In early March, the church my husband and I belong to held its annual general meeting. This year there wasn’t a lot of discussion, but Paul, the representative of the finance and stewardship committee, got us all thinking.
The financial report is usually done as a “narrative budget,” with pie charts showing the various aspects of the congregation’s ministry. Up on the screen, we saw the percentages of our donations that had gone toward worship and spirituality; faith formation; pastoral care; community life; initiatives around missions, peace and justice; and the upkeep of our property.
Our congregation met our budget last year—with a bit of surplus—and that felt good! But the 2020 spending plan was increased over 2019, with some expected changes in leadership, cost-of-living adjustments for staff and some new dreams for ministry. There is no guarantee that we can meet that bottom line this year.
Before the congregation voted to approve the plan, Paul reminded us that the commitments we made to give financially actually had greater value than colourful pie charts can show. Behind each of the wedges were countless hours that volunteers from the congregation spent working alongside paid staff to make the various ministries happen. Behind each of those broad categories were people meeting in committees; people making connections with neighbours; teachers preparing Sunday school lessons; worship planners and leaders; musicians; food preparers and dishwashers; and people caring for our building and the nearby houses the church owns. In each category there were undoubtedly other congregants doing important and maybe hidden tasks.
Paul reminded us that—if we said yes to the money budget—we were also saying yes to all the various activities that money helped our congregation to do. Were we also committed to giving our time and our skills to help that money carry out the church’s ministries both inside and outside our walls?
Sitting there, with our stomachs growling for the potluck to follow, we pondered the two types of commitment he was calling us to: the chequebook and the calendar. How had our church made a difference in people’s lives last year because we had taken seriously both of these commitments? What more could we do in 2020 with that same—or a higher—level of commitment?
Whether you are guided by a paper calendar or a digital one, or whether your activities require less structure, the way you spend your time indicates your values, your commitments, your priorities. Paid work, study, housekeeping, caregiving, shopping, entertainment, sports: How do these seemingly good things fill the time slots of our days? And which times slots—besides Sunday morning worship—do we give to the ministry of our congregation, our regional church, the nationwide and the worldwide church? Some of us practise the tithing of our income. Do we consider tithing our time?
In a new From Our Leaders column, Garry Janzen, who serves as executive minister of Mennonite Church British Columbia, wonders about how people might offer their time to help carry out God’s vision in that fair province. One person who has shared time and talents generously is Lee Dyck, who served that regional church for the past seven years. At the recent MC B.C. annual meeting, delegates acknowledged her service as she stepped down from the responsibility. It wouldn’t be easy to calculate the hours that Lee and many other volunteer leaders have given to help Canadian Mennonites carry out our collective mission.
Here’s a shout-out of gratitude to the people who intentionally carved out time for the ministry of the church in the past year, whether close to home or in a wider setting. And here’s a reminder to those of us who sat back thinking that our chequebook commitment was enough: Time to pull out that calendar. What gifts and skills has God given you? How might your passions be harnessed for God’s work in the world? What time slots will you offer to your congregation and to the larger church?
Since the publication of our March 2 issue, the name of the nationwide study conference, originally called “Rethinking dinner: The essence of church,” as reported in the editorial “Structure and identity,” has been changed by Mennonite Church Canada to “Table talk: Does the church still have legs?” Watch for details in upcoming issues.