A Commitment of Families
By Charles Rush
January 23, 2011
Jeremiah 31: 31-37
e Cartoons in The New Yorker have changed. Why just a few years ago, there was a cartoon that featured this enormous boat sitting on the water, one guy is saying to his friend, “Oh, it is just a little present I got myself…. For being rich”. Or a husband reading the paper at the end of the day, scotch in hand, saying, “It’s outrageous the way that anyone happening to make a million dollars a year is just stereotyped as being ‘rich’”.
holidays, perhaps you saw the one of a husband and wife standing in the
driveway admiring an automobile with a large bow on top. The husband says to
his wife, “It is a special Christmas honey, I got your
car washed.” The last couple Christmas seasons were pretty much like that for
too many of us. Aren’t you ready for that era to end?
I know I am. It has not been a very creative season these past 20 months. It
felt more like we were just staying afloat, getting on through, but there
wasn’t much new going on that piqued your interest or your imagination.
The good news
is that we are probably gaining some economic traction, at least in our area.
When I talk to financial advisors in our area, and there are many amongst us,
they are guardedly optimistic. The financial sector is hiring, thing are
starting to open up, and investment looks promising in the near term.
My sense is
that our personal and family sense of confidence and trust has not caught up
yet with the changing economic reality. Shortly after our retirement portfolio’s saw that monster drop and property values
stalled or dropped, we went into a scarcity mode on the family level, where you
talk about what you can afford nervous husband to anxious wife, after the kids
are in bed. Suddenly, we don’t really need to take what were routine vacations.
We don’t need to splurge on indulgences. We don’t need to be attending
fund-raisers and there were fewer of them to attend anyway. It is belt
tightening time all the way around and you start to live out of this mentality
of scarcity. We have this and that to think about. We are not going to have
enough and in some cases, there really was a fairly big shift in our income. In
some cases, through that contraction, some of us really were shrunk for the
longer term for a lot of reasons.
fact that our portfolio’s have bounced back quite a bit, real estate for most
of us has actually held value, we are employed productively in our fields and
our personal prospects look fairly good in the near term, we are still acting
out of the scarcity model, on the family level, if you zoom out and think about
broader herd trends. There comes a time to break out of these herd trends and you want to
because it is really constrictive and boring. We aren’t here for a long time.
Our time to do something significant together is right now. Right?
The other part of us is also anxious because we want to live fully and the
clock is running. We want to live lives of significance but you just have to do
it, whether times are good/average/bad because this is our time for us, our
era, our lives together.
That part of us
wants to return to stepping out in faith, cultivating our imagination about
what is possible, creating friendships that are
meaningful, getting our families involved in community that shapes them positively,
creating a better childhood for them. The time for these things is now. We can’t defer that or if we do, we just miss
the point of our living.
We are all
discovering as families what our experts in the social sciences these days are
documenting statistically, that what makes us fulfilled and happy primarily,
are the relationships that we develop and keep. These are what are fulfilling
and meaningful. I was amused to read this week that joining a group that meets
just once a month produces the same increase in happiness as doubling your
Your book group is more important than you know! It is our emotional
relationships that really drive us. All of the things that provide us grateful
pleasures are social, as our researchers can statistically detail. Having sex, socializing after work, having dinner with friends.
They have even pin pointed the moment at which you are most fulfilled in
romance. It is when you are dating the person that you will marry, the very
first time your hands touch.[ii]
That exchange blooms, hope, expectation, imagination, and joy all at once. It
is our emotional lives that drive us, not our rational selves.
When we started
collecting some research on the subject, it turns out that “Intelligence,
academic performance, and prestigious schools don’t correlate well with
fulfillment, or even with outstanding accomplishments…”[iii]
What does correlate with happiness and fulfillment are these emotional
qualities: “the ability to understand and inspire people; the ability to read
situations and discern the underlying patterns; the ability to recognize and
correct your own shortcomings; the ability to imagine alternative futures.”
research “emphasizes the relative importance of emotion over pure reason,
social connections over individual choice, moral intuition over abstract logic,
perceptiveness over I.Q.” [iv]This
is a route to a fuller meaning of success because it includes an inner
happiness as well as an outer material achievement. So, when we actually
surveyed vocations, we found, not surprisingly that the vocations that reported
slightly higher fulfillment were all social- corporate managers, hair dressers,
That is why the
Church is such a pillar community in our lives and it should be. We are a
family of families, sharing our lives and growing our children up together,
supporting each other in difficulty, trying to be better people and engage the
higher part of ourselves and those around us, that God might make all of us
spiritually grounded in love. We are here to be a blessing to each other. We
want to be better people and live genuine lives, hopefully create some beauty
in worship, and the deeper fun of being surrounded by interesting and engaging
Most of us live
in this area because we like being connected. That is why we moved here rather
than some other places. We are blessed to be part of a few communities of
neighbors. But the Church community is still special, partly because of the
spiritual ground, partly because its breadth of span in our lives. We need you
to support it.
I want to tell
you where we are as a congregation before we go to a vote on the budget this
year. We’ve been sailing the boat as close to the reef and we need to turn it
back out to the open sea. We will but we need you to help.
chapter of our lives together was a good one, largely because of vision and
generosity. We built the building next door. And what a beautiful job we did.
Our neighbors have all actually come over to thank us for doing it. Community
groups thank us for the space. It will be a blessing for several generations.
And we did it by each and every family in the church giving an average of
$10,000. When we did the fund-raising, the fund-raising people cited our Church
as a model of excellence and philanthropy. What I learned through that process
is that Church is important to all of us. This Church is important.
