I’ve never been brilliant with money. Growing up, Thursday nights were a night of dread and fear. My dad got his wages on a Thursday. In the 1980s in industrial Sheffield the wage packet was something to be both revered and dreaded. Amazing that such a tiny double folded piece of brown paper could wield such power. Inside, neatly folded, would be my dad’s pay for the week, in cash. It always looked like a fortune. After tea (always plenty of bread and butter, which I now realise was there to fill us up when the meat wouldn’t stretch) my dad and mum would clear the table and then sit back down and open the wage packet. I remember vividly my dad counting out the notes into little piles: the gas, the electric, the money for the insurance man and then a small pile pushed over to my mum ‘for housekeeping’. Most of the time it was enough. When Dad was made redundant one Christmas Eve, Mum took on three jobs so we could manage and my brother and I had to have free school meals. Money was a thing to be feared and revered in our house.
All this sent my brother and I separate ways when it comes to our attitude to money. My brother went on to become a sales person, flogging anything and everything he could. Working his way up, he now drives a very big car and lives in a very big house with a very small family. He’s very happy and very well off. I, on the other hand, want nothing to do with money. When Graham and I tried to buy our first house when I was 23, the mortgage provider asked me for three months’ worth of bank statements. I didn’t have any. I never opened them and threw them straight in the bin. Even now, with two degrees and a responsible job, a community leader, I still won’t phone the bank and if we have to go into the branch I stand outside while Graham deals with it all.
Being a vicar of three churches is essentially like running three small businesses and in two of my three money is a real worry. I didn’t give anything financially to the church when I first came to faith. I was a teenager and when I suggested to my dad I might like to give some of my pocket money to the building project at my church he said ‘I’ll tell you this - the Church of England is one of the richest land owners in this country and they stole some of that land. The churches are full of gold and silver and yet they ask the people for money? Don’t be a fool.’ When I got married to a vicar’s son who’d grown up tithing there was a clash of cultures.
Preaching on the subject of money is my least favourite thing. A clergy colleague of mine hates it so much that he always drafts in a vicar from another patch. I’ve taken my three churches through giving campaigns in the last five years and the subject does not come easily. I recently preached on tithing. Being from good evangelical stock this has always been a teaching I thought was standard. Not so. One congregation member in his 80s, formerly of Eton and Trinity, Cambridge and a lifelong daily worshipper, grabbed me afterwards and told me he’s never heard of such an idea and was I absolutely sure there was some biblical evidence for it.
When I preach on money I tend to tell the story of what changed for me when I went from being someone who didn’t give to someone who did give to the church. I knew the money wasn’t really mine ‘and of your own do we give you’, I knew that the church needed it as they were ‘asset rich yet cash poor’ but what changed for me was that I started to see that giving was part of my worship. And when I heard my father in law (to be) describe the act of giving money as an act of worship itself, that’s when it changed. No longer did this seem a functional exercise aimed at repairing the roof or a crumbling bell tower, this became about my relationship with God. In that sermon he talked about not the amount but the attitude being key to being a cheerful and generous giver and that if I was to give grumpily and reluctantly then I could keep my money.
I preach the same sermon every time when it comes to the giving campaigns. Even my dad has changed his mind although he’s a little more pragmatic. ‘Well you give it away if you want, it’s yours and after all there are no pockets in a shroud.’
Kate Bottley is an Anglican priest, wife and mother, who stars in Channel 4’s Gogglebox. She gained a national profile when a YouTube video of her leading a flash mob at the end of a wedding ceremony went viral in 2013, and has since done a wonderful job of dismantling stereotypes about Church of England clergy.