What the Quaker Faith Costs YOU - Part 1

Copyright 2006-2007 by QiN-Friend

Samuel Caldwell, said recently of the 300-year-old group of Quaker churches, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting:
where the pursuit of a free lunch is developed to a high art.”
Local, regional, and wider Church financial expenditures are sometimes ‘tweaked’ year after year - where the needs and intentions of the religious community upon consultation with the Holy Spirit ostensibly hardly change. But, as Quaker membership in the centuries-old Church has fallen steadily over the last 30 to 50 years and real cost of Church governance has gone up, Friends may have slowly fallen prey to a few wealthy, or trust funds, giving almost all of the income to large Church operating budgets. The smaller donors, he implies, dance or sing, in some artistic or sophisticated way for 'free lunches' or free benefits from their Church government.
Church expenditures can also support a Quaker 'culture', especially if Friends 'tweak' the budget year after year. This instead of constantly testing what the Spirit wants from the faithful, and having us annually apply a zero-based rationale in planning each expense line, as Samuel infers very powerfully. The former General Secretary of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting goes on to hypothesize, that our Quaker culture, mostly known in very old Friends' Societies, is quite distinct from, and sometimes antithetical to the what he explains is the remarkable, living Quaker faith.
With this in mind, has your local Friends Church or Quaker Monthly Meeting, the basic unit of Friends Society, had an opportunity to consider the meaning of individual financial giving?
Can your local Friends community communicate more clearly to members, the benefit to the whole group, where members share more equally with each other in financial support of the Church ?
We'll get to how your Meeting or Church might do this. But first, let’s go back to Sam’s pithy remark about the modern evolution of his own, and potentially, your own Religious Society of Friends. Social scientists say colloquially - ‘There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”, in that a person or a society cannot get something (like large donations) for nothing.
Maybe, like social scientists, Samuel Caldwell might mean, “free things (or gifts) have hidden costs” to the whole Society?
Does your Meeting operate consistently on ‘infinite and never ending’ large financial ‘gifts’ from dead Friends, from trust funds, or from one or a few wealthy living donors, while many or the majority of others contribute, little or nothing? Do the large budgets maintained as above, not directly supported by living members of Friends Societies and Friends ‘institutions’, have a hidden cost to health, or to possibly to the Living Faith, of the Religious Society of Friends?
We might consider an analogy to illustrate how there are no free lunches. Environmental economists feel that profit-making business should not be able to use the earth’s natural resources as a free ‘gift’. Similarly, many Friends in this recent ‘climate’ of environmental awareness, feel there is a hidden, now becoming more apparent, ‘cost’ to us all. The affect on the health of the environment for commercial appropriation of ‘infinite and never ending’ natural resources - is most likely negative.
Similar to the confusion in the public today about hidden ‘costs’ to our environment, I feel that Friends many times confuse the unlimited opportunity in the spiritual realm with the limited restrictions of the physical in our religious societies and our daily lives. We believe love and the Spirit are unfathomable, infinite, and within each person. But, we deny our material restrictions as Spirit-centering when we erroneously feel that material resources, including income we use to pay our expenses, are infinite, abundant and free – from somewhere else, sometime else, or someone else.
So, I think Samuel Caldwell was warning us with his remark that his own Philadelphia Quakers, and potentially other modern Friends with the choice of maintaining large budgets and relying on large donors or trust funds, are selfishly pursuing this elusive thing that doesn’t exist. And, even if a ‘free lunch’, in the short term or short sightedness of some Friends does exist, we’re creating social repercussions for our whole Quaker Society in its pursuit. Have Friends, at some time in the last 50 years, taken up the search for something - like relying on someone else to pay for costs of the Church?- Or is this an age-old tradition – allowing 80%or more of the members to pay for 20% or less of the costs? A retired accountant, a trustee for a Presbyterian church in Northern Pennsylvania, told me his church consistently relies on 10% of the donors for 90% of the income, and felt that might be standard in many other mainline churches.
