Finance First Friday: But where does my candy actually go? Does God eat it?

Many adults find it difficult to talk about money with each other, so how can we talk about money with our children? And how do we teach children financial perspectives that align with our faith. Erin Weber-Johnson – fundraising and strategic planning consultant, parishioner, and mother of two young boys – shares her family experiences and practices.

I, like a lot of parents, pray every night that my children would know that they are deeply loved by their dad and I, and by their Creator (Our children, feeling saucy, have even quoted these words back to us during difficult bedtimes). When thinking about identity, what they believe about who they are will be significantly formed in how Jered and I communicate our own
narratives about money.

I believe the stories we form about money as adults are deeply rooted in our earliest experiences with it. How money is talked about (or not) and what we think God thinks about those who have money (or don’t) creates narratives that drive not only our giving or money decisions, but our identities. Who are we as people if we have too much money? Or too little?
What does it mean if we have debt? Do those who have money earn the right to claim power over others? These are questions that stem from our experiences and are often formed from childhood.

As a child, I can recall one of my earliest experiences of money came when an intoxicated man, late one night, knocked on the parsonage door of my family’s home in Highland, IL. My father, a baptist minister, worked for the church right next door which was a few blocks from the local bar. I recall my dad asking me if the man could use my sleeping bag. He gave the man dinner and a place to sleep that evening. The next morning, the man asked for money to catch a bus and my father cleaned out the contents of our grocery money basket and gave it to him.

I remember having complicated feelings about the interaction between the intoxicated man and my father. Or, rather, complicated feelings about my sleeping bag and our grocery money. My dad later gave me the gift of talking through my thoughts and feelings. He transparently shared his own thoughts and allowed me to ask questions about our finances. I remember him saying “Erin Rachel, did you know we serve a big God who loves you and loves that man?” and leaned over to hug me. Most importantly, he framed the gift of money and support by our family as a collective act of love –one that I shared in.

When they were very young, Jered and I began thinking about how to communicate giving utilizing a form of currency that had meaning for our boys. Prior to their understanding of paper money, we sought to instill this through the use of Halloween/Valentines/Easter candy. Each year, Jude and Simon Henri counted out their candy and we figured out what 10% would be by way of pieces of candy. We worked to ensure the candy selected wasn`t the undesirable pieces, but rather those that we’d want to give as an expression of love. We gathered the candy, placed it in a bag, and put it in the offering plate.

This inspired a number of important conversations including questions of how the candy would be used. Transparently, we noted that while God was likely not inclined to eat their candy, the Church would use it in one of the outreach ministries. Stewardship, when a contextual ministry, works for the repair of the world. In this way, Jude and Simon Henri’s earliest form of currency was offered, blessed, and, as an act of stewardship, became an expression of God’s love to others.

We noted that the giving of our gifts, our currency, changes us deeply. When we give, we acknowledge what we have is not a result of nor impacts our worth. We are loved exactly for who we are.

Once Jude and Simon Henri were older and understood the concept of money, we implemented a 4 envelope system. For every allowance or financial gift given, we break down the money into the following categories:
10% God/Our faith community
10% Sibling/Household (Because we belong to one another and care for our family)
40% Savings
40% Discretionary income

Each week we intentionally practice thinking about money in terms of our values and priorities. We practice the act of giving together—not as isolated, individual gifts, but as something we talk about together.

This past year I realized that translating institutional budgeting was also important for our children to learn. Our individual giving impacts our faith community’s decisions. The decisions we make, our priorities, form us as individuals but also as a collective body.

Last October, when Jered and I filled out our pledge card, we invited each of the boys to fill out a pledge card as well. This meant that their projected giving was reflected in the 2019 stewardship totals and their pledge helped make the budget that was presented at the 2020 annual meeting. What a beautiful gift it is to be included in the community!

Jude and Simon Henri were proud to receive their own pledge envelopes. Their pledge means that they will receive regular updates on their giving and an end of the year record of gifts. Ultimately, it communicates to them that their money matters —their gifts are seen, blessed each Sunday, and received with gratitude.

When thinking about their money narratives, I pray our children will remain rooted in the knowledge that they are loved by God. I want our kids to continue to think about their giving priorities and for us, as a family, to speak openly about the impact money has in our faith. And, ultimately, their foundational money stories are full of stories of gifts that are expressions of love for the repair of the world.

Thank you Erin!

Finance First Fridays is a pastoral initiative here at St. John’s. Discussing finances can be difficult, however, money is a real factor in all of our lives and an important topic to address. If you have a personal story you’d like to tell or financial resources you’d like to share, please contact Executive Administrator, Sarah Dull, – you never know who needs to hear your story.

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