in response to an interesting comment…

Lorna left an interesing comment in the combox earlier and since my response would have been quite long for a comment, I decided to make it into a post.

Here’s Lorna’s comment:

I would like to see the church step in and start teaching sensible stewardship, model and teach saving until one can afford something, rather than standing by as parishioners buy more and more on credit AND I would also like the banks to become more responsible and stop choosing to lead young people into debt as a way of life. (They don’t know that credit costs, they don’t know that overdraft fees when they are no longer students will be cripling, they don’t know how to budget and save because quite frankly so many of our generation don’t know these things either!)

I totally agree with Lorna in this.

When i think of Church in this instance, i think of stewardship on parish level and the obligation to spend their parishioners donations as they should be spent. I strenuously agree with Lorna that the pastors of parishes/churches have a responsibility to lead by example.

For example, it’s no good a pastor banging on about money and the need for parishioners to review and increase their donations, if we see our donations being mispent or if we see the pastor or those closely affiliated with them (as members of that same church or parish) spending extravagantly themselves.

To my mind, bigger donations are not cultivated by pastors who have no qualms about telling of where they go and what they do and what they have.

I believe that most people just want to have what they give,appreciated…and for what they give, to be wisely spent.

It is my understanding that most parishioners actually don’t  know how their parish/church finances are spent. Not many pastors (although some do) publicise that X amount of money has been spent in one way or another, especially if it shouldn’t have been.

Perhaps we are too trusting as parishioners.

We trust our money will be spent well.

Some would argue that there are finance committees. But often these are cliquey. Too set in their ways of doing things, unacepting of newcomers who may have differing opinions.

And lets tell it how it is, we all have busy lives and we should be able to trust in our pastors to ensure that our donations are protected and put to good use. Ultimately it is he  or ( in non Catholic churches) she, who has overall responsibility for the financial expenditure in the parish/church.

Sometimes things just get silly.

For example, a pastor shouldn’t ask parishioners to reconsider buying a meal out at McDonalds for their children but instead put that money in the collection plate…..and then be seen to be speaking publically of the meals they themselves enjoy eating out, their travels and holidays… the gadgets they are buying….etc.

It is my understanding that there is rarely any request by parishioners for the pastor to account for themselves with regard to parish finances/personal leadership with regard to finances…. but as a priest recently said to me, ‘most parishioners let you know how they feel about a pastor by walking away if they don’t like something’.

Of course, a pastor is only human and why shouldn’t they eat out occasionally or buy a gadget if they want one? But then, I don’t have a problem with that.

I do however, have a problem with parishioners being asked for more, more, more…when the pastoral expenditure of parish finances or even of an individual pastors financial (over) expenditure is itself in need of severe readjustment.

So I agree with Lorna in this.

A pastor is obligated to lead by example. Anything else would be hypocrisy.

Another thing that Lorna mentiones is the benefit  that could be gained if pastors/parishes/churches actually tried to help out the many familys in financial crisis.

At a time when the credit crunch is hitting so many of us so hard, we don’t need to be inundated with requests to sign up for this or that or to give give give…what we actually need is pastoral support.

I’m not for a minute suggesting our pastors should become financial advisors, but rather that they lead by their own example. By shirking materialistic spending, and rightly encouraging us to repay our debtors first.

Sadly, so often, instead of support in times of finacial crisis, parishioners are put under further pressure to give more than they can afford, or to increase their donations.

Perhaps sometimes it’s true we can spare a little more, and we should indeed support our parish/church , but i’m firmly of the belief that people will a) only give when they know that the money won’t be mispent and b) don’t like being badgered or bullied into it.

In my experience, when a person is pastored adequately in the parish/church they attend, there is little that a parishioner won’t do for the benefit of their parish and indeed the pastor, in terms of contributing not only financial support, but their time and talents too.

Lorna also mentioned in the above part of her comment I quoted, the responsibility of Banks to not make it so easy for people to walk into their debt trap and before they know it, find themselves in a lifetime of debt.

Let us not kid ourselves, it’s profitable for banks to make it easy for us to get ourselves into debt. They’re never going to make it easy for us to get ourselves out of it. The longer we remain in it, the longer it benefits them.

There is so much more I could say, but if i did, i wouldn’t be able to respond to the rest of Lorna’s comment…and this post is already getting quite long.

Here’s the rest of Lorna’s comment:

This isn’t about you Deb (though by the sounds of it you’d got caught up in the debt trap too and I’m so sorry to read that) but IMHO it’s all gone mad (in the west) – we buy things that we only think we need – and we are -person by person, community by community, nation by nation – getting further and further bound up in debt – it’s like slavery to money and those in financing on both a personal level and a national /international level.

And I think there has to be a better way.

