My Church, Not the Diocese

I received a phone call recently that didn’t start well. 

There was an angry parishioner on the other end.  We sent a letter to her reminding her of her pledge to our recent capital campaign.  She had already made one payment and we were looking for the second of three.

Her pledge was very generous, and she was a very nice woman.  However, she was clearly upset as she was under the impression the money was going to the parish’s building fund, which was not the case. 

I told her that the capital campaign was originated by the diocese, but the gifts were shared by the parish and the diocese.  She said the campaign material was confusing, and it was not clear where the money was going.  She also said that she was not going to give to the annual appeal because of this confusion.

Then she said the most troubling thing: “I wanted to give to my Church, not the diocese!”

I have heard this statement before, and I usually attributed it to a surly pastor who was angry about the parish assessment.  Not this time, though.

The woman’s pastor is a die-hard supporter of the diocese.  He totally understands the relationship between diocese and parish, and that the diocese IS the local Church, which is made up of many parishes. 

Somewhere along the line, though, that message didn’t make it to this woman’s inner being.  She sees the parish and the diocese as two separate entities with a certain amount of tension between them.  Her view is that the diocese is the overlord, while the parish is the favored child.

Having worked in a diocesan environment for nearly a decade, I know the truth in this particular scenario.  I have not met a single person in a chancery who would not take a bullet for anyone in a parish.  We live to serve our clergy and the people of God in the parishes.

But there was that gorilla in the room, the one identified by the angry parishioner.  “I wanted to give to my Church, not the diocese.”

Our conversation ended well, and where I thought she might back out of her commitment entirely, she just reduced it a bit.  I invited her to call me directly is she had any further issues she wanted to discuss, and she was happy with that.

My Church IS the diocese.  The diocese IS my Church.  My parish IS the diocese.  The diocese IS my parish.  We are all one, the body of Christ. 

Stewardship calls us to offer our gifts to God.  It does not distinguish between parish and diocese.  I look forward to a day when our minds can embrace that truth.

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