Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Moneychangers in the Temple, Rummage Sales in the Fellowship Hall

My morning prayers (in Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime) have the reading that shows Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the Temple. In some (all?) of the Gospels, this action is part of the Holy Week actions that get Jesus in trouble.

This same morning, I got an e-mail because I'm part of the Executive Committee of my Church--how shall we pay for the roof job that needs to be done? Even though I had the Gospel ringing in my head, I suggested putting a special donation envelope in every Easter bulletin. This church building won't heal itself, after all.

I'm also aware of our example of the Babylonian captivity of our buildings, as Nadia Bolz-Weber puts it in this post. These buildings have demands on our time, energy, and money. In retrospect, it might have been wiser not to buy them in the first place.

But we have bought them. And they do require upkeep. And they can be a wondrous resource. I've written about this before. I want to get back to the issue of moneychangers and our Temples.

When we first moved down here, I was surprised by how many churches had carnivals in their parking lots. I was surprised by huge rummage sales in the church fellowship halls. It was so different from the churches of my childhood and adolescent.

Youth groups were allowed to have car washes, but that was about it, in terms of overt fund raising. We might have done a special fund drive, but unless you were on church council or some sort of committee, church members wouldn't have a sense of needing to pay the light bill, needing to come up with extra money to replace the roof.

I lived in a variety of Southern towns until we moved down here in 1998, and I never heard of a church rummage sale. It would have been too close to money changers in the Temple. I saw the occasional farmer's market in church parking lots, but that was as close as they got.

I was part of a very small church when we first moved here, and a few members REALLY wanted to do a rummage sale. Because of my background, I had reservations. I was outvoted.

Now I am opposed to rummage sales for a different reason. Holy cow, they're a lot of work! Should the body of Christ really spend its time tagging the trash of other people? Why not just put it all on the lawn and let everyone take it away for free?

Well, for one reason, it would be a mob scene. I was a bit horrified at the reaction of people at that church rummage sale back in the early part of this century. It went beyond haggling. There was verbal abuse when we wouldn't drop our prices. Ick.

If people behaved that way over items that were only priced at a few dollars, how would they behave when fighting over free things?

My slightly larger current church has rummage sales periodically. I'm amazed at the amount of stuff we offer for sale. I want to believe that the cheap rejects from one family may go on to help someone else's family survive.

Is the money worth the time? I'm not having that argument anymore. Everyone gets to make those decisions for themselves.

And back to the original question: how shall we pay for these operating expenses? I want to believe that everyone is contributing--but what to do if those contributions don't cover the expenses? Special fund drives? More rummage sales? Taking out a loan? Finding other groups that want to use our space, groups that will contribute money? Asking congregational members to adopt a bill?

You're hoping I'll have an answer. I do not. Each approach has its own drawbacks. Each has some possibilities.

What would Jesus do?  Send us out two by two?  Suggest special projects that the Church should do?  Give us a special vision that blows our minds?

Again, I don't pretend to have that answer. 

Churches will come to a variety of answers and that's cool.  At the very least, I'd like us to encourage us to behave in ways that bear witness to God, not in ways that undercut it.

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