Episcopal Diocese of Rochester
Joy in Christ, as a way of life

Living Generously: A Report on the 2016 TENS Conference

We were pleased to represent the Diocese of Rochester at the annual stewardship conference held in Pasadena, Calif., at All Saints Episcopal Church on June 2-4.  This conference is sponsored and facilitated by The Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS). Our diocese is a partner in this network.

TENS is an association of people who have learned to live generously and now are committed to passing on the transforming gift of stewardship that results in spiritual growth. This volunteer-based organization strives to encourage good stewardship practices, teaching that stewardship leads to conversion, offering themselves as living testimony, passing on practical as well as spiritual knowledge to the next generations.

Deb has attended a few TENS conference. This was Brad’s first such conference. About 100 people from all parts of the Church were in attendance. The most valuable parts of the conference were (1) the keynote speakers, and (2) very practical workshops. Also of value was sharing experiences with others, creating new friendships, networking and enjoying the amazing location for the conference.

After an opening Eucharist which featured the Rt. Rev. Diane Jardine Bruce, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Los Angeles, as preacher, we heard our first keynote speaker, Sister Simone Campbell. Sr. Simone is famous for being the point person for the Nuns on the Bus movement. She is executive director of Network, which is a volunteer-based lobbying group focused on reminding our government of the needs of the poor and the working poor. Sr. Simone used conference participants in a living diagram to show the spectrum of income in this country. This graphically showed us the growing disparity between income classes. She explained that there are many things that help separate us: air conditioning, garages with automatic doors, backyard pools, etc. We simply don’t come together like we used to. And, we’re paying the price.

She revealed that there is actually a good deal of cooperation among those at the bottom. They have to cooperate to exist. The greatest stress is among those just above that level. Somewhat ironically, the next most stressed group is the top 5%. They are on a never-ending quest to be the 1%.

She pointed to our shift toward rugged individualism that began in the 1980s as the beginning of our troubles. She concluded by encouraging us all to be activists for those around us. Practice joy over despair, tell and listen to stories in order to promote community, and find your niche, what you do well, and do your part.  We were certainly inspired by this nun who simply stepped forward and told truth to power and this helped the Affordable Care Act to pass. This is all explained in her book, Nun on the Bus.

In the workshop on The Changing Face of Stewardship, Jim Loduha, director of development for All Saints, Pasadena, encouraged us to spread our stewardship efforts over the whole year, not just a pledge campaign. He said that stewardship is all about establishing a relationship between the giver and ministry. He related that only 9-10% of retail sales are online. Giving is still something that happens at the personal level. As gifts are given, remind the giver that thanks to their gift this or that ministry is happening. Give them mini-reports often of how their money is being spent. Report pledging and campaign totals quarterly. Print or give testimonials about ministry and the impact of giving—especially with children’s programming. Publicize the impact of ministry, not just the cost. Use the web site to explain how giving can happen. Offer as many ways to give as you can including online banking, and mobile app giving. If you are a medium-large congregation, establish a Giving Table during coffee hour with literature on ministry worthy of donations. Bottom line: you can never publicize stewardship opportunities too much.

In the workshop on Using Today’s Technology, Pamela Barton, a professor at UCLA in fundraising, told us that while technology is everything to the younger generations, it will never replace human relationships. The number one reason people don’t give is because they weren’t asked. Or, perhaps they don’t know enough about the cause. Millennials prefer to give to specific causes, not to the general good. They seldom take leadership roles, but they want their voices to be heard.

You cannot thank a donor enough. Do not use form letters. Remind donors how smart they are to have given. All giving procedures must be very obvious and simple. Ask people how they want to be reached: mail, email, social media, etc. Focus on the giver and how giving benefits them, not just the general good. Remind them that they are a part of the solution.

I was somewhat surprised to hear her say that blogs are passé. Right now, longer posts on Facebook (3-6 paragraphs) are most effective. Always include photos! A web site must reflect every conceivable option for giving. Make sure it is mobile-optimized. Use photos to show ministry being done. Don’t wait to the last minute to build a pledge drive; make it fun and creative.

