I spent an hour or so yesterday signing around 200 certificates to be sent to churches across the Diocese of Sheffield to say thank you for the contributions to Common Fund, our shared Diocesan budget. This is something I do every year. I find it a very moving exercise.
The certificates are normally displayed in the Church porch or elsewhere on a noticeboard. I also write a letter to the Vicar and the PCC. Each one says thank you on behalf of the Diocese, but also on behalf of other churches across the Diocese for generous sacrificial giving.
The Diocese of Sheffield serves an area which is one of the poorest in the country in economic terms. However, for many years, the Diocese of Sheffield has been one of the most generous in the country in terms of the proportion of people’s income which is given away to and through the local church.
Last year the churches of the Diocese gave £4.5 million to the Common Fund, our Diocesan budget. Each certificate I signed yesterday represents a double act of generosity and adventurous giving.
First it represents thousands and thousands of individual decisions by individuals and families to give generously and sacrificially to the life of the local church to sustain ministry in that place.
Second it represents hundreds of decisions by Church Councils to prioritise generous, adventurous giving to the Diocese in their own budgets. For that reason, I try and sign the certificates slowly, giving thanks for all that they represent.
If you are part of this adventurous, generous giving in any way then thank you. Common Fund is the cornerstone of our Diocesan budget. It enables us to support Christian ministry and mission in every part of this Diocese, especially in communities which would find it difficult, if not impossible, to support a priest. Generous giving to the Common Fund enables us to grow ministry in all kinds of ways and that enables us, by the grace of God, to grow the life of the Church and to make a bigger difference in the communities we serve.
Long ago, St. Paul reflected on the generosity of the churches of Macedonia. You can read his words in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. Paul is moved by their gracious giving:
“For I can testify that they voluntarily gave according to their means and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints – and this not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us” (8.3-5).
According to Paul, this generous act of giving flows directly from our faith and from the example of Jesus Christ:
“For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (8.9).
Paul urges many others, including the Church in Corinth, to follow the example of the Macedonian Christians and of Christ himself and give themselves to the Lord:
“One who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” (9.6-8)
It is an extraordinary miracle of faith and generosity that God’s people in this place give in this adventurous way. Together through our giving we have a share in all of the ministry and mission which is taking place across this Diocese. Together we make that ministry and mission possible.
Thank you for your part in that and please persevere. The challenge continues from year to year and there is always more that we can do. If you are not yourself involved in this adventure of grace then there is plenty of room for more people to join in.
Together God has called us to grow a sustainable network of Christ like, lively and diverse Christian communities across this Diocese, effective in making disciples and in transforming our society and God’s world.
Week by week, month by month, year by year, we see that vision becoming more of a reality. Thanks be to God and to all God’s generous people.