This is a text-only version of an article first published on Monday, 24 May 2021. Information shown on this page may no longer be current.
A conversation with Heather Graham, Team Vicar at St James, Downley
Heather Graham talks to the diocesan Generous Giving Adviser, Joshua Townson, about the work she has been doing to promote a culture of giving and generosity in her church.
When did you decide to start addressing the giving culture at St James'?
St James, Downley Well, I joined the church in July 2019 following my curacy training at St Andrew's, High Wycombe.
When I arrived, St James' had already joined the Parish Giving Scheme and was receiving about £338 through the scheme each month. Perhaps due to its more evangelical roots, St Andrew's has always had a strong culture of regular giving and of generosity, and so this was embedded in my own ministry and faith when I moved to St James'. I first began to introduce the topic of giving during a commitment Sunday in October 2019.
As part of this day, we gave people a response leaflet that offered them the opportunity to consider how they could give to support the work of the church.
Importantly, this was not just about financial giving - although that was a part of it - the message of the day was about giving our whole selves, and the leaflet suggested a number of different ways people could give and serve the life of the church. By January 2020, the income from the Parish Giving Scheme had increased to £817 per month, and by April 2021 this has gone up to £1,612 per month.
Wow, that's quite a dramatic increase in giving.
It sounds like people have responded really positively, could you tell us more about the message you are sharing?
I joined the church after a vacancy during which giving had dropped off a little so when I started it was important to me to include giving and generosity within our vision as a church community.
This works in two ways.
Firstly, whenever I talk about vision, I'll also mention the finances because it's vital that we plan for how we can fund our future ministry.
We've also redecorated some of the buildings and this can help people visualise that the church is moving forward, inspiring them to give for its future.
Secondly, we felt called to include giving itself as part of our vision.
We have made an open commitment to being a Giving Church not a receiving church.
This means that we don't just want to "pay our way" but that we want to be a visible presence of active generosity in the community and in the wider church.
As part of this we have begun to tithe our income - 10% of donations are now given to causes which are nominated by the congregation.
At the same time, we have been working to address our Parish Share.
In the past, the church has paid a reduced parish share, subsidised by the deanery, but we are now in a position where we are able to both pay our parish share and have funds left to pay our other bills and start to invest in the new ministries we feel that God is calling us to. I believe that when we give away to other people, that's when God blesses us, and that's what being a Giving Church is all about.
That's such a positive message, and it's clear that embedding a culture of giving within the vision has had a major impact on the amount of donations you receive.
How do you incorporate a request for financial giving within the wider message of being a Giving Church?
We continue to run a commitment Sunday once a year, always with the message of giving from our whole selves, not just our money.
The last commitment Sunday was in March 2021, and over the previous couple of years, we have had a number of new members.
Our treasurer is excellent at having conversations with people about giving and he will often speak to new members, as well as following up with envelope and plate givers about the benefits of the Parish Giving Scheme.
What's next for you as a Giving Church?
I'm hoping to soon introduce a Gift Day where all the income is given away to other charities.
Besides that, we will continue to give regular updates on giving and the funds needed to carry out the vision we believe that God has given us at St James' to be "living God's love in our community, in our worship, in our prayer".
The Parish Giving Scheme is an excellent way to encourage greater generosity within your church. Find out more about how the scheme could help your church.