Saturday, November 22, 2014

Holy Budgeting

One of the downsides of being a generous giver is that it is easy to become overwhelmed by requests for donations. Groups that rely on donations know that the people most likely to give are the ones who have given before, and often organizations share their mailing lists with one another. For a person of generous nature with a real desire to help, the result is a heartbreaking number of requests and the horrified realization that there is so much more need in the world than your budget will ever be able to meet.

Sometimes, it’s enough to make us stop giving entirely. Other times, we end up picking and choosing almost at random, responding to the most heart-rending pleas and throwing away other envelopes unopened, wracked by guilt because we know those causes are good and worthy ones, too. Both are contrary to our goal of being cheerful givers. A better response is to plan your giving the way you plan your household budget.

Like budgeting, this type of giving begins by considering your resources and how you want to spend your money. If your household income is exhausted every month by simple necessities -- food, clothing, shelter, heat, gas for the car, medical expenses, tuition etc. -- your financial giving will be small, perhaps only a token pledge to your church or an offering of spare change to those in need. But you can and should still be a cheerful giver, expressing your gratitude to God by giving non-monetary items, such as your time and your prayers. Even on a very tight budget, you will always have something to give -- your presence by visiting an elderly neighbor or babysitting someone’s children, your artistic talent by making and sending note cards to people in your neighborhood and church, your faith by praying for those in any kind of need or trouble, or for your whole community … the possibilities are limited only by your imagination and compassion. (Nor are these gifts limited to those with few financial resources -- time and talent and prayer are equally precious when offered by those who can also afford to write checks to charities!)

For those whose income exceeds their basic needs, this first step is completed by deciding how much of your monthly income will be given away. The biblical recommendation is 10 percent of your income, but if that’s too much to start with, choose an amount that fits in your budget. Be generous: you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to give generously when you plan for it. Take the time to reflect with gratitude on what you have, and offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the abundance you experience.

And then take a few minutes to think about what is near and dear to your heart. Is your church a source of strength and encouragement to you? Do you passionately believe no one should go to bed hungry? Are you deeply committed to the idea that every child should have access to healthy food and a chance for an education? Did you participate in a mission trip that highlighted for you how important it is for us to partner with those elsewhere in the world to build up communities? Do you want to address the needs of veterans, the homeless, immigrants, those afflicted with life-changing illnesses, people struggling with addiction, families that need support and help? Do you want to support the arts in your community?

Depending on how much you’ve set aside, choose one or more organizations working in the areas you are passionate about, and divide your monthly donation in whatever way you think best. Use to help you find charities doing particular kinds of work, and to choose the ones that will make the best use of your money. Make a monthly or quarterly pledge to each of these organizations, and ask them to bill you regularly. If something happens and you cannot fulfill your pledge, simply let them know that you are no longer able to give. They’ll be disappointed, but they’ll understand -- everyone experiences changes of fortune at times. You can also plan to offer an additional gift if you get a bonus or a raise!

There are several advantages to giving this way:

1. You can research organizations and choose the ones that are most effective with donations, so that more of your money goes to causes you care about. Sadly, not every charitable organization uses donations wisely or well. By taking time once a year to establish which charities you will support, you have an opportunity to determine who will do the best job of spending your money on serving others, and reject organizations that spend excessive amounts on administration or fundraising.
2. By making a regular monthly pledge, you let organizations plan their budgets for maximum impact. Knowing your gift is coming will help them make wise budget decisions and expand their programs when appropriate.
3. It’s easier to give generously in small amounts than in giant lump sums. Psychologically, it’s just easier to give cheerfully when you write a $50 check every month than it is to write a $600 check at the end of the year. Plus, it gives you a monthly occasion to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the abundance you have enjoyed.
4. When the inevitable solicitations from other charities arrive in the mail, you can discard them without guilt, knowing that you are already a cheerful giver and that you are giving in a way that honors the gifts God has given you. This generally works on phone solicitors as well: I simply say, “I know that your organization does good work, but I am sadly not able to give to every charity doing good work. I’ve already chosen several charities to support this year, and I’m not able to make any further donations at this time.”

