The Pledge Plight

Dear Persistent Pledgers:

Sunday is Pledge Commitment Sunday, a moment when we solemnly pray over slips of paper torn from our stewardship brochures, a custom that has me musing over the plight of pledging. There are organizations that research the impact of financial pledging; they are nearly evenly split regarding the usefulness of the practice. Research pointing against pledging claims there is a poor relationship between the annual pledge and actual giving. Fluctuations in household income and expenses work against a flat prediction of contribution capacity; few of us know in November of 2018 that the transmission in the van will fail in August of 2019, or that our company will be bought out in September, forcing a move to Columbus (if you need a recommendation for a good Presbyterian Church in Ohio, let me know). FPCLG hedges against these contingencies by building in a five-percent unpaid pledge projection when calculating the income side of our budget. A review of the past 10 years indicates that’s about right; unpaid pledges averaged $25K, or 4.7%. 

Those arguing against pledging also suggest that the annual giving prediction serves as a contribution cap rather than a minimum, that mid-year improvements in household income seldom increase regular contributions. Your church makes that generosity possible through designated gifts. This year, designated contributions to VBS, the Parlor Kitchen renovation, What Touches Your Heart offerings, etc. have been at higher levels without negative impact to pledged contributions.

The arguments in favor of pledging are obvious. It regularizes the budgeting process, provides data for multi-year comparisons and serves as a mechanism for regular contributions which far exceed sporadic or one-time giving. It’s easier to budget a few hundred dollars each month towards your pledge than face the plight of several thousands of dollars at year-end.

Which brings me to my musing this Monday--the relationship between plight and pledge. As a wedding officiant (the only occasion where my signature creates a binding contract with the state), I’ve spent some time researching wedding vows as expressions of promise. I discourage couples interested in writing their own vows, as they usually ramble and express more about the present than the future. Dani once had a work colleague who said her wedding vows included a promise that the couple would stay in good physical shape for one another; so much for sickness and health.

When Charles and Diana were wed, they used The 1928 Book of Common Prayer, which includes the promise, “all my worldly goods with thee I share,” except Charles stumbled and said, “all thy worldly goods with thee I share.” In other words, what’s yours is yours. Diana also flubbed her lines, beginning her vows with, “Philip Charles Arthur George,” when in reality his name is “Charles Philip Arthur George” (and Ringo?). Wedding day jitters even affect royals.

The part of the traditional Anglican vows I find most fascinating is the conclusion. The promise wraps up with the words, “and thereto I plight thee my troth.” Unpacking troth is easy enough; it’s merely a vowel drift, turning troth into truth. "Plight" on the other hand is not simply an old pronunciation of the more modern word "pledge". "Pledge" comes from the Latin word plevium, which means bond or security. "Plight" finds its roots in the Old French word pleit, meaning to fold, from which we get our word "pleat". A plight results in the wrinkling or folding of the forehead, indicating risk or a lack of security. The Old Anglican vow included an acknowledgement of the dangers and risks implied in vow-taking; the wedding promise recognizes how occasionally marriage involves a little insecurity--a wrinkled brow now and then. I like that; it feels honest.

So, Sunday, November 18, is Pledge Commitment Sunday at FPCLG, signifying our security for the coming year, where some of our worldly goods with thee we share. And yet in securing institutional viability, there is a more important pledge--our fellowship with one another, our bond of love and mutual support, the plight of our ongoing commitment as brothers and sisters in Christ, a promise to be sustained through the occasional wrinkled brow.

Seeking troth in the age of pledge, I remain,

With Love,
Jonathan Krogh
Your Pastor