It's budget-prep time here at WMC as our church council looks toward the 2015 fiscal year and our semi-annual congregational business meeting in February.  While the "numbers people" talk cost-of-living projections and rate-of-increase percentages (or whatever), my mind starts to wander.

This year, one of my frequent wanderings has been a big-picture wondering about the relationship between the local church and its partners in church and charity work.

When I was growing up, my Brethren In Christ church was very invested in world missions.  From what I recall, the church collected money--lots of it--from the congregation, then that money went to the BIC Mission Board who then distributed it to their various mission projects and missionaries as needed.  It was a similar story with local ministries and other charities; if an individual had a passion for a particular project then an appeal would be made to the church decision-makers to add that project to the list of charities the church supported.

The local church was always the financial link between the congregation and whatever projects church members wanted to support.

In recent years, however, there's been a shift to a different model of charitable support.  If your mailbox (email and otherwise) looks anything like mine, it's often filled with requests from charities of all shapes and sizes: child sponsorships, Upstream projects, missionaries responsible for raising their own support... even Mennonite Church Canada is sending out mass appeals directly to individual donors these days.  The appeal is always personal and direct: if you care about X person or project, send your donation to this organization immediately and directly (or pray first, for religious organizations, then send the money).

The connection is now directly between the individual and the charitable organization; the local church isn't part of the equation any longer.

Now there's nothing wrong with charities directly looking to individuals for support; perhaps its appeal to personal/consumer satisfaction and control even in charitable giving isn't the best, but it's the way business is done--particularly as church attendance wanes across Canada.

What I wonder is about the impact of this new formula on the budgets of local churches?  Assuming that the amount of money donated hasn't significantly increased under this model (cynical, but probably true), the pie is just being divided differently.  More money goes directly to charities, while less goes into the offering plate at church.  Church budgets aren't as big as they could be, but a significant contributing factor is that much of the money that used to be routed through the local church is now going directly to the charities congregants wish to support.  Not a problem, and not a sign of a decrease in generosity, either.

If this is the case, though, perhaps our church budget should reflect this reality without feeling guilty that our church isn't giving (more) money to our partner organizations.

Of course it's fair to question the nature of internal spending; if the money--and time and focus--the church invests in its own projects and programming only benefit those within the church, that is a problem that should be addressed.  

But if, as is the case at WMC in my opinion, our resources are wisely and fairly invested in the work of the church, that's not being selfish.  We share our building with the community as much as possible, we encourage our staff to invest time with projects of Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Church Canada and SK, we use our communication platform to promote the good work of local and international charities, and we genuinely "provoke one another to love and good deeds."  Our internal spending makes all of this work outside of ourselves possible.  If this is the case, it's not selfish to use our resources internally to empower this work.

What do you think?

Do people still give money to the local church assuming that it will be distributed to other charities?  Or should the church budget be more (if not entirely?) about what the local church is directly involved in, trusting and encouraging church folks to give widely and generously of their time and money to other charitable organizations as individuals?

Is a potential decline in the amount our church budgets in support of partner organizations a reflection of a (selfish) drift in the priorities of the church, or is it more of a matter of how money is donated and how those donations are counted?

Or is there value in paying forward a portion of donations, even as a symbolic demonstration of our collective priorities and purposes beyond the local church?  Do we have a collective financial responsibility to our partner organizations that goes beyond encouraging individual donations?

Some of the things I think about while the details of the 2015 budget numbers whiz in one ear and out the other...

The first two posts in this series cover two things:

  1. In order to move myself to a place of transcendence, I need to unload myself from the busy nature of life and carve out time to create a space for prayer and meditation.
  2. In order to move myself to a place of transcendence, I need to fidget my body. I need to have an opportunity to stimulate my nervous system in order to stay focused — otherwise the train of thought will leave the station.

This all leads to my final blog (for now) on what I call my ADHD Spirituality. 

There is a role that the community can play to strengthen the spirituality of someone with a hyperactive mind.

There are two moments in the last few weeks that have kicked me up into a “spiritual high.” The first happened in a private time of prayer, and the second in a communal time of prayer.

First, there were some difficult conversations taking place with all the churches in the province which I was a part of. There were some comments made that were troubling as we wrestled with matters of inclusion for LGBT persons in the church, and I unfortunately fell victim to some hateful comments. I arrived home and my mind was racing - I said to myself…I need scripture.

I grabbed my Bible, I sat down on the couch — placed a cross on the ottoman and I opened up to Psalm 43. I read it through a few times out loud, slowly — internalizing the words. I began to focus on a few lines that seemed to dance off the page. I closed my eyes and focused on those word and I prayed with them. I used them to enter into communion with God. Ah yes — it’s been a while since I’ve been in this place.

The following week there was a time of sharing where I shared a bit about my experience at these meetings with our congregation. I was open, vulnerable and in need of prayer. 

Joe had asked the congregation to rise and come forward and to surround me in prayer — a laying of hands. I felt an overwhelming amount of hands start to touch me as people gathered around me. The warmth and love of the congregation was radiant. I felt lifted up, supported and as I listened to the words of the prayer - I felt in communion with God, mediated through the hands of the congregation. I am still left with the sensation of the hands on my back, the side hugs, and the hand holding.