Samuel Caldwell may have keyed into the outward behavior he saw from the inward loss of integrity when Friends quietly create or perpetuate expenses which require Quakers to continuously live beyond their honest, egalitarian means. In public, this is when civil taxpayers become more likely to shirk their responsibility and try to avoid paying their fair share (of a perceived excessive amount) that a government says it needs. When a local Friends Church, Monthly Meeting, Quarterly Meeting, Yearly Meeting – or Quaker ‘institution’ – you fill in the blank - budget and actual expenses become eternally excessive, the ‘high art’ of the dance to elude church taxes begins (instead of simply reducing the amount of the budget). I believe that Friends have sometimes pursued a sophisticated course instead of simply reducing their Church taxes to allow Friends to live equitably within their means, in accord with the true and honest spirit of the Religious Society of Friends.
Friends are big on writing carefully worded epistles and pronouncements about the social and environmental costs for the free lunches in the wider world that profit-making business receive. What about the lunch check in our own religious world? How should individual Friends - how should YOU - contribute in order to live up to the remarkable faith of Friends?
How Quakers Collect Church Taxes
Let’s take the basic unit of Friends Society and look at its financial integrity of income compared with expense. When a local Friends Church or Quaker Monthly Meeting has unified on the costs that it will undertake (possibly in the manner described in The Costs of the Quaker Faith, Friends Journal, July 2006), how does that local community convey effectively and transparently the need for regular substantial financial contributions from its constituent members? The history of the first generation Friends is rife with reasons why they would not pay tithes to the church/state. They had ‘religious’ reasons, but they also obviously had no input into determining the use of the taxes either.
I knew, when writing ‘The Costs of the Quaker Faith’ that what I was embarking upon, would not stop at helping Friends consider the expenses of a Monthly Meeting. I knew that I had a limited space to fill - to make a point, and let it settle with those who could bring themselves to read about money, especially our own.
So, this concern is headed home - straight to THEE. The innate change in oneself that is required to open oneself to the Light, and possibly give more of oneself in order to possibly receive more of the Spirit, is something 'how-to' with which individuals have struggled for millennia. From my viewpoint, the spiritual and physical are interconnected in a Meeting, as much as they are in a person. If we understand that mind, body and spirit are one in a person, how can we deny that some change in our physical practice, especially in our giving of money, can affect our spiritual selves inside and outside of the Church? How one lives affects how one gives, and vice versa. And if a local or wider community decides to spend more than it can reasonably ask its members to contribute, divided somewhat equally or equitably among the group – the group is living beyond its true means. Let’s look at one way to possibly heal ourselves.
What should Monthly Meetings show?
Monthly Meetings or local Friends Churches, as the basic units in Friends Society will have to come to clearness that the community will benefit by showing transparency (to whom else potentially in addition to its members) into its:
  1. projected budget,
  2. actual expenses, and
  3. actual collections.
Should a local community show these to its constituents, as well as to other communities in the Quarterly Meeting and Yearly Meeting? Why not? If Friends have integrity between faith and practice, we should have nothing to hide from each other or from anyone.
For each member to know or be familiar with what is hoped for, or expected in terms of gifts, the Meeting might consider showing a consistent trend progression of a few leading indicators.
A Simple Way to Share Financial Needs of the Meeting
My own Monthly Meeting, part of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, shares the approved budget, and simply divides the total projected expenses among the number of members on the rolls. The Trustees make an announcement that the Meeting would like each member to try to contribute $375, for the year 2007. If each member gives $375 then the expenses will be covered by the donations. Of course each member does not give $375, some give less and some give more. But this simple communication might be all your meeting needs to do to show transparently what is generally expected of each member.
Another Meeting member in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, explained to me that their Monthly Meeting communication with Friends is similar if not the same as my Monthly Meeting. The Friend states: "[Our] Meeting asks each member to contribute $425 to the Meeting for the year. Some give more, some give less and we make it clear that financial support is not necessary to worship [with us]. Of course, we need certain fincial support for the Meeting and members respond accordingly...."
If your Meeting feels like it should show more detail, or communicate more clearly about what is needed from individual members, read on.
Budget vs. Actual

