Responsibility, Impact & Stewardship
This year’s ACAT conference was held Saturday October 15th at Woburn House Conference Centre, London.
Money & Monks, Markets & Monasteries
Our opening address was Br Dr Anthony Purvis, Prior of St Michael’s Priory, Willen, Milton Keynes talking about the relationship between Thomas Merton and Dom James Fox the Abbot of the Abbey of Gethsemani. Stressed at some times as they had very different priorities, while also sharing many similarities – as they joined the same order and lived together for many years.
“What does it mean to live in a world based on money, when you have taken a vow of poverty?”
We were assured that to live in a religious house is not to run away from the world’s problems, but instead to face them in a smaller community. A priory is a place with budget deficits, financial difficulties, problems with contract law etc. It can be hard to deal with such things in association with people only wanting to concentrate on theology.
We must learn to live together or we fail each other. We learn from those we don’t leave.
Thomas Merton is often seen as a prophetic voice speaking from the wilderness loved the simplicity of the life he signed up for – sleeping ten to a dorm on straw mattresses, hand cultivating the land, eating very frugally. But he also made a great deal of money for the community – by writing a best seller.
Any money that came in was carefully managed by James Fox (a graduate of the Harvard Business School) to improve the fabric of the building, to mechanise the farming and increase production and to create mail order businesses – diversifying and increasing income streams. Good business sense that enable the religious work to continue and grow – by the time of Thomas Merton’s death new buildings were needed to hold all the incoming monks.
Two very different viewpoints and priorities, but the two were also brothers in spirit. When James Fox became the Abbot he insisted that Thomas Merton heard his confessions and when dying, asked to be buried next to Thomas Merton.
This was an inspiring set of thoughts and several on our table said we were going to do more reading – It reminded me of the Parker J Palmer passage in Qf&P 10.19
In a true community we will not choose our companions, for our choices are so often limited by self-serving motives. Instead, our companions will be given to us by grace. Often they will be persons who will upset our settled view of self and world. In fact, we might define true community as the place where the person you least want to live with always lives!
Parker J Palmer, 1977
Workshops, Advice & AGM
This year’s conference format included a brisk AGM, plus several workshops – separated into large or small church streams.
From the chat around our table and others both streams were well done, with interesting presenters, thoughtful answers and useful tips.
There was advice on employment, financial matters, information about Churches impacting on the community and the setting up of the Churches’ Mutual Credit Union, low cost property loans for churches, information on applying for grants – from a list available on parishresources.org.uk or through your local authority community fund, plus stewardship and the raising of funds.
I’ve come away with several pages of notes, some items to do research on and a pack of material to sort through over the next few days. A truly worthwhile day – recommended to any other Treasurer or Trustee concerned with financial management.