The future of communal and intentional giving
 

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As a young boy in our local Baptist church, I always enjoyed the part of the service where we would drop our coins into the Sunday School collection bag.I recall with affection my mother trusting that the coins she had given me would find their way into the collection bag. I also recall the excitement as the Sunday School would join the main service for the collection. The expectation was palpable as one of us, the chosen one, would walk to the front and present the class offering together with the main grown up collection.What a sight it was for a young boy to see all these people, young and old giving together, and I recall how mesmerising it was to stand at the altar and see the vast swathe of notes and coins in the various plates. It gave rise to my belief that grown ups not only had a lot of money, but were also extremely generous.This was a foundational part of the life journey I took, the sight of every person within our community, reaching into their pockets and giving, established within me that giving was communal, generous and intentional.Fast forward 50 years to a packed Edinburgh church where I was a guest. The smell of freshly brewed coffee as you entered, the professional worship band, plush carpets, fully cushioned seats, TV screens abounded, youth leaders and ushers moved busily around the sanctuary, and there was a tangible sense of oneness as we came together, this was a modern church in a busy city, everything about the service had moved into the 21st century. That is until the offering, and the appearance of the plate being passed along the rows, it caused me to think back 50 years to the memory of hard pews, piped organs, hymn books and wooden floors.I waited nervously for the plate to reach me, wishing I had visited the cash machine prior to arriving. The many scams and uncleanliness of cash machines had curbed my use some years earlier. I had a £1 coin for my bus home, and resigned myself to giving my meagre bus fare and accepting the 3 mile walk after church. Yet it was Catch 22, I felt embarrassed putting in my ‘widow's mite’, though I knew it was not all I possessed financially.I was on a row that would be the end of the collection plate journey, so hoped that my lack of cash would not be noticeable amongst all the many notes and coins in the offering, but to my horror, as the plate reached me I noticed one single pound coin in the plate. One gold and shiny object piece of nickel brass isolated on a carpet of red velvet, from where the Queen looked up, ready to cast disapproval upon my lack of generosity. I sheepishly alleviated the loneliness of the coin by adding a partner to keep it company for the remaining journey.Putting the coin in I looked up apologetically, shook my head, patted my pocket and passed the plate, hoping the usher would work out that I had no more cash than that one coin. I was keen to make amends, and point out that my offering was not a reflection of my lack of generosity, but more a failing of that particular community to not support my needs as I giver. I found the pastor and was informed that I could give via the website. I asked if they planned a system in place that would facilitate my need to give via my mobile phone, only to be told that nobody would use that in their church, which was not entirely accurate as I was one of possibly many more that did have that need. Sitting in the quiet of my lounge that day, I went to the website preparing to give, yet it was vastly different from the Sunday School experience of 50 years ago. I could not not feel that sense of community, neither did it feel intentional, as the moment of invitation to share the joy of giving had passed. The £50 I would have given, which in real terms would have been £59.86 with Gift Aid applied less transaction fees, found its way to another worthy cause on my giving app.The church website also requested too much personal data for me to give with a sense of safety, especially as I had started a personal crusade months earlier to reclaim my online anonymity. I know I am not the only one who has suffered the ‘I have no cash’ moment, one only has to officiate or attend a baptism to see how many people not accustomed to church life do not carry cash. I wonder how many regular church attendees even carry cash? The church has by and large moved giving to the convenience of the banking system. The free giving of the communal offering, the classroom for lifetime giving, is now located in a world of Direct Debits and Standing Orders. Young people are increasingly distanced from the physical act of giving. We may still have a giving moment in our services, but increasingly this simply functions as symbolic, the Queen passing lonely along the pews.The world is changing, this was evident recently at Kings Cross station where I took the chance between trains to grab an oat latte from Cafe Nero. The sign was clear, ‘We Are Now A Cashless Store’, Later that day, buying a small beer from the Euston Tap as I awaited the Caledonian Sleeper train back to Inverness, I was directed to a table where I would find a QR code to scan, download the app and order my drink. The craft beer was delivered to my table, my only surprise being that the glass did not carry the Amazon logo, yet without a phone I would not have been able to sit and reflect on these issues with a cold beer in my hand.So in a world where the donation of cash in the moment becomes consigned to history, how do we maintain that giving moment that is both communal and intentional? Do we even need to?According to the Blackbaud Institute for Philanthropic Impact, 68 per cent of younger donors engage with causes and charities through their mobile devices. Young people increasingly do not use cash, standing orders or direct debits to give, and live increasingly through a smartphone screen. A recent Guardian article revealed that just seven percent of in-store purchases in the UK could be made in cash by 2024, a report has forecast, after the coronavirus pandemic fuelled the switch to cards and mobile payments.While cash accounted for 27 per cent of in-store transactions in 2019, the latest global payments report from processing company Worldpay found that had fallen to 13 per cent last year. The report predicts usage will continue to drop over the next three years.International figures showed that in several other countries, including Sweden, Canada and Australia, already less than one in 10 shop payments are made in cash. It predicted Sweden would be “almost cashless” by 2024, with 0.4 per cent of transactions paid for with money, down from 15.2 per cent in 2019 and 8.8 per cent last year.Faced with this knowledge, any church or charity without a simple means that allows donors to give without cash will face a difficult future, and undoubtedly have to install something sooner or later, and when demand increases, so will the price. There is an urgent need for our churches to support the needs of the giver, and supporting that need is not as complex as we may think. With Jesus nothing changes, he is an anchor for our soul, whereas in the world, nothing stays the same. The church needs not be passive subjects of change, but should instead be active agents of change. That change activity would be better if it began today.

