As I mentioned last week, the Strategic Planning Working Group (SPWG) has done a lot of reading over the past year. I would be very grateful if you would allow me to share some of the ideas found in Holy Currencies by Rev. Eric H.F. Law, an Episcopal priest who founded an American institute to provide training and resources to churches throughout North America. In 2009, he noticed that half of the 37 congregations that he surveyed had concerns about money. Interestingly, Rev. Law discovered that those who spoke about being missional tended not to talk about sustainability, and those who spoke about sustainability, were often preoccupied by money as the only currency, and tended not to talk about being missional. Sound familiar?
Over half of the church leaders of these congregations also wanted resources to move their churches towards becoming both sustainable and missional. Rev. Law found that there weren’t many resources to help churches become more missional (until his book). So, what is a missional church and why is this important to Aylmer United? “It is a community of people who look outward and are able to connect with others who are not already members of any church organization”. Some of the questions the SPWG asked ourselves included whether we were focussed externally or were we so caught up on finances that we’ve lost the big picture of being a church? What is God’s plan for us and what makes Aylmer United different from the Knights of Columbus or the Optimists?
Rev. Law’s research summarized that in sustainable ministries, in addition to money, at least five other currencies flow through them: time and place, gracious leadership, relationship, truth, and wellness. Essentially, these currencies flow through the ministry and are exchanged for each other (like a barter system), which he called the Cycle of Blessings. I will elaborate on these currencies in future blogs. However, the sequence of the exchanges does not always follow the same pattern and not only replenishes the currency that was spent initially, but recirculates resources and regenerates more currencies, allowing the ministry to grow and expand. This model is based on the premises that God owns everything (we live in God’s creation after all), that God gives abundantly (all of the resources are here already), that we are to circulate God’s resources rather than keep them, and that God’s blessings are then recycled to create more blessings. Rev. Law notes that there is a Chinese saying “Water is money” and talks about how money and resources need to move and flow to do good and that if they stagnate, they become breeding pools for trouble and unsustainability.
The choice is ours, we can choose whether we use our currencies to flow in life-giving, truth-telling, relationship-building and community-building ways, or not. However, to be sustainable, Law summarized that it is the flow that gives these currencies value, that all of the currencies need to be used (not just some of them) and that the flow of these currencies must recirculate back to replenish depleted currencies, in fact making the ministry grow and be sustainable. Law also talked about doing more with less and how there were always people over at his house for Sunday dinner. He did not know that they were not well off and assumed that this meant that his family was “rich”. The reality was that his mother stretched the food into a feast for $3 by bargaining and careful purchasing AND there were leftovers! The interesting thing about that was that each member would refuse to take the leftovers and offer them to another person at the table who was more “deserving”. Each person would name someone else to eat the leftovers with a corresponding reason. Ultimately, they were used in the meal the following day. Talk about a “less is more exercise” and validating each individual person’s worth as deserving!
This is the kind of thinking about abundance and generosity that keeps these currencies flowing and continues this giving and receiving cycle. On Sunday and in the coming weeks, I would like to continue this discussion and try to impart some more of Rev. Law’s findings and how they related to the work that the SPWG is doing.