I know that Lorna wasn’t pecifically referring to me in this comment, but since my financial debt has been mentioned i feel it necessary to respond.

When I became a single parent i was running away from a violent marriage partner. Despite having no home to move into and no money in my pocket, I grabbed my kids and the dog and walked the couple of miles to my parents house and told them that this time it was over for good.

The decision had been made, but depsite being in the middle of an emotional  and legal nightmare  I was sure I had done the right thing.

If i thought for one moment things were going to start getting easier though, i was very much mistaken.

I had been a stay at home Mum and for a while my husband (ex) had been out of work (he worked as an electrician, when he did work) and the money that we recieved as a family was paid to the male of the family, not to me.

Because he wasn’t great with money he thought it would be best if i had all the bills put in to my name so i could pay them more readily and i innocently/stupidly agreed. Some times he wouldn’t give me money for food or to pay the bills though, and it was all in my name, so i got into debt. When he was okay with us he would give me food money and when he wasn’t okay with us, he didn’t….sometimes he wasn’t okay with us for many many weeks on end…this was the way of things for us for years.

My parents would bring food over when he went out, buy cans of SMA baby milk and stuff.  Even though i should have been entitled to it from the government, if my husband didn’t give me the vouchers to get it from the health centre, i couldn’t get the baby’s milk.

You don’t want to know more and  i sure as hell don’t want to remember more, but for the purpose of responding to this comment i am letting you know this so that you have an understanding that when i left my husband i left with debts…they were our debts but since they were in my name, i was the one who had to pay them….

The Gas and Electric company’s couldn’t care less about my marriage problems and neither could BT or the Waterboard or anyone else who we owed money to.

After leaving I didn’t even get any benefits/welfare to live on for about 3 months.

Me and my kids  lived on the kindness and generosity of my parents alone. They drove my daughter to school and back each day, paid for all our food, provided the roof over our heads…etc.

When i was eventually offered housing, the house we were given was graffitied inside. I spent about 6 weeks painting it, my parents helped with that too.  Soon after it was painted though, I got ill and was hospitalised for pneumonia, scepticemia and suspected meningitis.

I was quite poorly all the next year, during which I was diagnosed as having quite severe asthma as a result of the illness.

I was gutted that I couldn’t go out to work as i had planned. And there was so much debt to pay.

I decided that to take the pressure off i would get a credit card and pay off my debts and buy stuff for the house we needed (my parents helped us enormously) and buy the kids Christmas pressies and uniforms and shoes with it…of course, it was a vicious cycle because it all became credit card debt and i couldn’t meet the interest. So i got another credit card. Then another. Then a store card….

With no financial help in the form of maintenence support or anything of that kind, it was really tough going.

The debt accumulated over the years and a couple of years ago i was in a terrible state financially.  Paying over £230 a month just to pay off the interest on my debt.

I applied for and was granted a loan. I was gobsmacked that in my situation i would even be able to get one.

I was grateful that I could get that loan  as it meant that i could now have a fixed payment amount and spread the repayments over X amount of years.

I kept one of my credit cards for emergencys and i had an overdraft going as well.

Things are very tough financially, but I am not ignoring my debt and pretending it will go away, I’m dealing with it, and that takes a lot of guts when your debts are as scary a mine are and have been.

I hate being in debt, and yet i speak about it here to so that those of you reading who are also in debt, can see the damage that debt can do, and yet that also, it really doesn’t have to be the end of the world if you find yourself in it. just so long as you are prepared to live more simply and to meet all your repayments.

You may think that from finding myself in this much debt that i live in a lot of luxury. I can in fact assure you that almost every piece of furniture or appliance i own has been bought for me/given me as a gift or purchased second hand.

If we holiday, we holiday largely on my parents generosity and we have never holidayed abroad. I drive a second hand car that my parents kindly bought us. I don’t buy new clothes very often, not for me or for the children (if i do they are always in the sale). My only extravagance has been the camera i bought a couple of years ago. And for how much use its had and for the lack of developing costs with it being digital, it’s actually been a sound invesment. As a former professional photographer, to be honest with you, this was one hobby i could not relinquish, but when i purchased the camera, at the time i bought it, it had a £150 discount!

I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke, I have never paid to have my nails done at a nail bar. I don’t even dye my hair anymore, we rarely eat out unless it is a special occasion. I’m really just not a very materialistic person.

I’m very much aware of the devastation caused by personal debt.

I live it everyday, as do my children.

If I am a slave to money then it is in the sense that because of my debt, money is often very much on my mind, what we can afford, what we can’t afford…but i’m not a slave to money in the sense that I am sold on materialism.

Debt isn’t something i ever expected to experience. But so far I have paid a couple of thousand off my loan and I cut my last credit card up over a year ago.

There is still a very long way to go.

