The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s125e06 Sunday 13 St Barnabas East Orange 2/7/06
'a question of fair balance' 2 Cor 8.13
When matters of money are brought up, opinions and indeed tempers soon come to the surface. However initially I am not today going to talk about giving to the Church, but with (relevant to the Australian workplace only) the Industrial Reforms agenda of the present government. There are plenty of people who find themselves on the opposite side of the fence as the government introduces individual contracts replacing the collective agreements of the past. Individual contracts are supposed to allow individuals and employers flexibility so that family life can be enhanced.
There has been a concerted push from the opposition and the Churches who fear that they will lead to the loss of benefits for those least able to afford them and least able to stand up for themselves. On the other hand, small businesses have found the employment conditions that collective bargaining has achieved unable to be maintained.
I would be the last person to pretend to be Solomon to be able to decide between these cases. However I make three general observations. I expect that individual contracts will need to be reviewed on a regular basis, so that individuals will have to regularly justify their present wage and conditions, and argue for increases in line with inflation. This seems to me to be an invidious position in which to be placed.
Secondly, the role of grandparents looking after grandchildren to enable each of the parents to hold down jobs, has been a feature of most of my parishioners lives for a long time. This points to the fact that this issue of family life and balancing the budget has been around for a long time.
Thirdly, parents take on jobs often to afford to send their children to private schools and often these private schools are run by the Churches. Parents, not unnaturally consider themselves as supporting the Church when they do this. If we then expect parents to bring their children to worship and Sunday School on Sunday morning after working all the week to afford to give their children a 'christian' education, perhaps we are expecting too much.
So I am happy that the Church has taken up the cudgels against individual contracts in the hope of saving family life; except that the Church has traditionally been the worst offender when it comes to the conditions for it's employees. A huge proportion of Christendom doesn't allow their priests any family life at all. I do not know how employees are treated in other countries but church schools (not the least Anglican) expect far more from their teachers in terms of extra-curricula activities for the students than State schools.
I know only too well how parishes regularly plead poverty and expect the minister / priest to get others to come to church, so that the financial burden on the existing parishioners is lessened. There is no thought that the priest ought to get a raise. When I was in parish ministry and with a young family, every year when the diocese sent out the new levels of minimum stipends, the wardens and parish councillors groaned; oblivious to the effect that this might be having on me. It is this rememberance that leads me to realize how invidious a position we are putting employees in, with individual agreements having to be renegotiated regularly.
I suspect that it is still the case that parishioners look for a married minister so that the spouse can be the unpaid assistant -- chairing the various groups in the parish, and taking a leading part in the flower and gardening rosters.
I have little doubt that most members of congregations expect to be able to phone the minister and have him or her answer their query or attend to their matter, any time of day or night; without a thought that this implies that the minister is 'on call' 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The levels of stipend I have experienced come nowhere near the going rates for someone with these conditions in ordinary society. We ask our minsters to do it because they are our friends -- but let me assure you that if everyone of the 100 or so people in a parish did this it soon stretches the friendship towards each and every one.
I once had a warden say to me: 'You can't please everyone all the time' which I took him to be actually saying to me: "You look after me and my family, and we'll look after you" -- which is not the Christian gospel for all people.
It is lovely to be a hospital chaplain, but people ask -- but don't you get called out at night? Well yes, occasionally I do, but every time it is because I am needed. I'm not getting phone calls about the keys of the church or changes in the flower roster.
So when you compare this minister with that one -- how often does it come down to how friendly they are -- and really often how they fit in with our requests?
Just a few days ago I heard the disbanding of the Commonwealth Employment Service some years ago, and it's contracting out to Non Government Organizations and private businesses -- some churches are involved. Clearly the NGO's and others are expected to do more for less money -- and why? Because they can treat workers with impunity regardless of what effect they might be having on the families of employees.
But of course it is not just the Church. Nurses in the past were considered as people who were 'called' -- they were expected to work for the love of it rather than the money. Often they too weren't supposed to marry. I had a real spinster matron as an 'aunt' -- I think that she was my father's second cousin. She was the matron of the local maternity hospital and unmarried.
I recall talking to the parents of a very talented singer. They commented that everyone asked their son to sing at their functions, and expected that he would do it for the love of singing.
In my sermon for last week, I made the comment that everyone in the Anglican Church knows that we need to change to survive, and we are all agreed about this, provided only that someone else does the changing. When a priest or minister comes and suggests that we have to change -- our immediate reaction is -- what us?!? What's wrong with us? We're OK! And the priest or minister is immediately labelled as 'unfriendly'. And guess what, nothing changes!
St Paul tells us that 'the one who had much did not have too much and the one who had little did not have too little'. Each and every one of us actually has what is needful for our lives. Each and every parish has what is needful for their continued existence. If we look elsewhere we will always struggle. If we look into ourselves we will find the wherewithal. For God asks us only to give of what we have, not to give what we haven't got. If we haven't got what is necessary to do something then there's a good chance God is not asking us to do it. But from what I said earlier, if we expect changes to happen, there is no point in looking elsewhere.
We are the Church. None of us like changes, least of all me. There has to be a balance in terms of our giving. St Paul talks about a balance when it comes to our giving money, but I suspect that it also means there needs to be a balance in our giving way. There needs to be a balance, because we are not just individuals in relationship with our God, but a community.
If it were just me and my God, I could do all my worship at home. No, we come to our favourite service, our favourite small community, our favourite parish. But, while we might be content with things as they are, there is a wider Church. If it were just this parish or this diocese in relationship with God, our corporate life would be as impoverished as our personal lives would be if we worshipped at home alone. If it were just us as the Christian Church and our God, then I suspect that we would be similarly impoverished by our exclusion or neglect of others.
St Paul says that it is a question of fair balance. Balance implies that there is more than one person involved. None of us want to be alone, so we all have a part to play to be the community we seek to be, on the microscopic level as well as the cosmic level.
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