Hands picking up a loaf of sourdough bread from the counter

I’ve been grateful to hear from our finance folks that y’all have responded well to my financial appeal. Several dozen of you have gotten in touch with that office to increase your giving and explicitly mentioned the letter. We’re a church that steps up when called upon. I’m proud of that.

My colleague Bishop Jenny Andison of St. Paul’s Bloor Street tells me of a meeting with a new family at their growing church. They were eager to join St. Paul’s. They turned to her with enthusiasm and asked, “How much are the membership fees?” In one way, this is a perfectly normal question. The Granite Club, the York Club, the Toronto Club, the Racquet Club—any number of social and athletic institutions in our city charge (painfully high!) initial and ongoing monthly fees. Religious institutions do the same. To join a synagogue requires an assessment that you pay whether you turn up for sabbath services or not. These folks were eager to pay and had braced themselves for a high figure.

Jenny said she could feel the air go out of the room when she said, “It costs nothing.” She wishes, instead, she’d had a hard figure to offer. We actually think church membership costs everything. We don’t charge, this is priceless. It costs the blood of God’s own Son. We sometimes get a phone call at the church asking how much a baptism costs or a communion visit to a sick person. “It costs more than you believe” might be a better answer than “Nothing. It’s free.”

I was recently at a bakery in our neighbourhood on the westside. I had stepped in to pick something up for someone else in our family. The man looked at me a second time and said “You haven’t been here before, have you?” No, you’re correct, my first time. He walked back to the giant rolls of bread, just made. He grabbed the fattest sourdough loaf, as if reading my mind. And he handed it to me: “Here, thanks for checking us out.” And for the next 24 hours I looked for every excuse to eat bread I could find. Smeared with this, loaded up with that, holding these things still in a sandwich. And I looked for opportunities to tell strangers about it (like y’all: Noctua Bakery, 3014 Dundas St. West!). This free gift made me an instant evangelist for the bakery. I suspect that was the intention. Or maybe they just really like their bread and think all they have to do is get it in people’s hands and it’ll sell itself. They are correct about that, by the way.

We do have a budget at the church. We do have finance and stewardship and investment committees working hard, bringing their expertise to provide the fuel and oxygen for our ministry. But we should also be clear: none of us could pay for what we have here at church. We give it away because it was already bought at an infinite price by Christ himself. And we give to the church not to earn God’s favour—we cannot make God love us more or less than God already does. We do it because we are so grateful, because we love what we find here, because we want others to find it. And if we all give from that place, our budgets will take care of themselves.

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