Our 2-year-old granddaughter and I were walking in the neighborhood. The family next door cares for a small dog that has a nasty-looking skin disease on its back. With a tender heart, our granddaughter looked at the dog and said,”That doggie needs its mommy.”
Compassion. We Presbyterians are compassionate. We care about one another, about our communities and about the world. Certainly, selfishness and self-centeredness often hold us back and limit our compassion. But on days when we live more fully in the Spirit, our compassion calls forth generosity. We give our time and money, because we hear the gospel call to “love one another not in word alone but in deed and in truth.”
In giving our money and we want to be both generous and effective. Wise as serpents – innocent as doves.
Congregations contribute unrestricted funds to the work of the national and international work of the PC(USA) through their general mission giving. That giving has declined dramatically from $17.5 million in 1996 to $9.3 million in 2010.
Presbyterians also contribute to Special Offerings: Peacemaking, Christmas Joy, One Great Hour of Sharing(OGHS) and the Pentecost offering. Those offerings have experienced a decline in the same time period, but the decline has not been as dramatic as the decline in unrestricted giving. In addition to these annual Special Offerings, Presbyterians respond to emergency appeals like for Katrina, Haiti, the Midwest floods and the tsunami in Japan. Giving in these categories varies dramatically from year to year. From 1996 to 2010 giving in these categories totaled about $98 million, averaging about $6.5 million per year.
Now a report is coming to the General Assembly from the Special Offerings Task Force that would radically alter the special offerings program. Among many other changes, giving to the OGHS offering would no longer be divided with fixed percentages among the Presbyterian Hunger Program (PHP), Self Development of People(SDOP) and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance(PDA). The Special Offerings Task Force proposes that the OGHS offering not be designated to support any particular program, but rather be allocated to projects that deal with hunger, disaster response, community development and peacemaking.
One of the fatal flaws in the task force’s recommendation is that it offers no guidance as to how a proposed undesignated mission fund of roughly $7-8 million will be allocated. If the PC(USA) proposes to distribute monies in that amount, someone, of course, would have designed a clear, transparent, democratic system that had been widely vetted in the church. No such proposed system exists.
Another fatal flaw is that Presbyterians have expressed their approval of the system of designated giving. That is what the statistics on giving from the General Assembly Mission Council show for all those who have eyes to see. Certainly, we all need to work to strengthen interpretation of the mission and work of the Hunger Program, SDOP and PDA. Those agencies need to cooperate in order to maximize their impact, especially when they work internationally. Dynamism, transparency and energetic interpretation will help generate increased support.
In our current system, people giving to OGHS know what they are giving to. The radical changes proposed by the task force would eliminate that clarity–and therefore, will probably lead to diminished giving. In some ways this is about saving One Great Hour of Sharing and supporting and expanding the work of the Presbyterian Hunger Program, Self Development of People and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.
Let us be compassionate in Jesus’ name. Let us be generous for the sake of the children of the world. And let us be wise as serpents, innocent as doves.
Brooks Smith is pastor emeritus of the Watchung Avenue Presbyterian Church in North Plainfield, N.J., and serves on the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Advisory Committee.