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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Ask the Matriarch - The Gifted Minister Edition

Our question this week is a timely one...

I receive so many lovely, thoughtful gifts from parishioners. Some bring baking and special treats, others buy gifts (usually something small but meaningful) - all of it is quite delightful. Also, there is always a package from "Santa" at the door of my office when I arrive for the first service on Christmas Eve.

Over the years, I have sent cards of thanks to everyone who has gone to the trouble of giving me a gift. No one has given anything that I felt was inappropriate in cost or content, so I really just want to acknowledge that I appreciate their thinking of me.

This year, I received a LOT of stuff from my folks. I've had to keep a running tally of who sent what to our home. It's great. Now I need to keep up my end and send the cards (I would hate to seem ungrateful, or God forbid, have anyone think my momma didn't raise me right!)

What are your thoughts on gifts from parishioners and the appropriate response to them?

A "Gifted" Minister!

Singing Owl was the first to respond:

My thoughts on gifts from parishioners are HALLELUJAH and PRAISE THE LORD!

I received two presents from church folks this year, which is about how it usually is, so obviously the church I presently serve doesn't see it that way, and I'm sorry about that. Not because I don 't like presents. I do. Who doesn't like presents? But more because I think that Christmas is an ideal time to remember your pastor…to realize that they are extra-busy, extra-stressed, maybe wondering about the coming year and so on. I love receiving a gift of homemade baked bread or candy because I am sometimes too busy to spend time in the kitchen. Or a nice gift is a book, or a subscription to a magazine. Or a gift certificate to my favorite restaurant is nice too. One church I served long ago had a tradition of a Christmas money tree for the pastor. Considering the salary there, or lack of salary, that money tree was a godsend.

To me, receiving a gift says, "I'm thinking of you." Yes, I could say, "Don't give me a present. I do not need a thing. Put your money in the missions fund." That is fine too, but I personally think that most of us receive all too little encouragement or affirmation. Church folks should think of their pastors, one way or another, and take opportunities to say, "I care and am thinking of you."

As for response, I think that a written thank-you note is important. If I pastored a mega church and received hundreds of gifts I might change my mind on that, but so far that hasn't been a problem.

Our blogging sister from a A Church for Starving Artists adds: Dear "Gifted" -
This is a tribute to your ministry and their love for you as their pastor. Sadly perhaps - but with the encouragement of your mamma - I'd say you still have to send thank you notes. I'd make them uber brief. Like 2 lines on a lovely postcard. And if someone comments on the brevity, say that you were blessed with so many gifts that it would take too much time from your ministry to them to write longer notes to everyone. ("I would love to write longer notes but I really want to spend my time doing my pastoral work.")

You are truly blessed!

And from a Wise Layperson ----

Things that would be good to check:
1) Is your vestry/ church supervising body aware that you receive gifts and do they have any rules you should be following?

2) Do you need to keep a list of all gifts given over time for tax records? Are there tax consequences you need to be aware of?

3) Do you have a plan for what to do with gifts that you feel uncomfortable receiving? What are your personal limits? How would you approach someone who gave you a gift that you felt was not appropriate?

As far as I'm concerned, thank you notes are always a good idea.

As long as the gifts stay small and appropriate, I don't see a problem. Folks like to give gifts to people who are important in their lives.

One thing to watch out for might be 'gift status'-- where gift giving gets competitive about who has given the Rector the 'best' gift. Be thoughtful about what you put on display and avoid making a big deal out of any one gift in public (or really in private). Also, if your momma raised your right, you already know not to compare gifts or gossip about how much you liked the gift from X and disliked the gift from Y.

Good manners can go a long way toward avoiding problems in the future.

So...three in favor of writing "thank you" notes, and my vote makes four. And you, dear reader - do you have any suggestions for our "gifted minister" - perhaps a creative way to express your thanks? Let us know what you think, and what you do!

May you live in God's amazing grace today and every day+



  1. I am in a very email-friendly, tech-savvy church. What do you think of e-cards? I would write and individual note with each ecard and not send the same note for every one...

    But I don't want to be tacky.

    I think my momma just wants me to acknowledge them, so she wouldn't have a problem.


  2. Deb,
    Like a real e-card--not just an email, right? I think that is fine if it is appropriate for your congregation. I received an e-card from one of my commission members that I gifted (all of them) with little ornaments as an appreciation for their hard, hard, hard work.