I know there are people who get into debt to buy new cars, holidays abroad etc, but a lot of us are also in debt through just trying to make ends meet the only way we know how.

So while I do agree with Lorna that there is a lot of materialistic overspending, for many of us debt is almost a necessity….a safety net…..a means of  keeping  a roof over our heads and food in our cuboards.

I have been forced to take yet another look at my finances since finding myself with even less to live on since last week but as gloomy as our family finances look, I’m sure that one day we will be debt free. Because i am actively doing somehting about it. Little by little.

I have a responsibility to ensure that I work towards achieving the debt free goal, and though the end of my personal financial crises is no where in view, I do believe that endevouring to live within our means, will mean that we attain that goal of being debt free, far sooner than if I buried my head in the sand.

Debt is never a good thing. And we don’t always have a choice as to whether we incurr any.  But we determine how we handle that debt.  And to how it affects the rest of our lives.

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8 Responses to in response to an interesting comment…

  1. I did mean it when I said it wasn’t about you Deb – though it was interesting and sad to read your story. Thank you for sharing it. It made me mad too because what happened was not right or fair to you (or your kids).

    I know of one other woman who was put into a very similar situation – she was the one who was left with the joint debts and it’s awful that that happens to anyone. I’m sorry it happened to you.

    It was a sin against you, and I hope that God will continue to help you walk towards forgiving your ex and also forgiving yourself. We make mistakes and they do have consequences but as you well know yourself we can take those to the cross too.

    I want to respond to your post by saying three things (briefly )

    i) I was not talking (or even thinking) about parish finances per se- but personal debt.

    ii) I am appalled (but not surprised) that banks and finance companies led you Deb further and futher into debt.

    The fact is that while getting the CC and then the loan did help you short term, it did not help you long term at all, because it simply got you further and deeper into debt – debt which you did not have the resources to pay off. (Just like the debts to the third world) The banks had to know this. And it’s appalling that they would allow it to happen, and keep allowing it to happen.

    iii) Almost all of us could cut costs somewhere – tighten the belt a bit – etc.

    We all have our weaknesses (mine are books and more books and travel) and that’s hard enough, …. but we also have areas of excess that we simply are not aware of, or we don’t know better. e.g. We don’t know how to cut expenditure well.

    That’s where an (outside) advisor can help a lot, but it’s also where we as the body of Christ can step in and offer our experiences and help too. But we do need the spirit of discernment because not all advice is good or applicable to our particular situation (no matter how well meant!)

    Part of the way forward might also be by choosing to be accountable to another in a healthy way, (this is a basic Christian principle that we just don’t live out anymore) … part of that might mean keeping an honest and up to date tally of everything (ouch) we spend, and allowing someone else to look at it and shake their head and then make suggestions.

    We also need to work on our weaknesses. (As I said mine’s books. It used to be shoes!) In the same way as getting back in shape, getting to one’s target weight, or getting the cholesterol/stamina level back to a healthy position, it takes effort (a lot of it) and time. It takes healthy choices from us! And if we try to do it alone (without God, and the body of Christ, I think we are unlikely to manage it to behonest)

    I honestly don’t think the parish priest/minister is the person to help us in this – I hope I didn’t sound as if I were suggesting that in my comment – frankly I’m not sure they are equipped, nor do I think they have the time – but I do think the church as a whole can start moving in the right direction by actually looking at the problem together. Bringing things into the light (provided our motives are right) is always a good thing.

    One of the biggest problems as I see it is buying things we do not need because society tells us that we do – an ipod, yet another book, a more up-to-date phone/computer, driving to the recycling instead of walking there, another coat,an extra helping of “irresistible desert” (erm we can resist that’s biblical!), a day out/coffee in town/ we know we cannot afford but we don’twant to miss out /let our friends down … etc etc

    It’s not easy is it?

    I write these things not because I have the answers but because I too am looking for them, I write these things not because I am sympathetic to those who are in debt but because I care … Personal debt has a huge negative impact on society – marriages break down because of it, kids get abandoned, communities and families fragment etc. It’s madness! Sheer insanity.
    And I’ve had enough!

  2. ukok says:

    Sure Lorna, I appreciate your further clarification but my response was about both pesonal debt and the church, their parish level leaders (of any denom) making it easier for us, being more understanding, by not making unfair comments/arguments about what we spend our money on when we aren’t supposed to have a say in how they spend theirs. Like i said in my response above, i don’t think pastors should be financial advisors (God forbid!), but then perhaps they should leave off their attempts to direct our finances and offer us their support instead (not financial advice).

    The book weakness, well i know you love your bookcrossing Lorna, but you could do worse than Bookmooch, all it costs is the postal cost to send a book and you can choose from any that are listed to fill your own bookshelves.

    I sent out three books this week, i now have 9 points in total that i have accumulated over recent weeks….to order/mooch 9 books for myself.

