taxes and churches: time to talk?

The ministry center I run, UrbanSpirit, used to own a church building. A big, old church building, with, um, issues. Not the least of the issues were the beasts that constantly set off the motion detectors — spider webs, a rattling door. My cat Beckett, which is how I came to adopt him. The alarm system also warned of actual intruders. It was these the alarm was intended to guard against. The problem was there were way too many of the other things. In the beginning, the alarm company would call the police, and I would meet them there, sometimes deep into the wee hours, fearful of what we may find. Most times it was nothing, but sometimes it was something. Either way, I was awfully happy the police were willing to be the ones to figure it out. Eventually, the police department began charging a fee for false alarms — not just us, but folks all over the city. You get one or two freebies, and then you pay. First $25, then $100, I think. I’m not exactly sure of the fee scale.  I thought about being annoyed by this, or trying to appeal. And then it hit me. As a church, we pay no property taxes, so this fine is our way of supporting the work our community protectors do. I began to think of all the other things we get free — lights and streets, bad weather alarms. We had a fire once, and no one sent us a bill for the firefighters’ effort, or the truck time, or depreciation on the equipment, or for the water, which came from a hydrant and wasn’t on our meter. We get a lot of stuff absolutely free. Because we are a church. Are we worth it?

This Sunday, I’ll be leading a discussion at a local church about churches and taxes. I prepared a sheet of info as a discussion prompt. It isn’t a research paper, and all the numbers may be wrong. But it seems worth conversation in a time of stretched government budgets, whether the church is sucking communities dry or providing in-kind value that is way more than the exemptions. The discussion page is below, and you’re welcome to use it for discussion in your own congregation. I’d love your comments here, which certainly would enrich the conversation I’m about to have at church this Sunday.

The church, we say, is all about justice. What is just in this regard? And since no one is likely to change the exemption laws anytime soon, the question for clergy and churches is, as always, what kind of neighbors are we?

hoping for your thoughts…

Taxes and churches… Who’s Zooming Whom

About Deb Conrad
I’m Deb Conrad, pastor, teacher, photographer, writer, antique-lover, cat-mom, wine-drinker and old-house-seeker. I have a bike by Burley and knees by Stryker. I play guitar marginally, bowl when I can. I live in Flint, Michigan, with previous lives in SC, NJ, PA, MD, Washington DC, TX, CA and KY. I founded and still help run UrbanSpirit, a poverty education center in Louisville (link below), where I meet interesting people and try to do what I can to change the world. I'm pastor of Woodside Church in Flint, a groovy place if ever there was one.

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