Thinking Quakers, Money and Stewardship

cadbury chocolate milk fruit nut

A couple months back I started feeling the tug to wrestle with the topic of money in the church. As a preacher, I’ve largely avoided the topic like the plague. These are the kinds of things I nightmares about. I was a budding and impressionable young man when PTL when bankrupt and Jim Baker headed off to jail. In fact, truth be-told, my family had a membership to the resort for at least one year because I remember going there for a vacation! I know standing up to talk about money creates anxiety for people. Probably most of us know what it’s like to have been made to feel guilty about not giving enough. We all know the characters on TV, many of us have grown weary with the church and all its hypocrisy around money.

It’s difficult for me because I grew up poor. By the time I was a teenager my family of 8 was living on my step-dad’s social security of about $12,000 a year. I remember not feeling welcome at schools and churches because we didn’t have the right clothes – we looked poor and we didn’t have much or any money to give as an offering. On the other hand, I remember fondly churches bringing my family groceries, Christmas presents, and even paying our mortgage so that our house would not go into foreclosure. But my family knew more about what it felt like to feel ashamed about money then it did to ever feel “successful.” While I have a full-time job now, and even a college education, we are a one-income family we live “simply” out of necessity as much as because it is a testimony of ours. Needless to say, I bring some of my own questions, and baggage to the topic.

But it’s something I feel strongly about too. Recently, I wrote about how many church’s today seem to be more focused on becoming more like department stores, than communities that participate in God’s work in the world. I have written about these issues often, usually under the language of simplicity/plainness (see Queries on Simplicity and Simplicity in a World of Excess.) I write about these things because I am drawn to them, because I see the need for them in our lives, not because I have somehow magically mastered the practice.

However, talking directly about money and giving in the church via sermons feels like a different issue, than blogging about simplicity. But I knew it was my work to undertake this fall. So I have committed myself to three messages that relate to money, giving, and stewardship for our meeting in Camas. Part of my commitment has led me to needing to learn more about this. I’ve done a lot of asking questions of others, researching and reading. I even interviewed a Quaker fundraiser! Some of my questions are: how should we relate to money as Friends (individually and as a meeting)? How is it that many of our churches/meetings struggle so much with money and discussing it, when in earlier parts of our movement Quakers were well-known and trusted as business savvy people (Cadbury, Lloyd, Rowntree, Barclay, Frys, etc)? How do we think about the bible’s teaching around tithing, the rich young man (Mk 10), Zacchaeus, the widow and her two mites, Acts 2, and other teachings about money in the bible. Some of these questions mean that we need to look back to our tradition and find what resources are there for us and how they help us make sense of these questions.

-What has been your experience around these or related questions?

6 responses to “Thinking Quakers, Money and Stewardship”

  1. I’m glad to see Friends are starting to look squarely at the issues of money. The current issue of Friends Journal is a prize example.
    In the early ’90s, several circles of New England Friends were independently examining and discussing related facets of wealth, income, labor, and time — a whole complex, especially as it hit on our deeper emotional and spiritual conflicts. As we discovered, these are usually matters we like to keep private, no matter how unhealthy that can be.
    Now that the current economy has many of these issues affecting our yearly and monthly meetings in a negative way, too, it’s time to renew the discussion.
    In February I’ll begin posting exercises and other materials from the earlier work in the hope it will help others. The Talking Money series will appear at “Chicken Farmer I Still Love You” (
    I hope it becomes part of a much wider range of thinking and application among Friends. We have quite a wonderful legacy to draw on.
    Keep up the good work!

    • Jhana – I am eager to see what you’ll be posting! I hope that we can stir up creativity and further theological dialogue in these matters.

  2. And some meetings have some of those business-savvy people in them, but some are not very spiritual. Thus, you may get someone who knows how to raise money or run a building campaign, but how they go about it may be less than desirable spiritually. I don’t know that God is pleased that people give or are able to raise funds while being bullied. So, there is a balance to be struck.

  3. As I’m on the Capital Campaign Committee for FCNL, this issue is very timely. We spent our first meeting largely focused on our spiritual lives and the core of our work. Lots of really basic questions, eg ‘what is a significant gift?” (recognizing that $100 may be sacrificial and the $10,000 an easy gift) and “do we name things after donors?” as well as understanding our approach to potential donors and the purposes for the use of the money. It is a hard topic for Friends to talk about in many ways.

    • Marge, thanks for the comment. Very timely indeed. I am glad these organizations are wrestling with these questions as well.