Robin Murray is the pastor of Castlegar United Church.

Robin Murray is the pastor of Castlegar United Church.

FAITH: Churches and money

A column by Robin Murray, Castlegar United Church.

Submitted by Robin Murray, Castlegar United Church

Let’s talk about money, shall we? There are always folks that want to see churches pay property taxes or who consider religion “big business.” Like any other charity, churches can become corrupted and spend too much on luxury for their leadership, but most churches strive for a healthy relationship with money as an organization and as individual members. Money is needed to meet our goals, but it is not the goal itself.

So who actually owns and funds churches? In some parts of the world they are owned and/or funded by the government, but not in Canada. Church buildings are usually held in trust on behalf of church members. The costs of upkeep and staffing in most churches, however, in most cases falls entirely on the shoulders of local church-goers.

The buildings may seem to be worth a fortune on paper, but unless the property underneath is worth more than the building itself, churches seldom realize the insured value of the building when it is sold. Often they are historic buildings that need prohibitively expensive upgrading to be useful for any other purpose than a large gathering space.

The real value of the church building is what happens inside. Weddings, funerals, and holiday celebrations, potlucks, AA meetings, community dinners, choirs, children’s groups — these are the things where having a church building is an asset, not just to Sunday church-goers, but to the entire community.

So, back to the issue of who pays for all this? It is mostly local, individual donors, usually the people who attend religious worship services. They do this, not just for the tax deduction, but as a spiritual practice of giving to the community. They are giving the gift of gathering space. They are giving the gift of staff people who can be there for the highs and lows of people’s lives and can organize meaningful events. They are giving to people in crisis.

Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34) Where is your treasure? Is it sitting in a bank? Is it locked up in mini-storage? Or is it out in your community? Is it invested in your relationships with others and the good you can do in the world?

Like investing in your home creates space for your family, so investing in a church creates space for community. Family and community are the real treasure.

Robin Murray is the pastor of Castlegar United Church.

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