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By Rev. Canon Grayhame Bowcott

With the conclusion of Christmas services and the ringing in of the new year, many priests and wardens throughout the diocese will now direct their focus to a more a somewhat more somber commission: Vestry Season.

Each year, two of the most foreboding tasks of congregational leaders are the compilation of year-end vestry reports and the challenging work of financial planning and receipting. For many, these tasks are not generally thought of as ‘life giving’ ministry, but rather, as a necessary chore in order to transition from one financial year to the next.

What if we could conduct the business of Church in a way that celebrates the missional accomplishments and the relational scope of our congregations over the last year? Is it possible to transform a chore into a celebration?

Consider this: each tax receipt that a congregation mails out at the end of the year costs $1.07 per stamp. Annual practice for some churches is to simply mail out a single tax receipt document. However, doing so is a missed opportunity to tell the story of what your congregation has accomplished with the support of each donor’s gift to the Church. This is where a little intentionality can go a long way! Each donor receipt should be accompanied by a thank you note that tells the story of how God has been working through your congregational ministries.

This is the time of year that I dig out my vestry book and I pour over the statistics. How many services were hosted by our congregation this last year? How many times was someone at home or in hospital visited and delivered communion? What are the various expressions of ministry that your church shared with others in the past year? How many meals were delivered to those in need? How many dollars were contributed to outreach causes beyond the walls of the church? What is the impact of the ministry that happens between the Sunday worship services each week and how are the lives of others being nourished through our congregation’s care, prayer and proclamation?

You’d be surprised that all of this information can usually be summed up in a celebratory one or two page narrative that can be neatly tucked behind each tax receipt. In receiving a thank-you, in this narrative sense, donors will often feel like their offering has been compounded by the numerous ways that God is acting in our ministry. Never sell your church short, for God’s story is always greater than the dollars and cents of an annual budget!

Another great way of celebrating a congregation’s achievements over the past year is to share financial reports through the use of narrative budgets. A narrative budget is a presentation method that breaks down all of the expenses of the church year into ministry categories such as worship, evangelism, outreach, administration and maintenance.

The point of a narrative budget is to communicate how ministry expenses are not just bills and salaries that need to be paid for each year, but instead, to share how each budget item enables different types of ministry. Does your congregation see their advertising as being a form of evangelism? Do they know how many cents from every dollar on the plate are directed towards Christian outreach? A traditional budget doesn’t always communicate the values of mission and outreach in the same way that a narrative budget can.

For any congregation looking for an example of a narrative budget or some direction on how to put one together, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me – always happy to share!

Church finances don’t have to be dry and depressing. Instead, they should reveal God at work in your community. Vestry Season is one of the greatest times of the year to talk about the ministry and the relationships that are central to our faith communities. Don’t hesitate to use tax receipts and financial budgets as an excuse to proclaim the good news of what God has accomplished through and in your congregation over this past year. May God’s Spirit continue to work in our preparation for Vestry season in these upcoming weeks.

Rev. Canon Dr. Grayhame Bowcott is passionate about fostering congregational relationships and sharing our Anglican vocation with others. He serves as Rector of St. George’s, The Parish of The Blue Mountains and as Program Director for the Licentiate in Theology program at Huron University.