A Plan-of-Action to Pay-It-Forward

By the Ven. J. Barry Foster, Executive Officer Anglican Diocese of British Columbia

Among the challenges inherent in church life is the fact that we depend on voluntary contributions. Given the variability and unpredictability of those contributions it is not a surprise that church leaders can become anxious about the continuing financial support we require or desire. Left unchecked, this anxiety has the potential to become constrictive and corrosive. Too often it prevents creative work, and a scarcity mentality takes hold.

I have always believed the best antidote to this scarcity-induced anxiety is generosity. Extending our commitments to others, even during hard times, is the best way to prevent that scarcity mentality from going viral. “Even now?” people will ask, in the wake of COVID-19, where the church has seen reduced offerings, stretched capacity, and radical changes to ministry format and structure. “Yes,” I say, “especially now.”

The generative nature of paying-it-forward is, I think, what makes it such a powerful remedy for financial anxiety. In our church, nationally, the best evidence we have of this is the Anglican Foundation of Canada. It might be hard for some to get a sense of AFC’s nationwide impact. This is, after all, a big country. Churchgoers in the Cowichan Valley, celebrating their new roof, might not feel instantly connected to their peers in Eastern Newfoundland who are cutting a ribbon on a new washroom. But as AFC grant recipients they are united by a common bond, whether they are aware of it or not.

Over the years I have tried to encourage parishes to look beyond local and diocesan boundaries, to see how the generosity of other Anglicans, channeled through AFC, makes it possible for all of us to reach a little further and do a little more than we might have on our own. The way in which AFC gives its grants and awards is always done with a spirit of generosity, collaboration, and gratitude. In this way AFC serves as a model for the Canadian church on how to communicate with, encourage, and support each other.

Like any good medicine, filling the prescription is the first step. Taking it must be part of the action plan. For several decades now my plan-of-action for paying-it-forward has been to encourage every church to have AFC as a line item in their budget. When folks look at me and ask, “What is an organization we can support?” I always say, “The Anglican Foundation of Canada.” If you only have $500 in your budget, there is a rectory in Dawson City, a Theological College in The Pas, or a homework club for newcomers to Canada in downtown Toronto that needs you! As we have received, so too shall we give.

The seemingly insurmountable challenges facing the church has me feeling particularly grateful for our communion and the sense of shared purpose that, for more than six decades, has been nurtured by the Anglican Foundation of Canada.

When people talk about the future of the church in terms of trends and statistics, we can easily forget that there is a difference between prediction and prophecy. From both theological and personal standpoints my focus is less on dire predictions and more on the prophetic stance. Notwithstanding the statistical realities, we owe it to ourselves to look at how we live, in ways large and small, beyond the dire predictions to the prophetic vision of who we are and what we can become.

When I think about a hopeful vision in this difficult time for institutional religion I think about AFC. Thanks to the many legacies that have been paid forward through our Foundation, and wise and faithful management these past decades, today it is a beacon of hope that shines brighter and brighter every year.

I encourage any Canadian Anglican who is suffering from a case of anxiety-induced scarcity to turn their attention to AFC and feel reassured that in this church we do not go it alone. Whether we are six feet apart, or six thousand miles apart, thanks to AFC we will always stand together.