2 Corinthians 6:13-15 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.’
The topic of “extravagant generosity” surfaced at the recent Chapter meeting as we were discussing the financial issues of OEF. Clearly the Order could simply assess a “membership fee” or pose a suggested donation to the “members” (those who claim some attachment in whatever way). That would be the easiest way. As I think about it, though, that way does not call forth from anyone a struggle with the Spirit that is the heart of the spiritual growth we seek or the spirit of St. Francis.
Francis had a very radical sense of stewardship. From my reading of both his own writings and reports about him from Thomas Celano, Francis had no sense of property in the sense of ownership. The quote from Paul above covered his basic lifestyle in regard to property and money. Everything belongs to God. God provides all that is needed. If in a moment one encounters another in need and the first has something (temporarily) that will meet the other’s need, then not to give the thing is the same spiritually as theft. God is the owner of all and all is here to meet needs, not to assuage fear or anxiety.
Thus Francis was always an example of “extravagant generosity.” He was always literally “giving away his mantel,” as Jesus prescribed (see Celano, Second Life, chapters LI to LIX).
With that in mind, the Order had in its beginning the idea that all gifts would be honored—time, talents, and treasure. One could be able to donate to the Order in those who had much would help those with less. We wanted to make sure especially that those who couldn’t afford to go to Chapter/Convocation would be able to go when the call of the Holy Spirit was hearkening to attend.
So the issue now is how do we make sure that the actual bills are paid? The first answer is that we, who are financially able, make sure that the Order does not incur expenses on our behalf. In other words we pay for ourselves. We, when able, pay for our costs at Chapter/Convocation and for the servant team as they work to maintain the Order on our behalf. We must think of the Order not as “my church,” for each of us is to be an active, tithing member in a local congregation.
So a tithe (10%) to the Order would not be expected. The Order, in some ways, is like the many nonprofits that send us requests for donations. If we get a tug at the heart for the work of the organization, we send a check. For these, there are all kinds of ways to get us to part with our money. I would like to think that we are different in this: we have no paid staff, we are all family, and our purpose is specifically to help each other grow in faith.
There is some similarity with our pledge to public broadcasting. That is a donation to help with the
aesthetics of our communities. A donation to the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans is joining in with others who seek spiritual growth in our community and in the world as a whole. I would like to think that the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans is an organization worthy of our prayers, talents, and means, hopefully to us more so than many other nonprofits.
So while we do not ask for 10%, or even a substantial (like thousands) gift, gifts are a part of our hope for the Realm of God in our life and our world. Any and all gifts to the Order are a sign of hope and faith and especially love.
Brother Ron, OEF