The Human vs The City 

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If there is one thing that COVID-19 has shown us, amongst many things, is the stark contrast between the human form and the built city. As people are no longer regularly visiting the hustle and bustle of cities each day for work, we have in some ways become isolated. People have been forced to seek the outdoors as the only escape from the confinement of the home, many of us have found the solitude and connection to nature a source of comfort. People have descended collectively to the woods, hills and coasts, great swathes of city dwellers, nodding and smiling at each other as we share the freedom of nature. A transition from built city to human relationship.

 

This is possibly happening because somewhere deep within us, is the desire and passion to be within grown and natural environments, a connection with our pre-industrial self. The time span of a few rip roaring 'go for growth' centuries does little to extinguish the millennia of us being people of the land. We are connected beings, who need connection, to nature and each other.

 

It could be that being isolated, for some at least, provides times of reflection that the hustle and bustle of the city, the metro, buses, emails, smartphones and a thousand signs and billboards that demand our almost constant attention cannot give us.

 

There are always lessons to be learned in all situations, both negative and positive, and this is no exception. 

 

In our enforced isolation we can develop ideas that could be beneficial once we emerge back into the built environment and begin the process of re-assimilation to the fixed structures. One such lesson could be the need to better understand the nature of humanity in the workplace. How much time, pre-lockdown, did we spend truly understanding the role of the person in such rigid and well defined organisations.

 

For instance, an office of 400 people does not consist of 400 individuals with the same mindset and experience. It is a large group of humans, who each day bring with them a myriad of life interactions that impact on the running of that organisation. To best develop, support and enhance the lives of those people we must have deeper and more meaningful gatherings in, and out of, our workplaces.

 

Having business meetings, where the priorities are determined by a set agenda, cannot possibly, and should not be expected, to allow a holistic space for growth and expression of our humanity.

 

When we return to the cities, which we surely will, we will have the opportunity to reflect that humans are innately driven by a need to connect. Right now that manifests in a need to connect to nature, but in reality, it is a need to connect with other humans. When we return, we should not so easily jettison the new practice of virtually meeting for coffee and chats that is being driven by the necessity to connect. Do we have the determination to make space for free gatherings with no preset agenda.

 

We are, and have been, so clever and advanced in our passion for creating built structures, we marvel at our achievements. We must now turn that drive and desire into building a stronger structure of human interaction. 