Giving regularly is a spiritual discipline, an invitation to follow Jesus even in something as mundane as paying the bills. It also allows you to make wise decisions about how you will share your abundance with others, and to make gratitude an ingrained part of your daily life. The Lord loves a cheerful giver, St. Paul writes, and “holy budgeting” is a good way to be one!

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Today’s devotional reading from the Upper Room magazine was a great one and fell right in line with Suzanne's sermon today.  I thought it would make a great blog post, fitting our theme of Cheerful Giving.
-- Paul Ackroyd

Mark 12:41-44
He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.  A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.  Then he called his disciples and said to them, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.  For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

Paul wrote, “If I give all I possess to the poor . . . but do not have love, I gain nothing.”
- 1 Corinthians 13:3 (NIV)

     Recently we completed our church stewardship campaign. The program consisted of a series of messages, starting with the big picture of living for Christ. We then discussed how stewardship fits into a life that is pleasing to God, including the Bible’s guidance on managing money.
     As stewardship chairperson, I set up a meeting with our pastor before the campaign began to discuss how we would determine the success of the campaign. I expected his response to be something along the lines of a 5% increase in total giving, or perhaps more people pledging this year than last. But when I asked the question, I was surprised at his answer. He said his view of success would be seeing people move closer to God. The more I reflected on his response, the more I realized he was right.
     The widow in today’s story gave generously, and Jesus commended her for it. I honestly believe that God doesn’t care how much we give, but how we give — from the heart, joyfully, with a desire to move closer to God as an act of trust. If we are moving closer to God — in our worship, prayer, service, and witness — then our joyful, generous giving will follow as a natural expression of our thanks to God for all God gives to us.

Thought for the Day
Generous giving expresses our thanks to God.

O God, teach us to give joyfully so that we move ever closer to you. Amen.

Prayer focus:  Stewardship committees

The Author

John D. Bown (Minnesota, USA)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


Are you hesitant in making that first pledge?

When pledge season comes ‘round there is always the question, how much should I pledge?  Or even, should I pledge?  I have a couple of different ideas for calculating your first pledge--agreed, putting a number on paper is scary.  The number is your commitment to being part of a budget of an organization that *seems* like it should be ok and doesn’t really need the money.  For folks who haven’t grown up Episcopalian, it is often a surprise that Episcopal churches are largely congregation-funded.  We do not have the huge endowments of the Roman Catholic Church, and we are also required to pay into funds which support the larger mission of the church (including Mission, Education and Retirement funds).

Honestly, to put heat on in the building, National Grid needs the money, we are just the conduit of that transaction.  The same with the other utilities and pesky carrying costs of the building.

Here’s an unusual suggestion, consider a trip to St. Mark’s as valuable as a trip to the therapist or heart doctor.  A visit to church can be considered therapy for high-blood pressure, singing lessons, or a free concert.  It’s a Sunday mid-morning snack.  How to price all of the good and sweet things a church offers?

I am going to create a new health service--a Spiritual Health Co-Pay--If going to church gives you good mental health (eases anxiety, keeps you connected to community, makes you happy) consider sponsoring it at $20 per week or $60-80 per month.  Or $20 per month.  It is a Spiritual Health Co-Pay!

$20 per week = $1040 per year
$60 per month=$720 per year
$20 per month= $240 per year

Wow, that’s a huge disparity, isn’t it? Between $1040 per year and $240 per year?!  The truth is this:  if you are uncomfortable pledging $1040 and get analysis paralysis, we will have nothing to put in our spreadsheets calculating next year’s budget.  However, new pledges of $20 per month from non-pledging current members would be wonderful for our budget.

So, in making that first pledge, consider your investment in the church as your weekly Spiritual Therapy. Give generously if you are ok making that leap of Faith--otherwise, consider dipping your toe into the budgeting stream of the church by a humble $20 monthly payment.  