In the workshop Liturgy and Generosity, J.R. Lander, the president of TENS board of directors and a priest serving in Los Angeles, we learned how generosity needs to be present in our Sunday worship. He encouraged us to leave that alms basin on the altar. Raise it up along with the elements. If you are collecting something specific for the food pantry, put it on the altar also. The priest and choir should be seen putting their offering in the plate. All giving is sacred; show it.

Preach generosity often and all year long. Pull generosity out as a component of as much scripture as possible; make it a constant theme, or sub-theme—not just during the pledge drive. Preach about money being a tool for ministry. Preach the stewardship of creation. Write intercessions so they reflect local prayers. Regularly pray for your partners in the community, not just other parishes. End all prayers with thankfulness. Be creative with the prayer you say over the offering. He said that the Church of Canada has prayers for every Sunday online to use.

Discuss giving habits with wedding couples; encourage simpler living so that others may benefit. Consider Sunday morning weddings. Stress pre-planning for end of life. Diocese of Olympia has especially good resources in this.  Always take an offering every time there is a eucharist. Ask families if they would be alright with this for weddings and funerals. The offering can go to an appropriate cause, not necessarily the church. Make tithing an expectation of membership (see Church of the Epiphany, Seattle web site for how they handle this).

In the workshop Building Community (and Having FUN) Through Stewardship,   The Rev. Chris Harris, Curate and Congregational Development Minister at St Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Poway, California spoke about the importance of making the Annual Giving and Stewardship FUN.  Once again, along with one of the themes of the conference, he emphasized the importance of relationships and bringing parishioners together and sharing our stories.

In the workshop Stewardship 101: “It’s Not About the Money… It’s About Relationships!” The Rev. Canon Timothy Dombek, Canon for Stewardship of Planned Giving, Diocese of Arizona, spoke about the BIG PICTURE of Stewardship.  Stewardship entails all areas of life, not just our money life. “It is not about money, it is not about your organization.  It is all about the people you serve, the lives you touch.  It’s about saving lives and changing lives.  That is what it is about. And every day, your organization is in the business of saving and changing lives.”  - Jerome Panas.  We need to connect giving to changing lives.  People want to know their giving makes a difference.   Again, the importance of relationships with God, each other and our communities as well as sharing our stories was an emphasis.  It is also important to create a culture of Thanking!  Deb has a copy of his presentation with links to abundant resources.

We felt that, without question, the most inspiring keynote speaker was Father Gregory Boyle, executive director (now retired) of Homeboy Industries and an acknowledged expert on gangs and intervention approaches. A Jesuit priest, Fr. Boyle speaks at dozens of detention facilities in the L.A. area every week and gives his card to literally thousands of inmates pledging to help them find employment when they get out. The conference was catered by one of 47 “industries” he has created. We ate well with food prepared by Homegirls Catering.

Fr. Boyle’s address combined doses of humor and pathos. An example of this was the homie that advised Greg to use some of that “self-deficating humor” in his presentations. He spoke eloquently about the basic societal and Christian need to find kinship with others. He reminded us that Jesus did not stand for the poor, but he stood with those on the margins. He told us to stand farther and farther out on the margins with people until the margins disappear. Work at getting a sense of things as God would see them. He said that his ministry tells every single person that he/she is exactly what God designed them to be. Start there.

Work to obliterate the illusion that we are separated from each other. Receiving really is better than giving. Employment is nice, but healing a person is better. Be humble; always ask what a person needs. Everyone is a whole lot more than all the dumb things they ever have done. Have awe for all that the poor carry; don’t judge them. If we don’t open our wounds, we will judge others.

Greg related many stories coming from his book Tatoos on the Heart.  We highly recommend this to you.  Bottom line: just stand with others.  This was a profound and surprise ending for a conference on living generously. There was no mention of pledge drives in this final testimony.