    However, the power of handwritten notes can never, ever be underestimated. Even in the techy world--people love snail mail even more, I think, because we do so much virtually. I used this excuse to get some very lovely cards with my name on the top, and nice paper quality. ;-)

  3. I got two Christmas gifts this year, one from an older couple, and one from the parents of one of my confirmands. They were small and appropriate, and very, very thoughtful.

    They are very special to me, because I have been in ministry for five Christmases and these are the first two gifts I've gotten. I immediately wrote thank you notes on the prettiest note cards I had.

    On the other hand, I give small gifts to the administrator, the Sunday School teachers, the worship leaders, and send notes of appreciation to the elders and the deacons for a year of shared ministry. The admin makes me a lovely card, but the others do not acknowledge. Since I don't want to disparage anyone's momma, I assume it is the culture.

  4. I have noticed the same thing as Cheesehead - I still write and mail "thank you" notes for gifts given. But the staff and key leaders to whom I give small gifts of appreciation rarely if ever acknowledge them with a note.

    I also believe that "thank you" letters to members who have taken on special tasks during the year are important for me to take time to write, and appreciated by those who receive them. Even if they take awhile to get written, it's time well-spent.

  5. I get a number of gifts each year, several of which are left in my office with no note. So I write a thank you note in the first church newsletter of January thanking everyone for their generosity, for caring for me, and for thinking of me (far from my family) at holiday time. So far that seems to be working well.

  6. what a blessing!! thankyou notes go a long, LONG way in making "emotional deposits" of trust with your members. I send handwritten thankyou notes and thank them for the gift, but also thank them for their prayers, their 'work behind the scenes' at the church, or their service and dedication to our Lord... that kinda thing.

  7. I also experience what CH does. I give small gifts to the deacons and ministry leaders, and after 10 years here I have yet to receive a thank you note. Like Cheese, I assume it is the culture. It's rude, but probably not intentionally so. As for email notes...I want to say "Sure!" and it is waaay better than nothing, but I still vote for a short, handwritten note.

  8. I'm a thank you note writer. Real pen, real paper. My hand-writing is miserable, but I think the thank you note is wonderful to receive and thoughtful to write. My momma INSTILLED (forced?) into us the need to write thank yous. She has now gone the way of e-mail herself, but I just can't do it. It takes me longer to get hand-written notes out, but I hope there's grace in that since I'm writing them!

    Another thing, we have family mailboxes in our church. I did NOT put thank yous in the church mailboxes, but used the postage to actually send them home. I didn't want people opening cards from me at church in front of people who didn't get cards from me (because they didn't get a thank you, but they didn't know that).

    I don't think gifts got out of hand this year, my first year with this congregation for Christmas. Lots of cookie and food treats, a bar of beautiful smelling soap, a Christmas plate for Christmas cookies with a beautiful prayer on it. One couple did give a cash gift that surprised and humbled me. I worried about its appropriateness, but discovered that everyone on staff received the same gift, and I know this couple can afford it, so that reduced my worry. It was a gift of love and greatly appreciated.

    I did wonder about the possible tax ramifications. I know that bonuses from the church have to be reported, and honoraria for specific services. A Christmas gift I am not too sure about.

  9. Some years I have printed a postcard from my computer that said something to effect of "Thank you for your kindess this holiday season. It was greatly appreciated." I'd then hand write a one sentence specific thanks (like 'we really enjoyed the cookies') and sign my name. Kind of a best of both pre-fab and personal.

  10. Although handwritten notes are always wonderful, I think that it can get out of hand, ie way too much work and cost of postage, if the person works with you and says thank you in person, acknowledging the receipt of the gift and showing appreciation. Another example, I've been to baby showers where someone makes a "motion" that the mother to be has already said thank you (and someone has recorded the gifts) so please don't send notes.

    Sometimes it is easier to send a note than to remember to thank someone in person.

  11. From Soprano in New Jersey:
    My now sainted mother would be horrified if I did not acknowledge, with gratitude and good manners, every gift I receive - even the ones that took less thought than the time it takes me to write a thank you note.

    And, she would insist on a handwritten thank you note, thank you very much. No email or phone call. I think she's absolutely right. It's the right thing to do, which is not always the easy or convenient thing to do.

    Just so you know where I'm coming from I must also add that I am horrified by email condolences. I think they're probably fine for an immediate response, but should always be followed by a handwritten card or a note. So, now you know that this perspective is coming directly from the 'dark ages' and right from the dinosaur's mouth.

    I think, in writing thank you notes to your parishioners, I believe you are modeling something about graciousness and hospitality and generosity that could not be accomplished in 10 sermons.

    That's just my "widow's mite" of an opinion. For whatever it's worth.

