Stewardship Notes from the Pastor

Strategic Giving for Retirees

Dana J. Holt

People have been tithing for millennia. In Christian tradition, the aim of many is to give 10% of their household income to the church as offering to God. But how much should we give after we retire and don’t have a regular income from work anymore? And where should that money come from: Savings? Investments? Retirement accounts?

The answer boils down to cash flow and asset location during retirement. The United States Federal Reserve estimates that only about 5% of personal wealth is held in cash at any given time. We keep only enough cash to cover daily expenses and emergencies. The other 95% is held in things like real estate, insurance, businesses, banks, and retirement accounts.

Over the past several decades, employees have become more active in contributing to personal retirement accounts. Gone are the days of private pensions, so it’s up to individuals to save money for retirement. According to the Investment Company Institute, we currently hold over $29 Trillion in retirement accounts! About $9.5 Trillion is held in IRAs alone. (That will become very relevant soon, so read on….)

Most retirees live on a combination of Social Security income and distributions from their retirement accounts, such as IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts). It may surprise you that many retirees don’t need all the money in their IRAs, but they are forced to take distributions when they are six months past turning 70 years old. These distributions are commonly referred to as RMDs (Required Minimum Distributions) and are virtually 100% taxable. They are often quite sizeable – five, six, or even seven digits large!

Until recently, people had no choice but to withdraw these (sometimes large) RMDs and pay the corresponding tax. That extra income often causes additional expenses, such as:

  • Increasing someone’s overall tax rate
  • Increasing the amount of Social Security Income that is taxed
  • Increasing the cost of Medicare premiums

Today, people have a choice. If they don’t need or want those sizeable RMDs, they can send some or all of it to their favorite charities and avoid those uninvited costs mentioned above. This technique is called a “Qualified Charitable Distribution” (QCD) and it’s becoming extremely popular.

Here are some of the finer points of a QCD.

  • Must be 70 ½ or older at the time of the transfer.
  • May distribute up to $100,000 per year, per IRA owner.
  • Counts towards satisfying RMD.
  • Distribution is not taxable to IRA owner or to charity.
  • Must be sent directly from IRA custodian to charity.
  • Only applies to IRAs – NOT 401(k), 403(b), etc.

Of course, people could certainly take distributions of those RMDs into income, recognize the additional taxes, and make a tax-deductible cash donation to their favorite charities. Unfortunately, they may not itemize their deductions. Furthermore, the deduction may not offset the additional income tax, and this workaround doesn’t help with increased Social Security taxation or Medicare premiums.

The Qualified Charitable Distribution is probably the most tax-efficient way for retirees over 70 ½ to give to charity. They can use it to tithe, or to make significant contributions for any charitable purpose, easily sending a check.

Unfortunately, not everyone knows about the Qualified Charitable Distribution yet. It’s up to neighbors and friends to spread the word. When working with my nonprofit clients I always encourage them to tell their supporters about QCDs in all the ways they communicate — in person, e-mail, website, newsletters, etc. During such awareness-building, pay attention to the professional advisors in your congregation; financial planners, attorneys, and CPAs will want to know about this too, so they can support their clients and promote broad financial understanding.

A “donor profile” or anecdotal story is one of the best ways to share this information. When you tell a story about someone with whom the reader identifies, it becomes much more real and relevant to them. Try finding a member who has used her IRA to make a Qualified Charitable Distribution to your congregation, and highlight her story to inspire other donors!

Don’t forget, the giver can also name your congregation as a partial or full beneficiary of that IRA so that when she passes, more of those IRA assets will support your ministry. If left to family, those assets will become taxable, but there are no taxes on what is willed to charity, so some people prefer designating the entire distribution to a cause or organization, including churches.

Stewardship leaders, make your job easier by making tithing options clearer, namely by explaining how participants can give from their asset base — not that tiny bit of cash they keep on hand.

Study Opportunities

St. James offers a variety of options for adult learning and interaction, so take advantage of these that fit your schedule or interest.

“Coffee with Jesus” Wednesdays at 7 a.m. at Perkins on North Oak, or Saturdays at 9 a.m. at Green Acres Market in Briarcliff. It’s a little comic, a little scripture, and a few discussion starter questions that help us reflect on life, relationships, and reasons for doing the things we do. Come and join the conversation.

“8 Q Inquiries.” Second Monday of the month in St. Timothy Hall, 1:30 p.m. “The Gathering” women’s group meet in a bible study that takes a bible story, reads and listens to it, and then generates eight questions for conversation from the group about that story. Lively conversation, open format, a new story every month. Drop in as you are able.

Church in the World Notes

The Clay County Clothes Closet is the charity chosen by Church in the World Committee for the month of April

April 7th and 14th have been designated “Undie Sundays”. Besides gifts of gently used clothing we’re asking for donations of NEW underwear and NEW Socks, all sizes from children’s to adult. Or, you can make cash donations and those will be used by the closet to purchase necessary items and stock them.

Watch for information in the May Servitor on how to donate to the Flooding disasters both domestically and internationally. Both of these will be “long term recovery” events, so long after they drop from the headlines the clean-up and rebuilding will continue.

From the Intern

Our daffodils are about a day away from blooming. My favorite part about daffodils blooming is that it means that our tulips are next, and the magnolia trees are not far behind. I love the early spring flowers: the first real green of the year, the riot of color, the signs of new life and hope: the reminder that we have made it through another winter, and that God does, indeed, make all things new.