    This is a subject (debt and books too i guess) that we are on the same page on. We might have a different way of expressing ourselves and our personal situations may be different, but we’re basically saying the same things I think.

  3. I don’t know how it is over there, but over here usually an annual expenditures statement goes out to all parishioners.

    I.E. We took in “X” for income (plate offerings, candle money, gift shop money, etc.)

    and we spent “Y”

    (heating, maintenance etc.)

    Do they do that over there?

  4. Thanks Deb and yes I agree we are in agreement 🙂 thanks for listening to me, and also picking up the topic !

    re books…
    as you say I love bookcrossing. It works for me 🙂

    book mooch works I think in much the same way as bookrings/rays in bookcrossing do (someone has a book and you can sign up for it and then pass it onto to another – so it costs you postage only to read it) and there are also RABCKs which are random acts of Book Crossing kindness. They are a lot of fun!

    Another thing I like about BC is that you can also publish your bookwish list and I’ve recently received two books from other bookcrossers that I’ve wanted to read. That’s been such a pleasure.

    BC is free – but it does cost to send books out if you choose to join up a ring/ray – there’s also a 1001 library which means that if you’ve registed one 1001 library book you can request another from another member. I got Cold Comfort Farm that way – but I haven’t read it yet.

    A bigger problem for me is that I don’t have time to read much at the moment (reading for studies takes a lot of time as you’ll well remember Deb!) but in any case I’ve decided to avoid bookstores until I’ve cut my TBR (to be read) pile downsomewhat.

    I will have to purchase some books for my studies (I use Christianbooks.com or amazon for those) and again some are available second hand which is great. ButI always try BC first in case someone will do a swap. Not on my reading list but one book I do want to read is Shane Claiborne’s Jesus for President 🙂 and I might fork out for that soon as it’s so new it’s not easily found other than new.

    Recently I’ve bought many books secondhand and in the UK I always hit the charity shops 🙂 I’m trying to stay out of the regular bookstores here until Jan when there will be a big sale. Then I can afford to go a little crazy – last year though there weren’t that many books in English that I wanted to buy, so I saved a fortune (grin)

  5. karen, your question will be to Deb of course

    but if I can say that in the Methodist church here in Finland we have a members meeting twice a year

    In the spring we have a detailed (and complicated) financial statement (checked by auditors) that we have to approve. It is here we see the pastor and other church workers salaries, the social insurance costs, the heating of the church etc., the cost ofthe Sunday school, flowers and candeles etc … just as any other business in Finland (by law) must show its shareholders.

    In the autumn we also look at the budget (how the church board plans to spend the income it thinks we will have)

    The trouble is most church goers are not business people and these kind of financial records are tricky to read (though our treasurer does a great job of making them understandable with graphs etc) … more useful I think is the treasurer’s monthly report which puts up on the notice board to show what offerings and gifts through the bank have been collected as well as money which comes in from the church’s investments /property etc(though not where the money is used)

    Occasionally he puts a pie chart showing how much of our outgoings go to mission (which is very helpful to show that most of our outgoings are for maintaining our own church (pastor, building etc) which I think is NOT the way church should be.

    we also have a missions statement from time to time -showing how much we have collected (compared to what we budgeted would come in) We are commited to supporting a project in Kenya and it’s really good to see how the support comes in.

    There is a separate national budget/statement for this which is presented at the annual conference in June.

    FYI: In Finland the Methodist church is considered a free church (i.e. is not financed by the state) but we do enjoy tax free status, which means that income is not taxed (but pastors do pay income tax on their salary, any allowance they may have is also taxed and the church must also pay social costs for its employees)

  6. ukok says:

    Got to get ready for Mass and will respond more this afternoon when i get home, but just wanted to say that if there is an annual parish report breakdown of where all the parish donations/contents of the collections have gone, i have yet to see it. Maybe I have been elsewhere when it came out. We have a Diocesan report, i’ve seen that, but not parish financial reports.

    I’ve always been told that parish finances should be an open book, but i think some parishes would like to keep their ‘book’ closed!

    More later, thanks Karen and Lorna, there’s some interestng conversation going on here 🙂

  7. It might be that RC church operates differently, I wouldn’t know, but the parish priest must account for where the money goes.

    As I said, this is a bit of an aside to what I was talking about … though none the less important! sometimes I think I ought to do similar bookkeeping for myself (grin)

  8. it’s funny when you start to look at something like this – it comes up in other places – in my case books I’m reading.

    Is our desire to be disciples linked to living authentic (non-consumer oriented?) lives. That’s not to say that we are all called to be monks or nuns (though many of them have pcs, mobiles and even ipods nowadays I hear 🙂 … but to live frugally – buying what we really need, not just what ads tell us what we think we need!

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