For two months of the year, the folks at Headingley United Church act like much depends on dinner.
"It's our lifeline," explains Rev. George Davidson of the fundraising efforts of the congregation's annual dinner theatre, produced by the congregation for the last 27 years.
"It keeps us functioning and we would be in bad shape without it."
Running seven nights over two weekends in February, the small congregation of about 100 regular attenders can clear up to $15,000 with their dinner and drama evenings, generating enough funds to pay part of Davidson's salary with money left over to donate to mission agencies in Winnipeg and beyond.
Whether it is an annual dinner theatre, a fall supper or a bake sale, how -- and why -- local congregations raise money intrigues Doug Flanders at the head office of the United Church of Canada.
Late last month, he put out a call across the denomination asking for the best money-raising ideas, events and projects in order to compile a database of ideas for use by the United Church and potentially any faith group looking to raise funds.
"It's just general sharing of ideas and resources to make sure those with fewer resources are better and more effective at raising money," he explains in a telephone interview from Toronto.
Just a few days into the campaign, Flanders is still considering how to organize and share the ideas gathered from across the United Church's 3,300 congregations, but says it will be online in some way.
As well as gathering ideas on how others are raising money for their church budgets and special projects, Flanders says the point of the campaign is to ensure churches have good practices in place when it comes to asking for donations. That might mean explaining clearly what funds are being raised for, issuing tax receipts for donations in a timely way, and thanking each donor with a telephone call.
"People are giving generously, but I think if better practices are used, they could give more," he says. He says the days are gone when a church can simply set a budget and expect people to contribute to it without any further discussion or publicity.
Talking more freely about how church people give back to their faith community with their resources of time, talent or money can be enlightening and even inspiring, but not everyone feels comfortable with the topic, says the executive secretary of the Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario Conference of the United Church of Canada.
"Generally I think there are some good stewardship stories but we're not hearing them," says Bruce Faurschou. "So what we want to know is are there stories out there that give a spark to others?"
Definitely yes, says Dan Potvin of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Winnipeg and co-ordinator of the Winnipeg Interfaith Stewardship Link, an informal group of denominational representatives who meet several times a year to share ideas and concerns.
He says what may work in terms of fundraising in the United Church might have to be adapted to fit the culture of other faith groups, but the larger principles of stewardship and living a generous life apply to all Christians.
"I think what I've learned from other traditions is that I've discovered a God-grounded confidence to talk about money and faith and not shy away from it," says Potvin, who also offers pre-marriage workshops on money and financial planning to young Catholic couples.
"It's not just how we share it, but how we use it."
Potvin says the recent generosity to help Haitians affected by the earthquakes demonstrates that Manitobans are willing to help others in need, but stewardship for people of faith needs to move beyond just responding to urgent appeals for cash.
"I think the church has a real opportunity to help people (be stewards) in their day-to-day living beyond Sunday and we need to recognize that," he says.
But meanwhile, the bills have to be paid, and the folks at Headingley are well-rehearsed in donning costumes, hiring caterers and selling tickets to make that happen. Although they aren't planning on bringing down the curtain on a successful money maker any time soon, having a few other options for when the stage lights might dim is a good idea, says Davidson, also a minister at St. Charles United Church.
"It's always good to have other ways to raise funds," he says.
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