Still a battle for hearts and minds
Perhaps it’s time churches consider setting up a central body to collect offerings and monetary donations with the sole objective of re-distributing it among functioning churches and local parishes according to need.
At least to ensure a more equitable distribution of funds and give battling churches a lifeline. As it is now, it is not the practice of governing bodies (eg Synods) nor that of the richer parishes with excess funds to leave room in their budgets to aid struggling ones.
Each parish is responsible for its finances. Old churches with dwindling, aging congregations and mounting utility bills do not get any outside financial help . But when a church is decommissioned due to financial reasons and the land and building, often bought with private funds, sold, Synod, collects. Though the money is meant to be for use by the ‘wider church’, how do you justify a government that just taxes but have no plans to aid tax-payers financially when such aid is deserving?
It has to be acknowledged and appreciated that many elderly worshippers are dedicated, lifelong Christians who have worshipped at the same church building for decades. They were baptized there, married there, their children and grandchildren were baptized and married there, they have had funerals of loved ones held there. In the closing chapter of their life, they are sustained by precious memories and their incontrovertible faith.
Like it or not, architecture and scripture have become intertwined. And not surprisingly, part of their hearts and souls. For them to come to a decision to abandon it due to inability to pay utilities or insurance premiums is heart-breaking . Synod should not view financial aid to such churches as, for want of a better phrase ‘a waste of funds’. The funds may or may not prove useful in helping to enlarge the congregation or reviving the church in the longer run, but that should not be the criteria. They should be given out on the basis of compassion and goodwill, if nothing more.
There is a human dimension here that cannot be negated or rendered invalid by cold considerations of what is or what is not practical or logical and what is or what is not cost- effective or expedient.
Would not the head of the church, Christ himself, if he could today, direct the parts of his body with resources to spare, reach out and share their excess with those in dire lack? Would He not have regarded those faithful Christians in danger of losing their beloved place of worship among the dispossessed? Is not the giving of respect and dignity to the weak and elderly part of ‘mission’?
There must be no discernible gaps or cracks between what the church preaches and what it practices. It will do well to remember that in this day and age that Christianity is still very much a battle for hearts and minds.
Kimmy Fam, Sydney, NSW
The writer, a member of the Uniting Church in Australia, holds degrees in law and the science of economics from the University of London, and is considering taking up a BD (Bachelor of Divinity) course from UOL.