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From Pew Rents to Pledges: How We Support Brick Church

If it’s November, it must be Stewardship Campaign time. Anyone who’s been a Brick Church member for over a year is familiar with the annual church calendar. But it wasn’t always like this. For much of our history, the main source of income for church operations was pew rentals.

Most of us sit in more or less the same area every Sunday. However, we don’t officially reserve our places, unlike members in the past often did. Families would lease their own pew, equipped with a door, and seem to have developed proprietary feelings about their space. A story is told about a stranger coming to church when Dr. Rodgers, our first pastor, was preaching. The visitor walked in but was not invited into any pew. Dr. Rodgers asked the sexton, “Frank, show the gentleman to my seat,” at which point many doors were opened.

Some people even ventured into pew decoration. In 1824, the Trustees prohibited (unless they had given prior consent) the ”lining of pews with green cloth or painting them the same color.” In 1791, gallery seat rentals ranged from 24 shillings to £3 (about $442 today). On the ground floor fees started at £1.1; most were £3-4 and one went for £8 (about $1178 today*). Fees increased for some remodeled pews in 1795 and by half again the following year. And if pew holders did not or could not renew the lease, their pew would be auctioned off.

There were other regular sources of income. Collections were taken during the service, but the early custom was to contribute only small change. Burial fees were more significant, and varied by the age of the deceased and location of the grave (8 shillings for a child in the churchyard; £3 for an adult in a vault in 1791). Families also paid to rent a cloth cover for the casket, for digging the grave or opening the vault, and using the hearse and driver.

Charitable contributions were also handled differently. Until 1926 benevolences were considered an individual rather than Church-wide effort, supported by members interested in a particular cause. From Brick Church’s beginning, however, Deacons collected and administered annual giving for the charity school and a quarterly offering on Communion Sundays for the poor of the church.

Despite frequent increases in pew rents, these revenues frequently did not cover all of the church’s expenses. Dr. Rodgers went door to door to raise money for our first building. In 1771, we held a lottery that discharged the church’s debt. Other shortfalls were met by special subscriptions. Trustees routinely borrowed to cover deficits. When the Endowment Fund was established in 1894, its income was a welcome (and the largest) source of revenue.

Over time it became clear that the traditional approach was not ideal. For a short time in the 1870s, we tried a plan of pledging and weekly giving for benevolences that worked initially but the novelty wore off and it was abandoned. Nevertheless, change was in the works. In 1925, Brick Church adopted the “Budget Plan,” asking members for one annual pledge that would cover both operating costs and benevolences. Even so, pew rentals continued until 1939.

Today, pledges make up 65% of our budget. It is up to all of us as a congregation to support the church we want – its worship, music, education and ministries. And we can sit anywhere we want.

*Eric W. Nye, Pounds Sterling to Dollars: Historical Conversion of Currency, accessed Friday, Sept. 16, 2016

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