Before anyone got to find out how the Generous Giving Project Officer would handle Tim’s loud and personal revelations, Tim abruptly excused himself and rushed off to the loo. Without thinking, Rev John leaped up and followed him, leaving his guest to fill in the awkward silence with the PCC.
As the door closed behind him, he heard her asking them to debate the merits and disadvantages of charging a small amount for post-service refreshments, in the context of being a generous and hospitable church. Hmmm, interesting.
He caught up to Tim just as the wash room door was swinging shut. Inside John found him gripping both sides of the sink and staring unhappily into the mirror. Rev John turned the empty waste paper bin upside down and sat on it. Eventually Tim let go of the sink and sat down on the thick, ancient heating piping running along the side of the room, until they were both crouched low and facing one another.
“I lost my bleedin’ job, John.” They looked at each other. Tim’s face looked desperate and tired all at once. There was a long pause, and then Tim went on, “I have NO money and I even if I sign on, they won’t give me anything for weeks, and what use is that? The debt collectors will come for all my stuff, well, what I haven’t already sold, and my landlord says she won’t accept another month’s late payment.
“And on Sunday…” Tim’s voice broke and he cleared his throat to steady his words, but still they trembled as he spoke, “on Sunday I just knew I couldn’t give what I normally give in my envelope. And then I saw that notice sheet about Gift Aid, and it made me think, ‘Oh there’s another 25% I can’t give to the church anymore, because I’ll be on benefits’. It’s such a mess John. The church won’t just be losing out on what I give, it’ll losing out on my bloomin’ Gift Aid too!”
Rev John had been carefully listening in silence but now it was time to say something.
“Tim, first of all please don’t worry about what you give to church. Please just don’t worry about that. Because God knows everything so He knows what you’re going through right now. He knows you’re a generous bloke, Tim, and that you give in loads of other ways.
“And besides, it’s not the amount you give, it’s the generosity of it. The less you have, the less you can give, but that doesn’t mean you’re not generous. And that thing about Gift Aid, if you do have to sign on, you won’t be paying tax anymore. It’s not that the church won’t be getting that extra 25%. It just means that the whole of whatever you do contribute, goes to the church. 100% of it. Because you won’t be paying tax. It’s only if you pay tax that it can be topped up, because the government already took 25% off it in the first place.”
Tim frowned as he processed this. Rev John went on, “Just please understand that I don’t think God is wanting you to feel guilty or worry about this, OK?” Tim nodded.
“Right. So, all the other stuff, the debt and your rent… can I ask what help you’ve tried to get so far?”
“None. No-one knows. Please don’t tell people.” Tim looked so vulnerable and scared. Not at all like the Tim John knew. John hated what money, or lack of it, could do to people. Hated how completely hopeless it made people feel. But he thought he knew a way, knew where hope could be found.
“Right how about we go and speak to CAP? It’s a charity helping people out of debt. It stands for Christians Against Poverty. They don’t just help with debt but also job hunting, life skills and money management, you know, once you’ve got some again. And they’re always running courses in this area. It’s dead simple to find one online. What do you say?”
It was the first time in nearly a year that Tim felt the flicker of hope, and a possibility of getting out of this ever worsening situation. He let that little seed plant itself in his chest. Why did he let things get this bad, though? He looked at John, looking back at him.
“Tim,” Rev John tentatively said, “How did things get so bad? There’s always help…”
“I didn’t know John. I didn’t know anyone could help me.”
This cut John to the quick. How many other people in his parish were struggling with debt and didn’t know that help was out there? He’d add it to the list of things he needed to communicate better. The list was long. He felt tired, but then he saw how uplifted Tim looked, and it gave him the energy he needed. He got to his feet and put his hand out to Tim, lifting him up off the cold pipe.
“I think we need to talk about money more in this church you know John.”, said Tim, “That thing you said about God knowing our personal situations, and knowing that I try and be generous, even when I’ve got nowt. I’d never really seen it like that before. As long as God knows eh?”
Rev John was so taken aback at Tim’s suggestion about talking about money more, that he almost forgot which meeting they’d nipped out of. He was about to say how they’d put it on the agenda for the next PCC, when the whole Crisis Meeting came flooding back. How long had they been in the loos? The Generous Giving Project Officer was still in there with his PCC. Tim was having exactly the same thought. “We’d better get back to it then. We’ve left her with Mary.” he said.
“Oh crikey yes! But first,” he squeezed his eyes shut and put his hand on Tim’s shoulder. “God, help Tim please. Let Him know it’ll be OK. Thanks. Amen.”