuition coming in) and begin to assist families in financial stress. We raised another $85,000.
This was a time when so many were hurting, and as a community of faith, we felt that it was our Christian duty to be available to help. These appeals allowed us to realize some powerful results. We were able to:
- Purchase laptops (eight in total), including one for a partner church so that they could effectively livestream services for their parishioners
- Invest in audiovisual infrastructure to help us engage digitally, not only during the pandemic but in the future, when we are able to return to in-person worship
- Purchase computers and internet service for our own parishioners, so they could stay digitally connected with us in a meaningful way
- Provide support to members of our community who were suffering financial hardship, enabling them to retain the services essential to their livelihoods
- Assist members who were concerned about meeting their financial obligation to the church
- Provide significant financial support for diocesan relief efforts to smaller parishes
This display of generosity is a compelling witness to the parish’s faith, hope and commitment to our mission and vision. It also attests to the inherent values of community that are so important, now more than ever. It would have been easy to resign ourselves to a negative outlook, but the grace and generosity of God’s people shone through and through.
Thankfully, we have secured 95% of our $8 million campaign goal to date and are still receiving commitments. Families continue to step forward to cover lost pledge revenue through increased giving. Parishioners have begun and engaged in new ministries to keep people connected. In essence, we returned to the fundamentals of why we do church, gratefully realizing that it is God through whom all blessings flow.
It is worth noting that these can be difficult and emotional pastoral conversations, but they taught us some fundamental lessons:
- The act of intentional listening is crucial, especially in times of stress and anxiety
- Focusing on building incremental generosity allowed our community to lean deeper into its faith while accomplishing impactful outcomes
- Leaving space for people to peacefully and gracefully say no is important. A good “no” is much better than a weak “yes”
- Never make assumptions about a person’s ability to give at any given point
- Build generosity and capacity for sacrificial giving
- Aligning funding priorities with a ‘new normal’ sometimes requires a mid-year revision of the annual budget”
Only as strong as our relationships and our faith
Since closing the campus, we have exponentially increased our pastoral care capacity to connect with nearly every family. We spent early summer reaching out to parishioners to check in on their wellbeing as well as to begin conversations about whether they would be able to honor their 2020 financial commitment to the church. We were prepared to tell people it was okay to place a hold or stop their 2020 pledge and to assure them other families would be able to step in.
We are only as strong as our relationships and our faith in the need to be transformed, both individually and as a church. These are two critical elements of success.
Stewardship and giving remain strong, even in light of a pandemic. Our congregants have created new ways of staying connected to the life of the church. When we, as leaders, leaned into the faithfulness and thoughtful generosity of our parishioners, they heeded the call of sacrificial giving to further God’s work.
There were certainly times when it seemed like there was nothing left to give, and the abundance that we had long enjoyed was quickly disappearing. The fact is, that abundance never disappeared at all. It took a new form and helped us have a real impact, not only on our church and community but our neighbors, as well. The abundance is there and always will be – we just have to know where to prayerfully look for it.
The Reverend Mark C. McKone-Sweet has served as Rector at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church since 2014. His ministry in for profit, nonprofit and church settings has realized his true calling – to build community seven days a week; to turn around parishes/organizations in decline; to embrace the joy of sacrificial generosity of time, talent and treasure; and to make the Good News real and tangible to others, no exceptions. Mark and his family live in San Diego County. He has served on the Standing Committees in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and presently in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, and is a member of Gathering of Leaders. Mark earned his Masters in Divinity from EDS (Cambridge, MA) and a Masters in Business Administration from Northeastern University (Boston, MA).
Demetreus Gregg currently serves as the Congregational Development Director at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, Poway. In this role, Demetreus oversees fundraising, communications, engagement and newcomer programs. A native of Baltimore, he served most recently in fundraising positions with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Community Foundation. In Baltimore, he was also junior warden and later treasurer for Emmanuel Episcopal Church, where he has been a member since 2012.
- A Time for Everything by Linda Buskirk, ECF Vital Practices blog, March 17, 2020
- Wholehearted Stewardship by Erin Weber-Johnson, Vestry Papers, September 2013
- Because God Always Gives by Rhonda Rogers, Vestry Papers, September 2018
- Do Not Give Money to God! by Sandra Swan, Vestry Papers, September 2014