Our Family Finances: Going the (Social) Distance Together

By Peter Wall, CFO

Sometime around Friday the 13th of March, ordinary life changed for many of us. Schools were closed, office workers were told to stay home and work remotely, phrases like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” entered our vocabulary, events were cancelled (including some of our own at the Big Red Church), important plans were changed, and people flooded into stores to stock up on supplies. Welcome to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as our Pastor rightly reminded us, “our task is to care for each other both individually and collectively.” Despite our social distancing, we “are still connected through the Body of Christ, and we still need our community and collective resources.” And “our most urgent task while taking precautions to protect the health of our community is to remain connected to and supportive of each other when we are not able to be together in-person.”

These are big challenges.

Yes, social media, email, text messages, and telephones give us more methods than ever before in history to communicate at a distance. But just as often, in my experience, those rapid and stimulating channels of information suck up so much of our attention that it takes extra effort to remember the people we are not hearing from. Yes, virtual community is real community. But it is attenuated—stretched thin. We are still embodied creatures, and, in the end, we still need the thick physicality of our places and our practices. When these cloistered days are over, we will come out and gather again.

In the meantime, there is work to do. Our Pastor and staff are still working. Those Grape Leaf emails and Grape Vine mailings do not write and publish themselves. We still own a large and aging property that needs maintenance and care, and watching over. Bills are still coming. And we need to figure out the ways that we can continue to serve each other and our community.

So for at least three reasons, we all need to make a conscious and devotional effort to keep up our giving. First, we still have bills to pay; and, depending on how long current circumstances last, we might also need to look into some technology upgrades and purchases to improve our ability to facilitate remote connection.  Second, when the pandemic has ended, we will need to redouble our efforts to serve a wounded world, and that means we need to be ready with our resources—like hiring the education director that we budgeted for, and addressing not just the symptoms but also the causes of food insecurity in our community. Third, giving is an important way that, through the sacrifice of money we would otherwise spend individually, we bind ourselves together as a community of faith and reliance.

And, as a brief update, you should know that our pledged giving was short of the budgeted amount for January and February by about five percent. So we need the reminder anyway to make good on our pledges. 

We have a tool that makes it easy to give while we are apart. On our website, at bigredchurch.org/giving, you can use the Givelify button to contribute. If you have never used it before, now is the perfect time to give it a try. You can even share that link on social media, if you are so inclined.

There are a couple common questions about Givelify. First, how do you say “Givelify”? It rhymes with “magnify”—as in, Givelify is a tool to magnify our giving. Second, what does it cost? We pay a per-transaction fee of 2.9 percent of the donation, plus 30 cents. So, for example, if you give $100 through Givelify, then the fee we pay would be $3.20, and the other $96.80 would go to the church account. You should not hold back from giving because of the fee. We would rather pay a fee of $3.20 to receive a gift of $96.80 than receive no gift at all, just to avoid paying a fee. But if you really prefer, you can still mail a check. And keep in mind that even when you write a check, there are costs, which for us come mostly in the form of donated labor to receive the check, and process it, and deliver it to the bank. There really is no totally cost-less way to receive donations.

I know money is an uncomfortable subject. And talking about giving, especially now, when many people are feeling uncertain about their own jobs and paychecks, can feel like just another callous way of practicing institutional self-maintenance, instead of being what we might prefer to imagine the church ought to be. But the church is not some utopian, structureless abstraction that happens magically, and without any struggle or pain. In fact the church is embodied and messy, and sometimes ill, just like each of us, and it requires space and resources (including money) in its struggle to build a transformative place in the world. 

It will probably be a while before we celebrate communion together again. But in the meantime, maybe think about how strange and messy and illuminating it is that something so basic as eating and drinking together—what in other contexts might casually be called “fueling up” together—should be a sacrament that constitutes the church. I think that suggests a different way to think about, or even experience, the meaning and power and value of something so basic as giving.