SS. Mary & Nicholas, Littlemore, Oxford
9th October 2011, 10 a.m.
God, our Father, Lord of the Sowing as of the Harvest, give us wisdom to nurture and to share the good things of your creation, for your sake, and for ours, that all may have life, and have it in abundance. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
We have a change to the usual sermon slot today because the PCC thought it a good thing to talk about Stewardship before we move into the season of the bigger Christian themes of Remembrance and Advent and Incarnation.
Stewardship means looking after what we’ve been given, and being able to give a good account of ourselves to God, who gave it to us. Good stewardship is all about us at this season of our Harvest Festival of Talents, showing how people have used their time and their creative skills to delight, challenge and charm us. Volunteers have offered to be stewards, keeping the church open so that others – friends and strangers alike - can share these riches, too.
You may be thinking, “Yes, but get on with it, this pitch is about money, isn’t it?”, and of course you’d be right. We have prepared a little pamphlet which goes into it in more detail, and would be glad if you would take a copy home later and read it at your leisure. You will see there that the greater part of our expense is the Parish Share, the money we make over to the Diocese of Oxford each year. You might think, “well, why would I want to give money to them?” The answer is that in net terms, you don’t. You will see that far the greater part of the Diocesan income goes to paying for the clergy, and that what we receive from the Diocese exceeds what we give.
It is our privilege here to enjoy the ministry of a full-time, paid, parish priest, as well as the service of ministers who support themselves, but of necessity cannot be full-time. Those of you who know the church scene will be aware that it is unusual for a church of our size to be awarded such a ministry. There are reasons for this: the parish has a special place in Oxford’s history, and the Church of England’s history; we have many schools, and Christian ministry to them is vital so that, whether the children come to church or not, they see its human face; and the parish is very diverse in its demography making it an ideal training parish, as we see from the number of ordinands and curates who have spent their time with us over the years.
But times change, and we must change with them – something that John Henry Newman himself taught. As the church’s financial circumstances change, ways are being sought to cut costs, and the prospect of amalgamation looms. The closer we can come to meeting our Parish Share target, the stronger our hand becomes in the bargaining process about our church’s future. Our target on the PCC is to be able to look the richer churches in the Deanery and the wider Diocese in the eye and be able to say “Yes, we’re small and we’re poor, but we pay our way”.
So we come to you this morning not to say “give more” – these are hard times for all of us – but “give as efficiently as you can”. God gives the soil, the sun and the rain, but only a good farmer can turn these into a good harvest to His glory.
God in Trinity, you show us the path of infinite and mutually-giving love, give us grateful hearts for all your uncounted blessings, and generous hearts that we may spread those blessing abroad in your world, in Good News of the Name of the Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.