By Associate Conference Minister Daniel Ross-Jones
I’m one of those people who gets excited about tax time at the start of each new year. Those who know me, especially those who know me really well, are going to be confused by that statement. It’s true, though: because it’s the time of the year when I can sit down and determine how much and where to give my money for the rest of the year.
Growing up, I had the models of inspired donors who cultivated in me a philanthropic spirit. There wasn’t a lot of great wealth in my small, northern Minnesota town, and at the same time there wasn’t a lot of economic inequality, either. Things got done by the small efforts of many people putting in their own personal share.
I’ve written before about my parents, but the conversation that I can point to where I really started to consider my own philanthropic action was one with a co-worker across the hallway from my office in my first job out of college. His name was Paul, and he was the development officer for our organization. Since I was the communications director, we worked together on a few different projects.
Like many young people moving into the workforce, I was confronted with a whole new world: a 403(b) retirement plan (excuse me?), repaying student loans (ugh), and generally managing (poorly) my monthly finances.
When I finally found a church to call my own and became a member, I filled out my pledge card. I remembered tithing as the expectation, so I wrote down $3,125 as the amount I would pledge that year – 10% of my $31,250 salary.
I think I wound up giving $500 of that pledge. It was like deciding the moment to learn how to swim was during king tides off Point Reyes.
I felt guilty and ashamed. I felt a conflict in values that I didn’t know I had. Paul drilled down to the meat of the conflict: “Do you want to be a generous person?” he asked me. My answer came quick in response, “Of course.” The next question was different when he asked, “And do you want to be generous with your money?”
Now with the benefit of years in between, I can see more of the nuance of the question. There are many different ways to be generous. Some people are generous with their time, and in order to not burn out they must manage their time well. Other people are generous with their experience, or the networks in which they operate, and they must manage those resources as well.
Deciding to be generous with money is the first step, and in order to accomplish that one must appropriately steward their financial resources to reach their goals.
In 2018, I donated more than twice my intended pledge that year more than a decade ago. Tithing is still my goal, and I accomplished it in my after-tax income. Getting to the pre-tax income remains an ongoing goal and challenge. I also seek to link my charitable giving to savings in my individual retirement account, and both Paul (who wound up being my first financial adviser when he left our organization and began working with a national faith-based financial services firm, Thrivent Financial) and my current financial adviser would be pleased to see the progress.
In 2019, I’m excited to continue my sustained, monthly giving as a Friend of the Conference. I know that each month, I’m personally investing in the work we do together as the United Church of Christ here in this place.
My gift means that when a local church needs a new pastoral leader, Conference staff can resource, advise, and journey with the local church through the Search & Call process, reflecting more than $15,000 re-invested in the life of that local church.
My gift means that when an Authorized Minister needs immediate financial assistance due to a crisis in their life, the Conference Minister can respond both in person to care for the pastoral nurture of the individual and their family, as well as by a financial grant to make the situation whole once again.
My gift means that more than 100 leaders from across our Conference can come together to be inspired for action at last month’s Justice Revival in Sacramento, and that the Associate General Minister for Justice & Local Church Ministry of our denomination, the Rev. Traci Blackmon, can be present with us and demonstrate the partnership among local churches, Conference, and the National Setting.
Your financial gift, either as a one-time donation or as a monthly sustaining donor, makes you a Friend of the Conference and makes all our ministry possible. I hope you’ll join me in 2019 and make a financial gift to our Conference. You can do so on our website at www.ncncucc.org: click the donate button at the top of every page.