The Power of Secrecy


The Power of Secrecy

                                                       I want Ann Landers' hair!

I grew up reading “Ann Landers” religiously. Why? Seemingly “ordinary” people’s odd quirks and crazy problems made my family seem a little less strange. Of course, I started reading Ann Landers when I was a teenager, so it’s no surprise that I thought my family was really weird. My daughter is a teenager. She doesn’t read Ann Landers (or it’s new incarnation). She thinks I’m odd, crazy and really weird. Karma bites.
Thus, it’s comforting when someone asks me a question and actually wants to know what I think. Recently I got such an inquiry. For the sake of anonymity, we’ll just refer to this person as “G. Clooney.”  Let’s hear from Mr. Clooney:
Our church has a problem, or maybe it’s just me.
We (wife & I) have been in our church here for 18 years. During that time there have been six pastors and one Financial Secretary (FS). 
Our FS is a wonderful lady in every respect except that she does not /will not provide names or pledge amounts. She once was requested this at one of our Stewardship meetings and told us that she would resign rather than divulge anything other than the number of pledges. Our previous pastors accepted the status quo. Our recently assigned pastor is just getting acquainted. 
Since the Committee has no way to directly address either the pledgers or non-pledgers, stewardship has diminished to the point of sending the “regular” letter out each year with little else.    
Am I “out of step” with rural church life, or time? We came from a metropolitan church in California; there the Stewardship Committee had open access to givers, many with high income.  Here, it appears that many of the congregation is in tacit agreement with our secretary, thus the possible reason the previous ministers chose not to address the issue. 
Do you know of a way around this, or is it better to continue on? We are not suffering from any decline in giving, but also it has not increased.
-  G. Clooney
Dear Mr. Clooney:
Thanks for asking my opinion – Lord knows no one at home wants it – so happy to express it here. Yours is one of the more “interesting” cases I’ve heard about - and disturbing too.
You are not out of step. Clearly, even though it’s done in the name of “privacy,” this is about control and specifically, who controls information.  Here are a few suggestions: 

  1. Wait until this poor and lovely soul can no longer be the financial secretary and then change things. (But that could be another 18 years so better go straight to #s 2-6)
  2. Enlist the new pastor to take this on – being new may be advantageous for establishing new ways of doing things.
  3. Have everyone on your Administrative Council (including the FS) read Ask, Thank, Tell by Charles R. Lane - and have a serious discussion about its contents over the course of a few months.
  4. Bypass the FS all together and begin assuming that everyone is a giver.  Thank you notes go out to everyone - even if you aren’t sure they give. There’s no harm in that – and it may inspire more generosity.
  5. A quarterly statement should be given out as a matter of course. Work with the pastor so that when quarterly giving statements go out, the FS is responsible for including a specially-written letter from the pastor or a giver who outlines why they give - with each giving statement. If the FS wants to be the keeper of all knowledge, then the FS can do all the work that is associated with good stewardship.
  6. Secretly subscribe your FS to “Inspiring Generosity”!  

Dear Mr. Clooney, I hope this helps a little. Let me know how it goes.
Friends – these were my suggestions.  Have you come up against this before? How have you handled it? Do you have any other ideas? I’d be happy to share your insights with Mr. Clooney and everyone else. Bottom line, secrecy (as opposed to confidentiality) equals power. In the church or any setting, it’s never a good thing for one person to hold all the cards. I do believe that even Ann Landers would agree.
P.S. Tomorrow, I’ll be doing a webinar for the Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Sign up for “Grant Writing 101: Launching Projects & Ministries that Make a Difference.”  It’ll be a jam-packed one-hour of fun!

Cesie Delve Scheuermann is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. Over the past decade, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over $2.5 million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. She was happy that Ann Landers was around to solve the age-old question: “Which way should the toilet paper hang?” She served as the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference Lay Leader from 2008-2012. Her position with the Conference is funded through a generous grant from the Collins Foundation; she is available to consult with churches in Oregon and Idaho. You can reach her at inspiringgenerosity@gmail.com.
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Cesie Delve Scheuermann
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.