A donor should know how much of a budget was approved in the current and previous year, as well as is proposed for the upcoming year. Below that should be the amount that was actually spent in those years. The difference between the two, if
maintained as a similar amount or percentage for years, as budget higher than actual, is a problem I’ve seen in most if not every Meeting I’ve attended. The actual rarely or never goes over the budget, (as you can see in ‘Previous Year’ and ‘Last Year’ in the chart below) so in effect, when a budget is approved and the Business Meeting later attempts to convince members to give this amount in a year, Friends know this amount is very, very unlikely to be needed.

(click on image to enlarge)
The way to fix this for ‘Next Year’ above is to have your local Church consider and approve a lower and more truthful budget. Have committees do some advance thought into how money will be spent in your Meeting, itemized as carefully as possible in committee, for the coming year. This is harder work than tweaking last year’s number. But this kind of forward thinking will enable your local Friends community to define more easily its mission and purpose, sooner than later. This early consideration, in my view, also helps Friends make decisions which are not stressing us at the last minute. These early decisions will help smooth the bumps in the road that occur at the more difficult points in our collective sojourn.
When budget lines are lowered, a committee or position might spend more than the amount approved by the Meeting in that year. For this possibility, ask your meeting to approve a general contingency of a certain percentage over the amount in the budget. Since the budget is only a plan, in any given year it could be under-spent or over-spent to some acceptable extent without prior approval by the Meeting. This precludes that a local community will have the right amount of savings which is not excessive, nor insufficient, in case of a year or two when donations do not meet the expenses.
Member Contributions vs. Other Income
I believe that Friends should know how much of total actual expenses are paid by their contributions over time. If this percentage (1.) is going down over time, it is signaling something which Friends might not know, or might already know, but don’t want to admit. If (1.) is going down over time, then (2.) must be going up because total actual expenses must be paid by 1. member contributions and 2. other income/savings.
Friends should also know then if the Monthly Meeting’s savings (principal) were increased or diminished due to a windfall or shortfall in contributions.

(click on image to enlarge)
In the ‘previous year’ above, Friends gave 89% of the actual costs of the Meeting, and 11% was given by interest income from savings (but no reduction in principle), and fundraisers, let’s say. We can tell this because the number is ‘0’ in line (3.) under the ‘previous year’.
In ‘last year’ Friends only contributed 82% of the total actual costs, and members also had to draw down savings principal by $3,110. Something must have happened - a large expense, a decline in members, or something significant to the Meeting - which would affect income or expense.
For the next year’, we might plan to have two definite fundraisers and budget money for outreach to attract new faces. We might at the same time make plans to have threshing sessions for donations to the Meeting, try to come to show transparency as above, and answer questions from Friends and talk about giving in terms of our ability and desire to give to the Meeting.
The Super-Average Giving Individual
Can each Friend strive to be super-average in his or her giving? What is ‘super-average’, you ask? It is a concept partially inspired and partially gleaned from my experience about our Equality Testimony and what it means to me and possibly to other Friends. I’m asking Friends here to think about being ‘super-average’, and see if this concept offers Friends something to reach for - something to test, which might add a remarkable-ness to our faith.
I asked in 'The Costs of the Quaker Faith' – Can we have Peace without Integrity? I ask here: Can we have Peace without Equality? These questions suggest the obvious answers, and lead us to ask another question: Do the Friends’ Testimonies have integrity with each other? And if others can’t have peace because of the lack of business or economic integrity, or equality, can Friends also have peace in our own Society for the lack of the same?
Comparing the Mean and Median
Like the rest of society, the ‘middle class’
in Friends Society might be disappearing.
How can we tell?
Friends Business Meetings might start by agreeing to provide transparency of giving to its contributors.
Statistics use basic measures of ‘average’ in describing middle points in sets of data. I will focus on the mean and the median and their relationship to each other as descriptors of ‘super-average’ in my hypothesis.
The mean is the sum of all contributions, divided by the number of potential contributing members . The median is the middle annual member donation among all annual potential member donations. (Both measures include those potential members who give zero).
Super-Average is when the median of potential annual member contributions is equal to or greater than the mean of all potential contributions for a given year.
If Friends find they’ve evolved into a more disparate proportion than the ‘80-20 rule’ in financial contributions to their own Society, (where 80% of the members donate 20% of the contributions and vice-versa) these Friends might also consider how equal Friends in a Quaker Society actually are.
The Finance Committee or Treasurer can certainly report statistics on the size distribution of donations to Quaker Monthly Meetings. Friends might consider a consistent transparent effort, along with a multiple-year history of the Monthly Meeting income and expense statistics shown above.

