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Philanthropy Part 4: Are our resources really limited?

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Nick_Blog_Pic Since FOCUS North America has come on the scene with the hope of furthering the efforts of Orthodox Christians to help those in need in America, one might ask are we just one more Orthodox agency competing for the very "limited" resources available to the Church. To state it simply, is FOCUS North America in some sort of competition with local churches, the archdioceses and other Orthodox social agencies to raise money to continue their ministries. The assumption here is that there is a limited “pie”, and with the entry of FOCUS North America on the scene, this means that the more of this pie we take, the less others will have. Let’s take a closer look at this concern.

 The last time (correct me if I am wrong) an accurate study of giving in Orthodox Church was done was about 25 years ago. That study, looking only at the Greek Archdiocese, revealed that the average family giving to the Church was around .5%. That is, on a national level our faithful were giving only one half of one percent to their Church. I believe the national average for all Churches (non-orthodox as well) was about 2.5%. To offer an example, an Orthodox family with an income of $40,000 per year was only giving $200 to their Church every year.  Our hope was that if we only could get our faithful to give the national average of 2.5%, we would increase our income 5 times from what it was. Another example, the income of a Church bringing in $50,000 a year in stewardship would increase to $250,000 if we simply gave in the same way as our next door neighbors gave to their Church. The ripple effect of this small change would have tremendous impact throughout our Church.

 

What ever happened to the "Tithe and Offerings"

For a long time, I have felt that the Old Testament, New Testatment and Patristic tradition of tithing should get more attention in our Churches...not just for sake of financial gain, but also for us to experience a deeper sense of worship and commitment. When we look around and see the tremendous programs of non-orthodox churches that practice tithing, we become envious. In the Old Testament, we see the people of Israel offered their tithe (10% of their yearly fruits) for the safekeeping of the tabernacle and care of the priests who served there. It was also an act of worship, another important subject. I have asked many Orthodox for many years, what has changed? Are we not the New Israel? Do we not still have houses of worship to care for and priests who serve them? Why are we not tithing, or better put, surpassing the tithe in our new freedom in Christ? Freedom means doing more than what we once did out of obligation. And we shouldn’t forget about the “offerings”. This was “above and beyond” the tithe. These were special offerings given for special seasons and occasions. To apply it to today and try to keep it simple: our tithe should go towards our local church, our offerings should be given on special occasions and for special purposes.

Dispelling the Myth…

Having said all of this, the problem we face in the Church is not “limited resources,” it is “unchallenged resources.” I hope the following numbers would sway us. The medium income for a family in the U.S. is around $50,000 per year (half make more, half make less). Based on this, if each Orthodox family began tithing, it would result in an average giving of $5,000 a year to their Church. The average income of a parish of 100 families would be $500,000! I’m sure this would please our church treasurers as well as our national financial officers. There would be an abundance not only to run our local Churches, but to support the administration, seminaries and social ministries that are so underfunded today. Moses once told the people of Israel to stop giving when they brought too many gifts for the building of the tabernacle. They did this in the desert, why can’t we do it in the richest country in the world? Could you imagine your priest announcing to the congregation, please stop giving, we have too much!

 One of the reasons I took the job of Philanthropy Coordinator for FOCUS North America, is not only do I believe with all my heart in the mission of FOCUS North America, but I also believe we have not really challenged each other as Orthodox Christians to give as we should. My apologies again to the non-Greeks, but a national survey came out several months ago and revealed that Greek Americans were now the second most successful ethnic group in America. We have a very healthy number of names listed in Forbes “400 Richest Americans.” Many of us who have been blessed with much (by world standards, an over abundance) worked hard for it, but we also know that much will be expected of us. The Lord was not afraid to challenge the rich young ruler who came to him. He asked him to sell everything and give it to the poor and come follow him.

On a related subject, there are estimates that in the next 20 years or so about 40 trillion dollars will be handed from one generation to the next. Certainly our Orthodox faithful hold a portion of this. Have we been challenged to leave some of this for charitable works? Do we have Orthodox “Warren Buffets” who will rise up and care about the world around them (and love their children enough not to give them everything)?

Another myth… If someone gives to “X”, he will reduce his giving to “Y”.

For years, we had the blessing of having a very successful businessman in our parish. He was also very faithful in his Church attendance and cared about the Church. He also represented a disproportionately large percentage of our annual stewardship income. When he told me that he was considering joining the Leadership 100 program of our Archdiocese (a $10,000 gift per year for 10 years), I was afraid that he would reduce his giving to our Church. Boy was I wrong! His involvements with Leadership 100 among other things only led to his increased giving to our local Church and eventually a million dollar gift for our Church building project. There are studies in philanthropic giving which indicate as one becomes more and more charitable; one will expand their charitable giving to many charities.

Instead of furthering the myth that we are all in some sort of competition for “limited resources”, we should be encouraging all our faithful to be more charitable - period, to any worthy cause. It will eventually help us all!

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