  12. I have donated scads of hours of work to many different churches, never received a gift from a pastor, and only once to my memory a thank-you note. Which is fine--that's not why I do it--but frankly if I ever did get a small gift or especially a note in those circumstances I would see it as a thank you for my generosity and hardly feel obliged to send a written "thank you for a thank you." (I would obviously effuse about it in person and probably by email as well). I also feel no obligation to get gifts for someone who is paid for their service (but then, I feel the same way about my kids' teachers). I might feel differently if I were regularly paid for mine, of course!

  13. My dear departed mother sits on my shoulder until all notes are handwritten, stamped and mailed. If someone takes time to find a gift for me - the least I can do is take a few minutes to write a real note to them. Get some nice small blank cards - and do it. Or the ghost of my mother will visit you!!

  14. write the notes - short and loving - with also a request that the recipient continues to pray for you -involving them in your ministry - in their church in prayer -is a wonderful gift from you to them.

  15. oh and I wouldn't use e-cards. It doesn't take less time -really!

  16. Oh, the other reason I'm rather jaded on this topic is a very good friend who worked as a lay Director of Religious Education. Every Christmas she would watch the ordained staff members (all male) be showered with gifts while she got nada.

  17. Layperson weighing in:

    When I was growing up giving "an envelope" to Herr Pastor and the pastor's wife was pretty much the standard way of doing things. In my current church -- where most of the parishoners don't have a lot of money -- the pastor and his spouse tend to receive money as well, but also gifts like homemade cookies. In our house we've given them gift certificates to bookstores...Heifer Project baskets with homemade or locally procured treats. (Our pastor and his wife are crunchy granolas like us, which makes giving easy.;-))

    Re e-cards: At our house that's our primary means of communicating with all our family and friends, so we don't mind them at all.

  18. I kinda, sorta see where Sophia is coming from. There is that whole "paid to do this" culture that is rampant where I am. (Which is actually a little different than my understanding of call and covenant, but I understand that the rank and file pew-sitter here does not see it the way I do.)

    On the other hand, the past few years, I have been asked to go out and purchase, (on the church's dime, of course) wrap, and then present--in worship--gifts for the very valued paid organists and paid choir director on the session's behalf as their thank you to them at Christmas time.

    I swallow very hard on those days.

  19. some years back I had an assistant here whose time with us began on First of Advent. I thought I should warn him to make sure he had a stock of blank notes or thank-you notes in preparation for Christmas (our people are very generous), because, I said, "You will receive a surprising quantity of gifts and you will want to write thank you notes." And his response? "Well, but only for the Big Ones, eh?"
    and yes, my mama was a Boxing Day thank you writer too!

  20. I like handwritten thank you notes because of the time involved in writing them. The act of getting out paper, pen, and stamps and thinking of something personal to say, is to my mind, a prayer discipline, in a way that firing up the computer is not. I can't touch electrons-- and nothing beats the thrill, for me, of finding an actual letter in a mailbox that is too often filled with bills and circulars.

  21. It may take me a while, but I hand write thank you notes to anyone who gives me a gift. I am a school chaplain as well as parish priest, so I get a fair number of gifts from kids in the school. I take seriously the idea that a note from me may help teach them the importance of thank you notes!

    Actually, I write quite a few notes...thanks for teaching Sunday school or serving on the Vestry, for special effort on a project or care for another member, for visiting our church, whatever. I like the 50 pack note cards from the Printery House, which are not very big; I also have some regular cards with our church logo on the front and the return address printed on the envelope. And I use quick e-mail thanks to people for even more notes. I tend to think one never goes wrong noticing people!

  22. I'm very late ringing in on this - started to write on Thursday and got interrupted by something/someone. I also started to write a response earlier in the week as a Matriarch, but was a bit dumbfounded about how to respond - all I wanted to say was, "Keep a list, write thank-you notes."

    It is a chore (I still have several to write for Christmas gifts given to me by parishioners), but I believe it is so important. I write them for everything from a plate of cookies to a check. When I was growing up, I don't recall ever giving Christmas gifts to our pastor, so I am still blown away that people think to do this, and take the time. I know how hard it is to get gifts for everyone in my family, so I recognize the effort (and money) that go into giving something to the pastors. In light of that, a handwritten thank-you note is the least I can do.

  23. One of the (many) lessons I learned from my internship supervisor is that in rural and small-town congregations, people do see one another's thank-you notes. So he developed a standard "template" for a thank-you note that he used for any gift or honorarium that he received. I've done something like that as well... it ensures that I don't thank the $5 gift-giver differently from the $25 gift-giver.


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