When we were
building the building, the house next door came on the market. We didn’t really
have the money to buy the house but there was a developer that was interested
in putting a rental property there and we realized that it was probably now or
not for another 70 years, so we bought it. I remember bemoaning the situation
to Ravenel Curry and he responded, “Your asset rich,
just cash poor”. At any rate, we were left with some debt, with an endowment
down to a few hundred thousand dollars.
things were happening though with a new building. We had many more community
groups using our space: Bridges was still here, several AA groups, an afterschool
program and Good Grief, the Summit Chorale, not to mention 25 community groups
that meet here for fund-raisers or special meetings, and a dozen recitals
during the year. We wanted the Church to become a Community Center during the
week, in addition to being a church center. And we’ve done that. I am proud,
even as I’m sad, that we have mid-wifed two important groups, Bridges and Good
Grief. They both started here. They both outgrew us. They both became
regionally magnets and had to leave here because they were too big. We
mid-wifed the best single outreach group to the homeless in New Jersey and a
place for children to find grief support from other children who have lost a
parent. Our community is a better place because of what we do. We’ve leveraged
our good work.
We started our
own Nursery School, Cornerstone. We invested some of the endowment in that
because there is just an intrinsic synergy between Church and nursery school.
We needed them to become financially independent and responsible. We found a
great director, developed a holistic vision of an inclusive school with a
rounded mission. It filled up sooner than projected and they are on track to
repay our investment. Long story short, great school, runs in
the black, growing synergy with the Church. Bright
future all the way around.
Upshot for the
Congregation is that the building is far less of a cost to us than it used to
be. We have a lot more help from community groups that defray the cost of
heating the place and keeping it in shape.
But we were
invested fully and the endowment was down to the minimum we will let it go when
the Bear Stearns and Lehman Brother’s collapsed and our economy went into a
For the last
two years, it has been effecting us like it has been
effecting all Churches and other non-profits. And this is what we’ve seen at
Christ Church. We’ve had an erosion in our giving in
all three groups of giving, not huge, but an erosion.
What do I mean?
The money that comes in through the plate, which is a tiny percentage of our
actual income, is quite a bit off. This isn’t surprising because these are
people that aren’t involved here. They’ve just come once or a few times. That
pledges are eroding, when you look at them as a group. We have slightly fewer
families that are pledging. And we’ve had something new which is more families
that don’t quite fulfill their pledge. The last contribution was a little light
Thirdly, the people that give the most, those are a little off.
It feels like
we have just been through 20 months where, as a group, we’ve been saying, “You
know what, I’m going to let some others carry a little more of the water. I’m
not feeling real confident right now and we’re just going to lay a little lower
So we’ve cut
back our expenses at the church. Fortunately for us, this year, Holly left for
Yale, so saved some money on personnel for the last third of the year. The
winter was mild last year and for 20 months we haven’t fixed much of anything
that Juan and volunteers couldn’t fix. But it is a beautiful old building. As
all of us know who own old buildings, this is not sustainable very long. And we
cut how much money we gave to our denominations, so the downturn goes national
since I’m on the Board at the Denomination. Now the wider church shrinks.
By hook and
crook, at the very end of the year, we had made just enough cuts and got in
just enough gifts by December 30 that we barely squeaked in with a flat budget.
But here is the cost. I am out having a beer with our treasurer Dave Bunting
and I ask him how we are doing and there is a long pause and he says, “I’m not
comfortable”. For those of you who don’t know Dave, you don’t want to hear Dave
Bunting say he is not comfortable. When Mr. Equanimity in the face of volatile
markets is not comfortable, I’m not comfortable either.
We need to do
two things at once. We need each of our families to start rowing their oar. We
need more families to pledge and we need more pledges to increase a bit. And we
need to find people that can help us rebuild the endowment by half a million
dollars. You know and I know that we have the resources here to do both.
At the moment,
we are in a position that we don’t want to be in that if something happens like
the radiators going caput, we don’t have the resources to just fix it. We can’t
stay in this position, so we won’t. The good news is we have all the money we
need to do what we need to do. The bad news is that it is in your pockets.
We are an
owner/operator organization at Christ Church. We make this go. There is no
outside archdiocese that we can go to for extra funds or a loan. It is us, a
family of families, that will make a way through this.
So when we vote on this budget, you are pledging to back stop it and make it real.
We are not a
business, so you shouldn’t be overly fixated on finances. The bottom line does
not drive us and I’ve always appreciated that about the leadership in the
Church. We are fiscally prudent but at the end of the day, we don’t make
decisions based only on profits and even the EBoard
doesn’t become fixated on money even in this season which is about as tight as any one in my thirty years of being a pastor. And that is
right. We are a church.
On the other
hand, I want you to understand that we are tight. I want you to understand that
we don’t have reserves and that is our situation. We need you to do your part
to turn these trends around, own more responsibility, and invest your family
We have a lot
of strength to your left and to your right. Let’s come together in prayer,
commit ourselves to each other spiritually, covenant to do our part and make
something special for our children to remember. Amen.
fill us with your Spirit that we might become your community of love. Bind us
to each other that strength might draw upon strength. Multiply in us the gifts
that we have collectively that we might be stronger as a group than we are on
our own. Fill us with your faith that we might step out in the future and
realize a potential together that we didn’t really know that we had. Keep us on
track with our higher selves and the more profound way of living, we pray.
[i] Cited in David Brooks, “Social Animal” from The New Yorker, January 17, 2011, p. 29. The researchers are
Daniel Kahneman and Alan B. Kruger. I cannot attest
to the accuracy of their report.
[ii] Ibid. p. 30. The researcher is Stendhal.
Ibid. from Brooks on p. 27.
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