My Friends meeting was about to make an important decision involving a large amount of money. Our worship room needed new carpet and paint. We needed better wheelchair ramps and more accessible restrooms. We needed to overhaul our decrepit and drafty kitchen and fix a leaking roof. Tally up all these costs (which are likely familiar to those of us who live in old houses), and we were looking at a hefty bill.
Every concern that arose in our deliberations at my meeting seemed to surface others. How were we going to do it? Where would the money come from? Was this the way we should spend such a sum, when there is so much need and injustice in our neighborhood? What about families within our community experiencing economic distress or hardship? And since we are paying attention to our assets all of a sudden, how should our savings be invested?
Questions like these face religious communities everywhere, and our Quaker processes of discernment are supposed to guide us to an understanding of the right path that transcends human will and approaches that to which God is calling us as a community. Our manner of decision making is supposed to be a tool we can use in any situation that calls for collective action. Like any tool, Quaker process can use some sharpening and maintenance before taking on an important task. In this issue, Lola Georg (who will be helping my own meeting over the coming months by facilitating a series of workshops on the spirituality of money) shares a framework for thinking about different kinds of financial transactions we make as individuals and members of communities. Pamela Haines invites Friends to consider how we stand in relation to the economic systems around us. Jeffery W. Perkins explains how his Quaker investment management firm uses Friends values and the collective wealth of Quaker meetings and churches as levers for change in the firms in which it invests. Our contributors offer guidance to help us hone our tools, and they share examples of creative thinking that helped them—and the groups they care about—get unstuck from the mire and rust that so often envelops financial decision making in faith communities.
There’s a lot of ground we weren’t able to cover in this edition. First of all, geographic ground: our three feature articles are all by Philadelphia-area authors, and many Philadelphia-area Friends meetings that were established centuries ago have benefited from bequests by generations of generous members. That is certainly not the case everywhere, or even in most places. Yet whether a meeting has “old Quaker money” or not, whether its members are wealthy, poor, or somewhere in the middle, it must make decisions about the future. For more on Quakers and “old money,” see Elizabeth Cazden’s excellent piece in the June 2006 Friends Journal, “Quaker Money, Old Money, and White Privilege.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is said to have preached: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Our decisions about money ought to flow from our most deeply discerned priorities, not the other way around. We’d love to hear from our readers what quandaries and challenges you face about money in your Quaker community.