Aligning our Lives with God: A Sermon for the 2023 Annual Appeal

Good morning! Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, and the Sunday before Thanksgiving–hence our beautiful harvest altar.

It’s also about the halfway point in our Annual Appeal when I speak a little bit about it from the pulpit. I’m going to do something I’ve never done before and talk straightforwardly about the budget to begin. I’m very proud of this budget and want to be sure we all understand it. Then I’ll talk about giving, and what it means, practically, spiritually, and personally, for me. [If you’d like to skip ahead to the “sermon” portion, scroll down to the ***]

Our 2023 budget you should have received in the mail. It looks like this. I’m happy to say it’s not very complicated. Everything you would expect for a church like ours to function is there. On the expense side, there’s the church staff consisting of a Rector, Associate Priest, Music Director, and Director of Finance and Operations. All adding up to a total (for next year) of $400,000. 

Together this staff runs children’s programs, music programs, adult education, youth groups, pilgrimages, our pastoral programs, and of course worship services with sermons, anthems, Communion, all that you see here week in and week out. It’s hard to simply say, we budget this much for Christian education, or this much for worship, because so much of that is built into the staffing piece of the pie. So for example, Christian ed. I do a lot of Christian ed, Matthew does too, as does Mo. Eliza. Worship is the time we spend on sermons, preparing liturgies, making and printing bulletins, rehearsing music, working with altar guild; the entire staff is engaged in the worship every week.

We get a lot for $400,000. We have an efficient and hard working staff, reduced in recent years. They’ve taken on the responsibilities, administrative and more, of previous positions that no longer exist. Which makes their work all the more impressive. We should be grateful for every one of them.

Also on the expense side is worship and education. This includes things that don’t fall under staff salaries, like expenses related to classes taught, confirmation, Red Door Explorers, the adult Bible classes, hospitality expenses we include in here, and costs associated with our choir and instrument maintenance–things that help us worship. All this comes to $68,000. 

Our property is a big piece of the pie here at St James. We have to heat and power our buildings, which includes this church, the parish hall, the offices and nursery school, and three houses. We have to keep our properties clean, mow and maintain our grounds, and pay insurance on everything here. All of that totals $260,000 a year. 

And last, there’s outreach. We pay an assessment each year to the Diocese of New York, calculated by our expenses. It’s the biggest part of that outreach piece of the expense pie, and we’ve put it here because so much of the diocesan assessment that we pay goes to outreach programs on the diocesan level. We often forget that being part of a larger organization allows us to do good on a far greater scale than what we see and do here in our local parishes. And some of that assessment goes just to the operations of the diocese (without which we couldn’t exist). That piece of the pie comes to $144,000. I should add that next year we will be applying for relief of that figure, so you may very well see this go down a bit in the final budget. 

Our total expenses come to $873,000.

To pay for all this, moving to the income side, again it’s fairly basic. We have some rental income from outside groups, from our two rental homes, and also the nursery school; this is a category that’s rife with potential, and we’re working on that.

Next in income, we do draw from our endowment to cover annual operating expenses. I’m happy to report that we’ve brought that draw down, making it at or very close to 6%, and that’s using a conservative calculation on the draw that the vestry put in place 2 years ago. It’s left us scrambling to cut and adjust, but it’s important to have a consistent and prudent way of calculating the draw. And now we do. My goal is to bring that solidly to 5% within the next 3-4 years, and hopefully down as low as 4% in time. 6% is still too high but we have to work our way to this so as not to totally disrupt our life together.

And finally in income: pledges. Over half our income comes from pledging. Someday we need to get that number up to ¾ of our total income.  If we keep drawing new families–right now we’re at 135 families, if we can add ten or more per year as we’ve been doing–we probably will get to that figure. For now, we’re aiming for 55% in pledge income in 2023. That’s $475,000, with a hoped for 145 families.

So that’s the proposed budget, total income same as total expenses: $873,000.


Now let me talk about giving. I think a lot of us (I count myself here too) approach giving to our church in a transactional way. Consultants tell us this is more and more how people think about giving to their churches, and I’m not at all opposed to that, namely because I think many people far undervalue their church in their giving. Over all my years as a rector, I’ve never had someone suddenly wake up and realize they were giving too much to their church for what they get. People sometimes have to reduce their pledges out of financial hardship, but never has someone once said to me, “You know, I way overpay for what I get out of this place” and then reduced.

What I have heard people say, time and again, is: yes, it’s true. When I add up all that I receive, and my children–in programs, worship, perspective on life, a place to do outreach, a place of solace in hard times, community, the care of a priest whenever I need, the connection to history and something larger–when I add all that up, I’ve been way under giving to my church.

So do think transactionally about your pledge. Undervaluing church is one of the most common things I see at Annual Appeal time. And it’s always a joy–and a relief for them–to see someone discover this and start giving more.

But there’s also a spiritual side to giving money.

Jesus talked about money more than anything else, and this, even though he was never trying to raise money for anything. Think about it: he wasn’t pitching for his church (there were no churches), his synagogue, or a charitable organization. So why did he talk so much about money? Because he cared about people. Because he knew that how we use our money can be a path–judging from his preaching, the most important path, because a tangible one–to a richer, deeper spiritual life with God. 

We’ve baptized 12 kids this fall–that’s remarkable. When we baptize here at St. James, we pour water out of a shell three times over the child’s head, for the Trinity. That’s been a practice since the early middle ages. But baptism originally, and in many churches (even Episcopal) still today, is a much more immersive experience. Your whole body goes in, every bit of it. There is not one part of ourselves that’s exempted from the vows we make at our baptism to turn our lives entirely over to God. Including the hand that holds our wallet. It’s baptized too. If we don’t have God in mind with the financial decisions we make, not only are we not fully living into our baptismal vows, but we’re missing a huge opportunity to put our faith into action. And that’s what our life as Christians is all about.

One of Jesus’ most famous sayings about money is, Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. I don’t read this as a judgment, as in: let’s see where you spend your money and evaluate the state of your soul. I see it as an invitation. Our money can be actively used, moved to the place where we want our hearts to be, even if our heart isn’t there yet. It’s a tool for spiritual improvement. And if we start using our money like the kind of person we want to be would use it, then lo and behold, we’ve become that person.

It’s kind of amazing. 

Jesus talked a lot about money because he cared about people. What we do with our money is in our control, and it can change us, for the better. Giving to support church is part of that total alignment of our lives with God. 

To end on a personal note, I give to St. James. I grew up watching my parents give. They give 10%, the Biblical “tithe.” To this day if they decide to give their monthly church check to St. James, as they sometimes do, I can always calculate their current income from it. They’ve had some hard years, some better. I’ve never once thought Maybe they’re not tithing; rather, oh, their income must be down. I’m grateful that they did that and that they talked to us about it when we were kids. 

For years, I’ve worked my way closer to that standard, which is the Biblical standard. But because of my circumstances this year, I realized, if I don’t just do this, I may miss my chance. So finally–and let me tell you it’s a relief–I’ll be tithing my salary this year. My husband gives a percentage too, and it’s not the tithe, so, full disclosure. But this is very important to me because it was modeled. Everyone is different, and I get that; my husband and I are different.  

But I say this to our parents here: Be open with your kids about the value you put on this place as expressed through your giving. It’s one more way, along with just coming to church week in week out, that they’ll know it’s important. And maybe something will stick.

If you’ve already pledged, thank you so much. I’m asking all of you to give what you can, and try to make it generous. Few things are more deserving than this, here, all of it. And look at it this way: the faster we get through this appeal, the shorter the sermons will get! Thank you for your generosity in listening, too.