Making sense of money

We’re currently working on financial assistance guidelines in our Monthly Meeting. This has been a very contentious topic over the last two or three years. Some people in the Meeting want fairly prescriptive guidelines so that it’s easier for overseers to make decisions and be fair with money given. Some people feel that we shouldn’t need guidelines, that overseers should know people well enough to deal with issues personally and directly. Some feel that money should be given based on need, some based on contribution to the Meeting.

It’s a complex issue and one that has caused conflict. We’ve been unable to get agreement whenever draft guidelines have been brought to Monthly Meeting. A couple of months ago when the issue was considered at Monthly Meeting a small group volunteered to help facilitate the creation of a set of guidelines that might be acceptable to everyone.

My current rule of thumb is that I won’t get involved in Quaker committees, or take on roles that aren’t to do with kids, JYFs or YFs. Regardless I seem to have been coopted in to this project, and it is something I’m feeling led to contribute to.

One of the people involved sent me some photocopied articles from a recent Friends Journal issue on Friends and Money. Reading this, and talking with those leading the process it’s becoming clearer that there seem to be some different core values and beliefs underlying people’s responses. It’s in effect, impossible to come to agreement because the discussions are at crossed purposes. We think we’re talking about money, but we’re actually talking about much deeper things to do with security, sense of worth, attitudes to work, and beliefs about equality.

Last night I facilitated a session to help move the process forward. We started by relating stories to each other of experiences we’d had giving to others, or being given to in the Meeting. We then did a brainstorming exercise on what people give to each other in our Meeting. This was done on post-it notes, and then the results clustered on a wall. On the right is a picture, and here’s the large version of the picture.

I do a lot of this kind of facilitation in my work, but this was quite a different experience. It was such a quiet, gathered, contemplative process as people slowly moved the post-its around, and thought about what they meant. We followed this by considering in small groups the question “how can money help us have these things in our Meeting”. What came up for me, and seemed to for the others was that money can create opportunites for the things that matter to happen. It’s about enabling equal participation. Money can let people who are stressed out of their minds for financial reasons to get through crisis so they can actively participate in the spiritual life of the Meeting (which let’s face it, is pretty hard when you’re worried about how you’re going to pay the bills). Money can enable people to travel to events so they can build relationships, gain knowledge, and give back to others.

We each have different gifts. Some people are good at generating income, or investing. Some people are good at giving ministry, or organising camps, or being an Elder, or running children’s sessions. We all give to our Meetings in different ways, and we don’t think to try to measure and be accountable for all the other things. But somehow with money it’s harder.

I’m hoping that through going a bit deeper, and considering what really matters, what we really value we can come through this process as a more united Meeting, that is even better at caring for everyone and enabling equal participation.

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