When they walked back in, Tim kept his eyes down, not wishing to discuss his brief departure with anyone right now. Rev John was smiling to cover any awkwardness that anyone around the table may or may not be experiencing. He briefly caught Kevin’s eye who was frowning and mouthing “Everything OK?” John mouthed nodded and sat down. The three of them sometimes did the pub quiz together, but from the look on Kevin’s face, he was entirely in the dark about Tim’s personal problems.
Rev John would later suggest to Tim that they all go out for a pint next Tuesday. He was sure Tim would feel better if he confided in Kevin, because what Tim didn’t know but of course Rev John did, was that Kevin had lost his previous bakery in the 2008 financial crisis and was well-versed in the nightmare of spiralling debt. It had been tough for Kevin but he eventually got back on his feet. If anything it had made him both stronger and more humble at the same time.
Plus, Kevin always brought freshly-baked Yum Yums whenever they went to the pub. Stout and sugary dough was the perfect combination for putting the world to rights. Also, though he’d be very surprised to hear this, Kevin was really good at praying in a very casual, conversational, no-nonsense kind of way. And this needed prayer.
“We were just chatting about the pros and cons of short-term campaigns vs long term culture change,” said The Generous Giving Project Officer to Rev John as a way of bringing him up to speed, “and Mary had some really interesting points.”
I’ll bet she did, though Rev John, looking from Mary to the Diocesan Officer and trying to work out what had happened in his absence. He couldn’t see any obvious signs of a fracas but that didn’t mean there hadn’t been one. Both of their faces were frustratingly passive, and he couldn’t for the life of him deduce whether Mary had actually partaken in thoughtful, constructive and polite discourse with their guest, or whether the conversation had followed a more familiar route.
“Mary could you share your thoughts on what we’ve been discussing so far?” Mary smiled sweetly at her, drew her vast frame upwards as though she were about to sing an opera, and addressed the room. She was clearly in her element.
John was really pleased to see that Mary and the GGPO had obviously been able to work together, and he wondered if this was the new Mary. Maybe future PCC meetings would be a little less terrifying. Or perhaps, he pondered, he’d been wrong about Mary altogether. He’d certainly been wrong before. Maybe she wasn’t severe, maybe she was….what was that word his mother used when describing Paxman….? Ah, assertive.
“Well our financial situation is dire, Reverend John, as you’re well aware. And we can’t ignore that, but, you see, if we just have a Stewardship Campaign, it will only serve to irritate those who already contribute all they can, and even if we do dig deeper, we can’t maintain it. Not those of us who already give sacrificially.” Hmm, harsh but probably true.
“And furthermore it will only worsen the perception that the church is only after people’s money. We only ever seem to talk about giving when we want people to do more of it. It is always when there’s an appeal. We rarely discuss generosity as an act of faith, in the context of God’s generosity.”
Rev. John bit his lip and used every ounce of effort in his body to not defensively blurt out that actually he had been preaching on generosity, Mary. He’d done it several weeks in a row and his preaching was not at all about an appeal for funds, it was about personal discipleship and God’s abundant blessing. Clearly she hadn’t been listening. His indignation was once again replaced by the ever-present fear that maybe he was a bit of a boring preacher and people just switched off. His eyes automatically drifted back to Moses in the basket.
Richard broke his gloomy reverie by weighing into the conversation with his deep and steady voice.
“We are certainly heading that way though aren’t we Mary? We’ve decided to start regularly communicating the generosity that already exists here.”
Though he’d cut Mary off mid-flow, he somehow always got away with it. Richard had the knack of bringing a sense of order and calm with a firm and yet gentle touch that could take the sting out of even the most heated debates. Not that this was heated. Mary was being surprisingly positive and had inexplicably completely changed her stance on the viability of short-term campaigns.
How long had they been in the loo?
Richard continued, “We’re going to make that list aren’t we, detailing our ‘generosity in numbers’?” He did his inverted commas thing and gave Mary an encouraging look, which, had anyone else given it, she’d have taken as patronising. She smiled sweetly and said “We are, Richard. We are indeed.”
It was very possible that Mary rather admired Richard in a way her quiet and nervous husband David would quite like to be admired. Everyone admired Richard though. Even though he nudged just a little too close to pomposity and self-importance on the odd occasion, Rev John wished he possessed a tenth of that man’s composure and dependability.
“What list Richard?” Rev John inquired, realising he hadn’t said anything at all since returning from the toilet with Tim.
“The generosity list. The Generous Giving Project Officer believes it’s fundamental to how St. Someone’s moves forwards. She reckons it will really help us to think differently about all this money and stewardship stuff, it’ll give us confidence, it’ll share the right message and it will inspire others to be even more generous. And that will have a positive impact on our bank balance and our mission plans”
“Well…? What is it then? What is this generosity in numbers list?”