Please don’t stress and over-think this. All are welcome at The Lord’s Table and the Lord Loves a Cheerful Giver.   And there is no gawping at the list of contributions--there is one keeper of pledges and this person keeps it all under their hat.  Just prayerfully consider how much you can CHEERFULLY GIVE, and I believe the impact will bless you throughout the year.

--Susan Casale


As part of this year's Stewardship campaign, we are celebrating all the ways that we, as a parish, embody "Cheerful Giving." Outreach is a clear, tangible example of cheerful contribution of time, talent & treasure by many of us. 

Here are some (not all) examples: 

Eliot Church Monthly Meal - over 1000 served this year by a enthusiastic crew and some of the best meatloaves in New England! 

Chocolate Festival - over the past decade we have contributed in excess of $15,000 to area food pantries through our highly attended event. We all know the amount of effort needed to pull this off...Cheerfully. 

Westford Food Pantry benefits from hundreds of pounds of food from our ongoing collections. Especially critical in last few years. 

Lowell Wish Project Christmas campaign - we have been able to make hundreds of families and individuals holiday's just a little brighter, and its a really fun to shop for "boy - 3 years old, needs hat & gloves and a puzzle". 

Trinity School in Haiti - we provide 100s of dollars a year to help provide education and a safe place for kids in Haiti. 

Merrimack Valley Project - an important social justice organization that has driven important reforms in foreclosure processing and housing availability. The organization recognized our own Fran Fletcher this year for her work on the Walk for Hunger. 

This all happens because of the sacrifice, passion, and joy of the St. Mark's members. 
Remember that the foundation for these programs is the Stewardship of supporting St. Mark's itself. 

-- Scott Hilton


In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul writes,

The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

The month of November is Stewardship month, and our theme this year is CHEERFUL GIVING.

God loves a cheerful giver.  At St. Mark’s, we are engaged in mutual ministry, giving cheerfully of our time and talent.  God blesses us with many gifts to share, including financial resources.  In the coming weeks, we will provide information about our stewardship campaign using the Lion’s Roar, weekly parish emails, and blog posts.  We hope you will prayerfully consider offering a financial gift back to God in thanksgiving for all He provides.

Gratitude Sunday this year will be November 23, 2014.  On that day, we will present our pledge cards at the altar.  Every pledge counts, no matter how large or small, for it demonstrates your desire to participate in the ministries of St. Mark’s.  Hopefully, everyone will come forward with their pledge card, as individuals or as a family, to experience the grace of giving cheerfully.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


Welcome to MUSTARD SEEDS, the Blog of St. Mark's Church in Westford, Massachusetts

The New Testament provides several references to Mustard Seeds.  In the Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke each share Jesus' Parable of the Mustard Seed.  Matthew's retelling goes like this: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”  (Matthew 13:31-32)

Mustard plants grow like weeds.  The seeds are tiny, about the size of a pin head.  Yet, they germinate into herbaceous plants that produce abundant yellow flowers that yield more seeds.

In a few short growing seasons, a meadow that once was grass can become a field of mustard plants waving their yellow flowers.  Matthew exaggerates slightly in saying that the shrubs become trees, but the fields of mustard do provide food and nesting sites for birds and small animals.  Something great has grown from something very, very small. 

A Tiny Mustard Seed 
A Field of Mustard Plants

At St. Mark's, we have the opportunity to grow God's Kingdom right here in Westford and our surrounding communities.  In our Baptismal Covenant, we promise "to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves,"  Furthermore, we promise "to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being."  Sometimes, it can feel like a tall order to be the agents of change, working toward healing a world full of hurt, hatred, and injustice. How are we to make this happen?  How are we to grow something great from something very, very small?

Jesus has the answer for us, again using the tiny Mustard Seed as inspiration.  Jesus said,  "For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you." (Matthew 17:20)

FAITH.  The answer is FAITH.  It can be only the size of a mustard seed, and yet with God all things are possible.

Faithfully submitted by 
Jody Clark, Senior Warden