There are two takeaways from this experience: 

First, In this specific activity of the laying of the hands, the weight of the hands, the warmth of the person next to me with their arms wrapped around me kept me stimulated and present in the moment, aware of God's love and the love of the congregation. The community plays an important role in forming and strengthening the spirituality of the individual by large gestures such as a laying of hands. In my own story, Wildwood built on my private time of prayer with a laying of hands. On the flip side, if the individual desires this practice and type of formation, the individual is called to engage in a practiced private time of prayer so that they to can contribute and strengthen the common spirituality shared by the congregation. I believe that spiritual formation is a mutual activitity.

Second, we have to resist the temptation to stick with the status quo by boxing up our prayer practices. We can do this by intentionally finding ways to engage all types of people and their pathways into prayer - by doing so the community can bring everyone who wishes to participate to a place of transcendence — being in communion with God.

After a Remembrance Day service, I talked with a stranger about the tragic loss of life in war. He quickly gravitated to expressing sympathy for families of Canadian Armed Forces personnel who lost a family member in Afghanistan. When I asked if he felt sympathy for Afghan families also, whether combatants or not, he looked at me in stunned silence, turned, and walked away.

When someone is declared to be the enemy, usually by governments, citizens of those governments often unquestioningly accept that declaration. Yet is the "enemy" not also a thinking, feeling, breathing human like us?

When we start to consider how the "enemy" is like us, the rationale for fighting begins to unravel and becomes gradually replaced with a desire to know, understand, and assist these strangers.

Reaching the Other Side is the story of someone brave enough to get to know the "enemy". Earl S. Martin, an M.C.C. worker in Vietnam at the end of the war, recounts the fascinating journey of faith that brought him into face-to-face contact with the North Vietnamese military, the "enemy".

His story gives us a modern glimpse into the peace vision that the writer of Ephesians presents.

"For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. " Ephesians 2:14-16.

What might making peace with our political enemies look like? What might making peace with our personal enemies look like?

Have you ever walked into an old, extremely opulent church building with walls covered in marble, stain glass windows lining the walls as you walk in depicting the birth, life and death of Christ, Latin words carved into the stone in a centre dome, angels floating above you on the ceiling, an area to light candles for a loved one, a bowl filled with water for you to touch to remind you of your baptism, and a gift shop? Anytime someone tells me about a recent visit to one of these spaces they always say “it was just so much! I couldn’t handle all of it.”

I have always appreciated these types of churches. As an Anabaptist I’m told that I come from a rich heritage that emphasizes our interior design not being so…rich. However I love these opulent buildings because of what they do for me spiritually– and I never realized until more recently why I love these places so much.

On a recent trip to Buffalo, New York my friend took me to Our Lady of Victory National Shrine & Basilica. I am still thinking about this church. I remember walking in, touching the cold walls, feeling the old wooden pews, Gazing at the lucrative amount of art.gazing at the astonishing amount of art and being totally captured by this building’s magnificence. I sat down in a pew and I stared – processing what I was feeling, seeing, smelling, and hearing. I closed my eyes and I entered into a prayerful and engaged headspace that was enabled by this very active, very old, and opulent place. Everywhere I looked I was reminded of who I was as a created being, being lured into the Christian story that I was born into. My hyperactive mind loved wandering around in this visual playground, free from distractions of the outside world – completely soaked in the rich history of the church and the Christian story.

In my moments of prayer, in these places, I find a surreal sense of inner peace. My hyperactive mind is able to wander, be distracted, and yet I am kept focused on prayer and my words because of the incredible amount of images and words that I am processing all at once.

As a child we learn that prayer was about settling your body, folding your hands and sitting still. There is nothing wrong with this practice – in fact I really enjoy this practice when I am capable of getting into that headspace (more on that later), but at the same time I’ve grown a real appreciation for kinesthetic prayer, meaning prayer that involves movement, fidgeting, and letting the mind play a bit.

I'm going to identify two of many great gifts in Christian tradition that can help the kinesthetic learner stay focused and stimulated during prayer.

The Rosary: In short, the rosary is a rich Catholic tradition that involves a string of beads of various sizes that you hold. As you move it through your hand, touching each bead, a prayer is spoken. Being able to connect a prayer to our physical movements is enough for the fidgety-type person to keep them stimulated and focused in prayer. I’ve prayed once with a prayer bead – and I remember it working really, really, really well for me. Maybe this is something we need to consider having for our active type of people in the congregation!

Labyrinth: The labyrinth is a circular, maze-type path on the ground found inside and outside. I’ve seen them put on cloth for the sake of portability. I was in Vancouver last November and I was walking around the Unviersity of British Columbia and I found a labyrinth behind the Vancouver School of Theology. It was a cool and rainy day and I put my backpack down and I started to walk around this labyrinth nice and slow. I gave thanks for the rain, for the opportunity to take time off from work, and in that silent walk, feeling the rain drops run down my face, I was able to focus and create a meditative space for prayer. The water touching my face was perfect for keeping my attention; the movement of my body around the circle was perfect because I didn’t have to think about where I was going other than around, and around and around. Movement of the body and engaging the senses was perfect for me in this moment of worship and prayer.

The opulence and the over stimulation of our rich traditional churches has lots to offer the kinesthetic person. I invite you to consider the ways which you pray, and what your body might need in prayer. While you're doing that, I will consider how to translate my need for movement and stimulating the senses into a tradition that values simplicity.


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Pastor Joe Heikman
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Pastor Eileen Klaassen
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