 

This time of isolation must remind us that isolation is only positive when self determined and not enforced, and that when we regain our freedom, we must invest in relationships.

Profit, KPI’s and outcomes are fleeting taskmasters to a species that is not that long removed from nature, and if nature is teaching us one thing, it is that the natural order for humans is to be in close and abiding relationship with other humans.

Entrepreneurship and the Church

'The church in general, and in my experience, relies too heavily on the donations of its members'

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In Matthew's gospel (chapter 25, verses 14-30) we find Jesus’ Parable of the Talents. Like all parables, its meanings are multi layered. Perhaps its deepest meaning is one that reflects the subject of grace, yet in practical terms, it is a story about entrepreneurship, and a lesson about being brave custodians of our resources.

Basically the story is one of a nobleman, lets call him an Angel Investor, who invests in three people. The story reflects on his response to the returns on his investments. Two of the recipients do well, earning a profit. The third, because he believes the investor is a mean and greedy man, buries his investment so as not to lose anything. The investor is angry with this third man because not only has he created fake news about the investor, but he also took no risk. This is the essence of grace, of forgiveness, of love, it is a risky business, as one can never be sure of the return on that investment.

That is then the theological spirit of the story, but what about the material relevance in our current world, and in particular, the church?

Making a profit and thinking like a business, is still by and large, frowned upon in the church. Like the misreading of the investor above, business is seen as being worldly and therefore somehow tainted. 

Yet we are seeing a growing number of businesses, social enterprises, B Corps, CIC's etc that are turning a healthy profit, there is nothing tainted about them, the social goals of these businesses are to be applauded.

The church in general, and in my experience, still relies on the donations of its members, a model that has stood the test of time. Yet with an ageing membership, time is running out, and it must, if it is to uphold its call to mission, think differently.

The church must begin to see entrepreneurship as a vocation. The ability to succeed in business is a talent. Like all gifts it should be used for good. An entrepreneurial vocation is to focus on the needs of customers. To succeed, the entrepreneur must serve others.

As we emerge from the current crisis, the church is ideally placed with a network of hubs that can be business incubators, and help support the creation of new and possibly disruptive commerce. The potential to create new jobs and volunteer opportunities is needed more than ever. It cannot bury the vast wealth of resources it has, this would be a stewardship that is alien to the Kingdom.

With an entrepreneurial mindset, and a collaborative impact mindset, the church stands at what could be one of its greatest moments of social benefit to our communities. It can fulfil the purpose it was called for, and be a light in what will be dark times for many.

How do you feel?

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Dr. Marc Brackett has dedicated his life to studying emotions and to teaching us what he’s learning. In this episode, we talk about how emotional literacy – being able to recognise, name, and understand our feelings – affects everything from learning, decision making, and creativity, to relationships, health, and performance.

Here he speaks to Brene Brown in her podcast

 

It certainly rang some bells for me, especially in the area of leadership, future organisation and team building. As in my previous article Human vs City, I believe that the role of relationship in future building is vital, this podcast expands on how a true and open relationship looks, giving the permission to feel, being honest.

 

When we are asked how we are feeling, how many of us answer with the true reflection of how we are feeling. We tend to stick with 'I am fine,' because anything else demands a longer response, a demand of time that many of us are possibly not willing to invest, especially at work. Not just time though, it also demands a willingness to discuss emotions that we may, understandably, feel completely out of our depth engaging with.

 

So if being honest with each other is too much, then we should at least be honest with ourselves. How do I feel? Why do I feel this way? Where is that seed of emotion I am feeling planted, what is feeding it? To be truly inspirational leaders and team members, we need to be self aware and honest with ourselves, we can hardly be inspirational to others if we cannot inspire ourselves.

 

We cannot forgive others if we do not forgive ourselves, we cannot love others if we do not love ourselves. We all, I imagine, desire world peace, but it is something we surely cannot achieve single handedly. We can though aim for peace in our inner world, and that is a space where we can be intimately involved changing.

 

I would recommend listening to the podcast, it is packed with so much, see what you can take from it.