It occurred to me a couple years ago that I was the daughter of a woman who worked outside the home who was the daughter of a woman who worked outside the home who was the daughter of someone who worked outside the home. The four of us made our choices based on both family economics and personal interest. We were all – also – first born daughters.
I believe my own “work outside the home” is a calling. And I could make a case that my mother, grandmother, and great grandmother also had a calling. I was blessed to know all three of them into adulthood and I wished I’d asked more questions about their work lives.
Parents of all kinds are trying to do the best we can. I always wonder about those who cannot parent their children for whatever reason. Mother’s and Father’s Days must be rough.
What increasingly interests me as I grow older are the stories associated with our parents and their economic choices. My great grandmother was a young widow with five children and I wish I could talk with her about the choices she made (continuing to work in the family feed store and allowing her three sons to take some family farm land and create a little airport in the 1940s.)
My mother worked “outside the home” to help make ends meet, but she and my father also hired someone to clean the house and care for the children while they worked. (My hunch is that the Black Woman who took care of us was quite “affordable.” It’s part of my story, although it’s a hard part.)
These are some of the stories I recall about the economic history of my family. What stories do we tell each other about the economic history of our church family?
- There are congregations that started schools and hospitals “in the mission field” during the U.S. Civil War in spite of the fact that the war at home was expensive and many of their own families were poor in the mid-1860s.
- There are congregations created after the end of World War II built through pledges that would now be considered too meager to buy property and build a new church building. I’ve seen old photos of church leaders clearing the trees off construction sites themselves to save money – or so the story is told.
- There are congregation built by the local millionaire and those were the places to be – socially and politically. The millionaires also built the hospitals and the cultural centers. Being rich-adjacent in church was almost like being rich ourselves.
- There are congregations who have always struggled economically because they serve communities of poor people. If the majority of our church members are either unemployed or underemployed, we will struggle to pay for a pastor much less pay for an educator, a musician, an adminstrator and a sexton.
What is going to happen to all the congregations after this pandemic? Even “wealthy” congregations have had to lay off staff members. Those congregations without strong patterns of online giving are having to shift their culture whether they want to or not. The activities which have financially supported their ministries – preschools, after school programs, room rentals – have dried up due to quarantine requirements.
Nevertheless . . . (I love that word)
… we also have churches who would not consider themselves “rich” in that they have no wealthy members, much less millionaires who are thriving. I’m watching grant monies come into some of our congregations wholly because they are missional churches with big dreams and committed leaders.
This is the time when our church members are making essential economic decisions about “the family.” What post-pandemic stories will we re-tell ten or twenty years from now?
- “Our church closed because we didn’t want to get our hands dirty.”
- “Our church closed because we stopped supporting it financially when all the gatherings were virtual.”
- “Our church make some financial sacrifices and opened up a summer center for students who were behind after digital learning, and it sparked a new chapter in our ministry.”
- “Our church did what we had to do to keep up with our free lunch programs and our affordable housing efforts. It only made us stronger.”
- “Our church realized that we couldn’t financial survive the pandemic on our own, so we were moved to merge with another congregation and we are able to be so much more in partnership with them.”
What story will we tell about the work our churches did during the pandemic when we look back? What decisions did we make because we had to? What decisions did we make because we felt called to make them?
I’m so proud and grateful for the sacrifices my parents made, looking towards the future. And I pray we can make similar sacrifices for the sake of God’s family.
Image of (left to right) my great-grandmother, my grandfather (her son-in-law) and my grandmother (her daughter), my mother (expecting her fourth child) and my father. Hope you and your family had a good celebration yesterday – however you observed it.