Handling The Newcomers

Even the best PCCs have one of those meetings from time to time. This evening was certainly one of them. Everyone seemed to be at odds with everyone else. Perhaps it was the darker night that was affecting their mood.

“…which is exactly why it shouldn’t be me!” huffed Mary, red in the face looking indignant and cross. David was slightly scared of his wife Mary, and especially so during PCC meetings when she seemed to steam and froth at the mere idea that she might take on another responsibility. David thought Mary really ought to take on more at church but could never say so. She hadn’t actually done anything since the summer fete in 2002, yet it blazed vividly in people’s minds like it was yesterday because she reminded people of it so very often.

“No of course not Mary, not after all you did with the bunting…” Rev John trailed off hoping someone else would speak up. Someone had to volunteer. The Newcomers had been coming for 23 months now and it was about time someone had this conversation with them. But please, Lord, don’t let it be me, he thought.

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“We absolutely have to do something about this,” said Richard firmly. Richard was a bit of a know-it-all, but in fairness he did know it all. “Why don’t we make a list of reasons why Christians are called to contribute financially to the church, then discuss it?”

What an annoyingly good idea, thought Sarah, pursing her lips as Richard dished out coloured post-it notes. Sarah wished she could have good ideas like Richard, but he always got in there first.

“Some people might think…” started Claire, by which she meant herself, “…that the newcomers should give so we can have a break. Just saying.”

Rev John looked at his knees, noticing what looked like bolognese on his left leg, and thought it simply madness that anyone would think contributing to the church was something that should be taken in turns. It was part of being a Christian. It was for everyone. How did people not know? Then he wondered when he’d last preached on it, and realised he’d only actually done it once, ever, well over a year ago.

“Telling them it’s just their turn isn’t really a good reason.” said Richard. “I was thinking more along the lines of giving generously is what keeps the church afloat.”

“Pah!” snorted Sarah. Sarah was a retired nurse, and whilst being one of the most committed Christians most people could think of, including Rev John, she never seemed that fond of ‘the church’. Indeed it was her favourite thing to complain about.

“Come off it Richard. The church has plenty. Look at St Paul’s Cathedral. It was on the telly last night. All those fancy buildings.”

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“We can’t sell St Paul’s Sarah!” said Rev John with a note of desperation in his voice. “And it’s not even in this diocese.” He could hardly believe he was making this argument, but looking around, he detected that Sarah’s point about “All those fancy buildings” had maybe hit a chord with others. So he pressed on, “The church isn’t rich. It’s not. What pays for it, is the people in the pews.” He looked around for support, but it seemed only Richard was convinced on this one, and the rest avoided his eyes. Rev John hated confrontation but this was important so he took a deep breath and began.

“The church isn’t supported by the state. Once upon a time we were mostly supported by money from the Church Commissioners, and still using funds from Queen’ Anne’s bounty, which was donated over 300 years ago to help poor clergy. Not only are we not supported by that anymore, but if we just relied on that, or on selling of our land, we’d be missing a fundamental point.”

He paused and looked at them. They just stared back. He briefly wondered if he might also have bolognese on his face too. He continued in the same slightly desperate tone, “Giving is part of being a Christian. Regardless of what other sources of income the church has or doesn’t have, and in this case Sarah, it really doesn’t have, we should give because it’s what we’re called to do. Jesus…”

Bolognaise

He trailed off. The atmosphere was tense. Richard felt sorry for Rev John. He was a good sort but really not cut out for handling disagreements. The poor chap looked like he might break. He was far better at the pastoral stuff. And was that bolognese sauce on his shoulder?

Rev John could see Richard staring at him intently and thought miserably that perhaps he wasn’t convinced either. He concluded, “…Jesus teaches us that generosity is really important.” He knew he was right on this point but his tolerance for confrontation had been reached and his was filled with self-doubt and frustration. His dog collar felt very tight.

Mary, who was normally a blustery and severe lady, was actually very sensitive deep down and hated ill feeling, even though, if you asked her husband David, she was normally the root of it. She broke the atmosphere by saying “Well John, I think that’s a very good point and should certainly go on the post it notes.” She prodded David and hissed “Well write it down then David.”

David looked at Rev John and asked. “I’ll just write ‘Can’t use bounty’ shall I?”

Instead of answering, Rev John sighed and looked out of the window, wondering absently if he’d left tissues in his cassock pockets again when he’d put a dark wash on before leaving the vicarage. He’d buy sellotape on his way home just in case. Oh, what a joyless day, Lord. If only people naturally felt the urge to give, and then they wouldn’t have to sit round with post it notes stuck all over their elbows and knees.

Kevin the pastry chef, who had also noticed Rev John’s dinner splashed indiscriminately about his clothing, felt sympathy with his situation. They were both single men in their late forties just trying their best at life. In Kevin’s case it was creating exquisite macarons, and in John’s it was saving souls. Kevin had been studying his Holy Bible with the same attention he gives Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, so said helpfully,

“Here’s why I think we should contribute to the church, for what it’s worth. Jesus’ work was supported by women; Mary Magdalene, Joana and Susanna. Even though he was the Son of God. He could turn water into wine and raise the dead and that. He could’ve supported himself with way more money than Queen Anne’s bounty, but he didn’t. Jesus said it was more blessed to give than to receive, and so he allowed those ladies to support his ministry, which was a blessing for ‘em. We should give, not just ‘cos there’s a need, but ‘cos we’re blessed when we give, and it’s what Jesus said we should do. When we do what Jesus says, it’s how we get closer to Him. I think that’s more important than what the money’s actually for.”

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Kevin wasn’t the most eloquent of communicators, thought Rev John, but boy could he get a point across. What a relief. Every church needed a Kevin. John smiled wearily.

Suddenly Natalie stood up to put the coffees on. The meeting had run on, again. Amy, the youngest PCC member, who ran youth group with Natalie, said “I have to catch the bus. We didn’t really talk about how to deal with the newcomers, did we?”

Rev John sighed and said “No, I think that’s all for tonight folks. Newcomers and how we talk to them about joining in will have to wait until next time. But I think we’re onto the right track. We’ll pick it up next time. Let’s get the biscuits out and say the Grace.”

If you want to read more from Rev John and the gang at St. Someone’s click here

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