Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Faith Works 5-31-08
Jeff Gill

Ringing Up the Summer

What can I say that you don’t already know about gas prices, food costs, and the economy?

When talking heads say food costs are up 5% or so, they sound grim enough, but it seems as if the actual cost of stuff I buy regularly is up more like 15 to 20%, and convenience items are up even farther and faster

What I can say is that the trend lines are going to keep going up. The situation with global energy supplies is going to tighten, and that will increase prices for oil and natural gas which move food prices up faster than almost anything else.

Which will put more stress on the economy generally.

We have a role to play in moving towards more energy conservation and sensible, sustainable national energy policy, from our own use of natural resources to how we vote next November. If I made my living off of people taking long, leisurely trips in their cars, I’d worry right now.

For churches, that may mean fewer people gone for long stretches this summer, but it may also add up to more weekend in-state outings, so the impact on attendance is harder to predict than gas prices.

We will almost certainly see an impact on giving in the offering plates around Licking County.

Summer is often a stressful time for congregational budget makers and managers, since folks who give weekly often miss a goodly number of Sundays and don’t always make up their giving for those weeks, or wait until after Labor Day. Meanwhile, bills still come in about as regularly as they do in October or April. If your church doesn’t carry much of a cushion, there can be few options for a pastor or treasurer.

To put it bluntly, it can mean no paychecks in August if all the dominoes fall the wrong way.

So the usual plea goes out, and I’ll echo – don’t forget your regular giving at home during vacation time. No matter how solid the circumstances of your faith community, cash flow crunches can create real problems for outreach and ministry.

Some folks even wonder about how to support their church after they leave on an, um, permanent vacation. If you are doing estate planning, take your annual giving, multiply it times 20, and that amount in a memorial account should produce your annual gift in perpetuity. Talk to the folks over at the Licking County Foundation or your bank’s trust department to see if I’m talking sense or not.

Meanwhile, this may be a very good summer to look at your church and church building and think about energy consumption. Do you have automatic thermostats? Sensor lights in bathrooms, that kick on when someone enters and kick off after a long enough time of no motion?

What about solar panels on the roof? Geothermal in the lawn? Or just having the trustees change the filters in the HVAC system?

A few words from that have an impact on what stewardship might need mean: “Oil is still very cheap. Bottled spring water at $2 per litre works out at $318 per barrel. Oil is fundamental to our lives for transportation and a myriad products ranging from plastic to pesticides. Unlike spring water, oil is finite and costs significantly more to find and produce. The price of oil will continue to rise until the world as a whole decides it can do with less or until meaningful volumes of energy substitution take root.”

Speaking as a Christian pastor, the only commodities I’m called upon to preach as limitless are God’s love, and Christ’s forgiveness. Creation itself is made to exist within limits, the bounds set by God “in the beginning” for this life, and our living of that gift.

If we continue to live as if the limits of creation do not apply to us, then we are setting ourselves up as gods, and there is a price to pay for that kind of ultimate misunderstanding. From the Tower of Babel to the Golden Calf to Annanias and Sapphira, when we choose to step across certain limits, there are consequences. Our way of life can be scattered, dispersed, even ended.

Will we find our place, or be forced to accept certain consequences? “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. . .” and it may be time to conserve and not consume. Or wait for $5 and even $8 a gallon to teach us what Ecclesiastes is saying in this generation.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he keeps a little solar fan in a western window, just because. Tell him how you plan to conserve creation at

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