(click on image to enlarge)

If the median annual member contribution is much lower than the mean of all contributions for the year – the Monthly Meeting has a problem of over reliance on one or a few wealthy donors.

This is not only a potentially unequal place for a local Church to be, but also an unstable place for the community to be. (What happens if the one or few large donor(s) go away?)

This diagram shows a hypothetical inequality in Monthly Meeting contributions.
(click on image to enlarge)

To create the occasion for peace and equality, Meetings might strive to encourage giving by each member household somewhere between the mean and slightly higher than the median. (Somewhere between $200 and $500 per year per member.)
It might be shocking for some to hear, but large individual donations to a Quaker Monthly Meeting should be discouraged.
If a Quaker Meeting finds 90% of the members giving 10% of the annual budget or less, the annual costs should somehow be decreased honestly and sensitively over time to return to a state of representative equality and spiritual vitality. A decrease in annual expenditures will allow the community to live honestly within its means – giving occasion for the true Quaker Faith to prosper.

Individual monetary contributions to any Society will never be completely uniform. However, in striving for the median, in being ‘super-average’ even when one or a few givers are wealthy, all Friends should realize that over-giving is potentially as destructive to the equality or equity within the community, as under giving or no giving. Reliance also on one or a few wealthy donors, trust funds, or bequests, as a major part of the year-to-year income to an operating budget, also encourages the Quaker Culture to dominate, rather than the Quaker Faith. (I like old meetinghouses (usually on the East Coast of the U.S.) as much as the next Quaker, however, as many trust funds are set up to maintain these quaint and historic structures, we also have to consider how much they insinuate the true Quaker Faith into our worship?)

This diagram shows an example of ‘Super-Average’ giving that Friends might strive for.
(click on image to enlarge)
If Friends really want to know themselves, where they stand, and what is expected of them - the Monthly Meeting can regularly publish the mean and the median annual contributions for members (and possibly attenders) to consider.
These two indicators will help contributors try and plan, even possibly change their own lives accordingly. For example, an individual might consider what they are doing wrong in their personal life, if they ‘cannot’ give somewhere between the average and the median donation.
We know that modern Quakers, (at least on the East Coast of the U.S.) almost exclusively, are highly educated. Consequently, there really are few reasons why these Friends ‘cannot’ pay between the average and the median contribution in most years. This unless the Monthly Meeting’s annual expenditures are simply beyond the egalitarian means of the community.
As mentioned earlier, my concern of spiritual and material integrity (between Faith and Practice) and its importance to Friends, is coming home straight to YOU. I’m moved to say that providing transparency to your Meeting’s finances will change your Meeting’s life for the better. Discuss it after a catered lunch or a pot luck supper sometime. Then record any notable expenses into your Meeting’s ‘Nurture’ expense section. Why? There just ‘aint no such thing as a free lunch.

To receive a Monthly Meeting Contribution Sharing template, please send an email to qinfriend ’at’, or click here.

'The Costs of the Quaker Faith' , how a Monthly Meeting can visualize its expenditures, originally published in Friends Journal, is now online.
What the Quaker Faith Costs YOU - Part 2 will explore how individuals’ spiritual lives might be changed by giving to the Church


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