The tension in the air was apparent to all those weary Crisis Meeting veterans, many sporting that thousand yard “one hour into a PCC meeting” stare.
Mary had just been saying how she couldn’t imagine what immediate impact the Project could have, so what was the point, when the Generous Giving Project Officer herself had walked in. An awkward moment. Mary replaced her spectacles, and shuffled her papers, embarrassed, and hopeful she hadn’t offended the woman. Apologising could make things worse. She may not have heard. Best continue to shuffle papers.
Rev John stood up, knocking over his empty cup in his haste, which clattered on its saucer. An effective, if unintended diversion. That was Rev John. He lumbered awkwardly to the door and welcomed the Generous Giving Project Officer to the seat he’d left spare, saying how terribly pleased they all were that she’d come back to talk to them. He shook her hand and immediately forgot her name as soon as their hands met.
His palm began to sweat. He became very aware of this. His agenda with her name on it was on the table but it would’ve been far too obvious to steal a glance. Still sweating, he kept shaking her hand and smiling wildly.
“Hello! Hello!” He said again. Then, “It’s always a pleasure to have a visit from… the Diocese,” Phew. Dodged. But Mary was on him and immediately corrected, “We are the Diocese John. This is a Diocesan Officer. But we…”
“Yes, yes, sorry, of course, yes.” He flustered and smiled awkwardly and quickly sat down, trying not to notice Mary shaking her head.
He wiped his hand on his trousers (as did she, he couldn’t help but notice). Please Lord, let things improve.
The PCC had rearranged their faces into sincere smiles. They really were glad of her arrival. Their last meeting had been so filled with hope and new ideas, that most of the members had genuinely been looking forward to her return. Most.
Tim hadn’t been. Tim resented any mention of money. He had a stack of unopened letters in his hall, which he ritually shredded once a month, such was his aversion to reading bills or bank statements. Unhappy, in debt, and in real need of support that he couldn’t bring himself to ask for, a meeting like this touched on every one of his nerves. If only he could tell someone, he wouldn’t have to be fearful of the postman, or the debt collectors, or his ex-wife. Tim was in this middle of his own crisis.
“So are you hear to tell us to give more? Or tell us how to fleece other people of their money?”
The questions leapt out of his mouth before he could soften their edges. He wasn’t a rude person, he was just in a mess, and he’d not really listened to what the Generous Giving Project was about. If he decided it was about taking money from the poor, he could justify his self-righteous indignation and affront at her presence, which he already felt bad about. Tim was a good guy.
People were visibly cringing at his outburst.
Fortunately, she didn’t take this hostile start to the meeting at all personally. This was her 37th PCC meeting. She knew by now, that every person in the room had their own personal worries, concerns, traditions, and histories that influenced their approach to money.
She knew that in every chair sat a person who loved their church and loved their community and loved God. Who wanted to see their church not just survive, but flourish, and who couldn’t help but have very human doubts, because the problem was big. But so was God.
“Why don’t we start with prayer, before we get into all that?” The room fell silent, and this time the silence made space for peace, and peace drove out the tension. Silence. They sat, and they waited, and they prayed to God. And then the meeting began.
Instead of getting straight down to the business of their financial situation, or going over the answers to the generosity audit they’d been working on, the Generous Giving Project Officer came from a completely different angle.
She asked them to turn to their neighbour, and recall and share (as much or little as they liked) any early memories they had about money. The idea being that we’re shaped by our experiences, that we make decisions based on how our family approached money when we were young, and that this influences by how we interact with money as were grow up.
So by recalling money memories, we can begin to work out why we approach finances the way we do. Sarah told Claire about penny sweets. Claire told Sarah about dinner money. David told Kevin about paying the milkman. Kevin told David about doing the pools. Mary told Jan about her father being made redundant from the factory when she was 11 and them having to sell their house. Jan told Mary about breeding gerbils to sell outside the school gates to save money to buy roller-skates. Tim was sat next to Rev John.
“Sorry about before,” he whispered. They weren’t doing the memory thing then.
“Is everything OK?” asked Rev John, quietly, so no-one could hear that they weren’t sharing money memories.
“Not really John,” Tim whispered angrily. “I just don’t see why we have to talk about money. And besides I can’t give any more than I’m giving. If that’s all tonight’s about, I’m wasting my time. Whatever.” He looked really upset, and like he wanted to say more, but instead he folded his arms.
Rev John had a sudden brilliant pastoral insight for which he would later be very thankful. “Everything OK at home Tim?” Rev John quietly and carefully probed. There was barely a pause.
“No everything’s not OK at home.” Tim forgot to keep his voice down and was now at normal volume, actually quite a bit louder than the neighbouring pairs, discussing piggy banks, miners strikes and paper rounds.
“I lost my job 3 weeks ago. I missed another shift because I had to be in court about a fine that I hadn’t paid. I was late getting out and had to get the bus then walk to work because I sold my car to pay a different fine. I couldn’t tell my boss why I was late again so they fired me. I’m skint John, and I come here and it’s all give, give, give.”
Rev John had no idea about any of this. He felt hurt that Tim hadn’t told him sooner. They were friends. He could have helped. But this personal hurt was immediately replaced by sadness for Tim and his situation and a desire to make it right.
He also wanted to tentatively point out that Tim had missed the point of the evening and perhaps hadn’t understood the approach of the Generous Giving Project. But maybe now wasn’t the right time for that. “Something for later”, he reflected.
The whole room had heard Tim’s very personal account even though many had raised their own voices to cover his, in order to avoid communal embarrassment. Everyone pretended nobody had heard anything and as the activity drew to a close many chose to look out of the windows or busy themselves by flicking through the agenda. Some PCC members looked to the Generous Giving Project Officer, curious as to how she’d handle it.