I really wanted a blanket. A nice sandy-colored, modestly patterned, home-spun blanket, the kind that adorned the camel I had ridden the previous day.
But as I stood in that North African market my heart sank. There were so many to choose from, and so many vendors, each with pound signs in their eyes. They saw this out-of-his-depth Brit nervously surveying their stalls, and assumed I was overwhelmed by the prospect of haggling over a blanket. And they were absolutely right. I don’t like haggling.
I knew what the culture expected of me. The vendor starts absurdly high, and I shake my head, make a face like I’m not interested, and begin to walk away. Then they call me back and make a new offer; I still play hard to get, so they keep lowering the price. I fake boredom and eventually they ask me what I want to pay. Then, when I tell them, they pretend to be deeply offended, and we end up meeting somewhere in between.
I know it’s expected, I know it’s the culture, I know that no one feels genuinely insulted, I know it’s all part of the game, but I really don’t like haggling. I felt guilty. Who am I, a comfortable Western tourist, to deny this Tunisian artisan as much profit as he can get? So, I tried to do my bit, made a feeble attempt at talking him down a few pennies, but I did not put up a very good fight. My heart just wasn’t in it, and I probably paid far more than other tourists that day.
And as I walked away, I reflected on this bizarre bazaar transaction. It was the exact opposite of the shopping experience in Western malls. In the West the seller tries to look happy, and so does the shopper. The shopping experience should be fun for all parties.
But in the Tunisian market we all tried to kid each other that we were unhappy. The seller pretended he didn’t want to part with his blanket and grudgingly took my money, and I pretended I didn’t want to buy it and was doing him a favor by taking it off his hands. So, we closed the deal, each pretending to have lost. The truth, of course, was the exact opposite – he was delighted to shift another blanket, and I was excited to take my holiday souvenir home to lovingly lay across the back of the sofa in my London flat.
Did I mention that I don’t like haggling? Well, I really don’t. I know I’m ‘in sales’ (well, kind-of) but I feel ridiculously self-conscious when I try to sell something. I don’t want to appear greedy, or make people feel guilty, or be a bother, or ask for stuff. This makes me a terrible businessman and a less-than-ideal parish priest. It means that when I need to talk about money with the parish, ‘I would rather’, in the words of King Arthur in the musical Camelot, ‘be in Scotland fishing.’ And I don’t even like fishing.
So, when I am forced to talk about money, I am grateful to present good news. And when it comes to the topic of money, there is plenty of great news at St John’s. For example:
- Since arriving in Montgomery, I’ve been struck by the overwhelming love that all who call St. John’s home have for our Church. This love is expressed in so many ways, both through giving and through countless volunteer hours.
- Every year the members of St John’s pledge enough money to meet our operating costs. (We have an endowment, but its purpose is to fund large and unbudgeted items like building repairs, and not to supplement shortfalls in parishioner giving.)
- 2023 pledges increased by about 8% – tracking with the rate of inflation last autumn when we made our pledges.
- The average pledge per household has increased dramatically in recent years – from $4,748 in 2012 to $7,431 today.
- We have 176 pledging households, all of whom give sacrificially and realistically. For these folks, pledging is not like writing a modest check during NPR’s pledge drive or giving something occasionally to a charity. No, these pledgers give week-in-week-out, at a level that requires sacrifice. For them, giving does not begin until it hurts.
- I thank God for these 176 households and all the men, women, and children who live in them and who give so unselfishly.
Let’s celebrate all our pledging households (you know who you are). But (didn’t you just know there was a ‘but’ coming?) there is one further statistic I need to mention. It’s this … In the last 11 years, St. John’s has lost net 108 Pledging households. Count them. 108.
Because existing pledgers have increased their gifts so much, our income is stable and solid. And yet, clearly, we can’t continue to decline in the number of pledging households.
Last week the Stewardship Committee met (under the skilled leadership of Radney Ramsey) to begin planning the autumn stewardship campaign. Radney, Richard Bradford, Cole Wise, Bobby Seibels, Margaret Ann Selman, and Jimmy McLemore have graciously agreed to serve on this committee. They took the bold and necessary decision to focus this year’s campaign on enlarging our pledging base. In other words, we won’t be challenging existing pledgers to dramatically increase their pledge (but please at least maintain it). Instead, our aim will be to increase the number of pledging households.
May I close this article with a gracious invitation to everyone who has not pledged for 2023. Please find a moment over the summer months to ask yourself ‘why not?’ ‘As we give, so we receive’. God is eager to share with you the joy that comes from humble, sacrificial stewardship. We need new pledgers, and we need former pledgers who did not pledge for 2023 to get back into the habit. It’s not bizarre – it’s just part of being a committed member of our parish. Thank you.