The Importance of Financial Support in Ministry
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
— Luke 10:1–2 (NIV)
A few days after returning home from the Friends General Conference Gathering last summer, I got an email from a friend inviting me to North Pacific Yearly Meeting annual sessions. It was not the first time someone had invited me to NPYM sessions that year, and, up until that point, I had easily declined, with my reason being I had used all of my vacation time and Quaker energy on leading a workshop at the FGC Gathering. But this email was different.
My friend started out by reminding me that NPYM had played an important part in my path to becoming the minister that I am, and that there were many people who would like to say goodbye to me before I moved to Atlanta, Georgia, the following month. Then she wrote, “If money is a concern, don’t worry about it. I will cover your costs if you decide to come to NPYM.” My first thought when I read that was, “Darn it, now I have to do discernment!”
Money is not the final deciding factor in whether I will travel to an event, but it is a sign that I pay attention to. Most of the time, I can’t do traveling ministry without some financial support, and although I do not expect Friends to pay me for ministry, I really try to avoid having to pay to do ministry. I have never yet made money from doing ministry, but there have been times when most of my expenses were covered.
I have been a public Friend for over five years now, and in that time, I have received a lot of money from Friends in the form of grants from Quaker organizations, as well as financial support from individuals. The grants I have received include money from the Susan Bax Fund (Friends World Committee for Consultation), the Margaret Fell Fund (Friends General Conference), and the Lyman Fund (a small private fund). The support from individuals comes as checks in the mail or money slipped to me in person at my meeting or while I am traveling. I have also received financial support from my home meeting and from the places I have visited (mostly to cover registration costs). Occasionally, I receive money for writing, such as when Friends Journal paid for my registration for the 2012 World Conference of Friends in Kenya.
All of this support has added up to thousands of dollars that I have received from Friends over the past few years, but I have tithed more than I have received. During the time that I have been active in public ministry, I have almost always had a full-time job. One of the reasons why I need the financial support is because I tithe―i.e., I give 10 percent of my income to my meeting. I have also been paying off some pretty substantial student loans, so I end up living on a lot less than I make.
I tithe because that is how I was raised. My parents taught me from an early age that 10 percent of anything I made would go to the church, and 10 percent should go to savings. However, tithing has also become an important spiritual practice for me. It is a leap of faith for me to give money to my meeting when I am not sure that I will have enough left over to cover my expenses for the month. The discipline of tithing has also made me look at my budget with open eyes. At times, I have fallen into the trap of racking up credit card debt, but I have been careful to pay it off and to try to live within my means.
I have found that being on a tight budget is very good for discernment, both individual and corporate. Many of the grants I receive require my meeting to apply or receive the money on my behalf. Nearly all of them require a clearness committee and the minuted support of my meeting for the ministry. Accordingly, when I feel led to a particular traveling ministry, I first meet with a clearness committee to clarify that leading before presenting it to the business meeting for its discernment. Then, after I return from my travels, I report back to my meeting and to the granting group. Each step helps me test my leading and provides support and accountability for my ministry.
For more expensive projects, I have sometimes done direct fundraising, which is really hard for me; it is hard to ask people for money. But, at the same time, having Friends fund my ministry directly and then writing them thank you notes connects me with those Friends. Individuals who have supported me financially have told me that it is a way for them to engage with and participate in ministry when they may not be able to do traveling ministry themselves. In addition to feeling connected to the people who give me money, I also feel accountable to them for the ministry that I do.
For example, one recent ministry-related trip I needed to fund was last year’s FGC Gathering. I received four grants: (1) a workgrant from FGC for leading a workshop, (2) a travel grant from FGC for young adult Friends from western states, (3) a scholarship from my meeting, and (4) a grant from the Clarence and Lilly Pickett Endowment for Quaker Leadership. I applied for the workgrant and travel grant when I registered for the FGC Gathering, and I asked my meeting for the scholarship in business meeting.
The Pickett Endowment application process requires that someone other than the individual doing the ministry nominate her for the grant. I was blessed to have Lloyd Lee Wilson, a recorded minister in North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), offer to nominate me. He let me know when he had submitted the nomination, and I sent him a thank you note saying that the nomination was as important to me as the money because it felt like spiritual support. A few days later, the Pickett Endowment emailed me the nomination form; on it, I saw that Lloyd Lee had written the following:
It seems to me that the affirmation of receiving a Pickett Fund grant would be as important to Ashley at this stage of her ministry as the money itself (as important as that would be). Friends overall have not maintained much of a vocabulary for encouraging young people in the ministry, and Ashley feels that lack. An important way of helping Friends realize their leadership potential and encouraging them to keep working is to find a way to indicate our affirmation and support of their efforts. Ashley Wilcox is a person we should be encouraging and supporting.
The experience of applying for and receiving the Pickett Endowment grant clarified for me how providing financial support is a way of naming gifts in ministry. I felt humbled and honored by Lloyd Lee’s words and encouraged in the ministry I felt God was leading me to do.
In my experience, financial support of ministry has additional, indirect benefits as well. The financial support I have received has provided spiritual support and accountability for my ministry, and at the same time has spiritually engaged those who chose to support me. Ideally, the minister is a member of a monthly meeting and financially invested in that meeting. As a result, the process of providing financial support for ministers allows for deeper discernment (both individual and corporate), the building of community, and the naming and affirmation of the gifts of ministry. Asking for money has helped me clarify my call to ministry, and I believe the outcome has been a gift to my community, both in my meeting and in the wider world of Friends.