As the season of Lent draws to a close this month and we continue our journey of reflection and spiritual disciplines, we have an opportunity to reflect on the ways that God is always making us new: perhaps we find that our relationships with others are transformed, or that we see ourselves in a new and fresh light. Perhaps Lent has drawn us closer to God, closer to our siblings in Christ, closer to our communities. Or perhaps we have a new handle on an old issue that has plagued us, and find new strength for that journey.

Each year, with the coming of the daffodils and tulips and the magnolia blossoms, we know that Easter is coming as well – a day in which we celebrate the risen Christ, the One in whom we draw our comfort and strength. We celebrate his resurrection, his defeat over death, and we are reminded that because of Christ, death will not be the last word for us, either. We, too, will be resurrected on the last day.

When I see the life renewed in daffodils, tulips, and magnolia blossoms, spring after spring, I am reminded of the ways in which God renews my life: spring after spring, Easter after Easter, day after day. I pray that you, too, see reminders around you this spring of God’s renewing work in your lives.


Intern Sarah

From the Pastor

“Enough” Problems.

We have “enough” problems as a society right now, but I don’t mean that in the way that you probably think I do.

I’m not talking about the number of problems, as in “enough, can’t take any more.” Oh we might have that too, but my mind is wandering elsewhere today.

We have problems that too often seem to stem from our inability to determine what is “enough.”

Let’s take a few cases in point.

We have a situation in this society where people are unable to earn “enough” to make a living. They find themselves in this position because of the way society currently values occupations, rewards outcomes, or seeks to regulate expenditures.

“There isn’t enough in the budget to give health care to all.”

“There aren’t enough hours in the day to work enough to pay the rent, buy the food, send the kids to college, .. no matter how many jobs at minimum wage I get.

“We don’t have enough positions open, or enough customers, or large enough profits, or enough resources to pay you more.”

We have this situation at the same time that we are unable to determine what the upper limits of compensation should be for others.

There appears to be no “enough” for a CEO, it is whatever it takes to secure that desired person.

There is no “enough” for a desired coach, sports player, entertainer, or celebrity. It is whatever it takes to get that person to do it.

There is no “enough” for shareholders, it is always “how much more.”

People seem unable or unwilling to self limit and say “that’s enough” or “that’s more than enough” for what you are asking me to do.

You see what I mean?

It is an “enough” problem that fuels the conversations. How much would be “enough” of a wage to lift people out of poverty?

When we do try to address that question of “enough”, we find ourselves sidetracked into comparison conversations. An amount for a minimum wage is proposed that would be “enough”, and immediately that amount is compared to what some other sector makes. “You mean you want to pay a burger flipper as much as a …”

So now, we are no longer talking about what would be “enough,” are we?

Or how about this conundrum? We have a society that is awash with firearms. In 2017 the statistics for the U.S. indicated that there are 120 civilian firearms for every 100 citizens alive in the U.S. (The next highest was the Falkland Islands with 62 firearms to every 100 citizen.) Please note, not included in these figures are any National Guard Armories, Military arms, or Law Enforcement armories. Just in the civilian circulation we have enough guns out there for every living person regardless of age to have one, and 20% to have more than one.

Gun shows occupy exposition center square footage when they come to town, and they often require more square footage to display hand held devices than are needed to display boats, RV’s or Motor Vehicles.

The Constitution does indeed guarantee the “right to bear arms” to American Citizens.

What the Constitution does not give guidance on is the type of firearm one might possess and how many firearms are “enough,” to assure a well regulated militia.

We can never seem to get around to talking about “enough” when it comes to guns. The conversation always cycles quickly to individual rights to own, and to the fear of criminals having guns while law-abiding citizens are denied them for self protection.

There are no good statistical numbers on the effectiveness of firearms for self-protection. The estimates vary wildly depending on special interest bias.

We can’t even effectively study the issue as congress has blocked government agencies like the CDC from studying gun violence and the public welfare effects of gun ownership.

There is no way to get a measure of “enough” if there is no independent measurement.

What is measurable is the number of injuries and deaths because of the ready availability of firearms. 30,000+ deaths annually in the U.S., 21,000+ of them successful suicides because of the availability of firearms. 500+ accidental deaths by firearm discharge on the owners.

It is not my intention to enter into debate about the 2nd Amendment here, but only to point out that it appears that conversations of “enough” are left out of the equation.

Although I started this message early in the month, it does appear that one country has initiated a conversation. New Zealand has indicated “enough is enough” and has moved swiftly both to support their Muslim population in the wake of the Mosque shootings, and to initiate gun control measures for automatic weapons and magazine sizes.

The “scandal du jour” breaking as I write this involves bribery at learning institutions, celebrities and wealthy individuals scamming the system to get their children into Ivy League institutions.

Again, this is a question of “enough” isn’t it? Getting my children into schools perceived as “good enough” even if my child’s grades or test scores aren’t “good enough” to warrant admission.

How much is “enough” to exert your influence over others, or institutions? Should you be able to do that?

I’m going on too long here, but one of the reasons why the church talks a lot about Stewardship is to equip people to begin to answer, (or at least struggle with) the “enough” questions. The one question that the forces at work in this world so studiously avoids.

I know that sometimes when the church talks about stewardship people are tempted to think, “I have enough problems in life, I don’t really have time or want to think about what I give to God.”

I want you to recall in that moment all of the “enough” problems that surround us all.

Could it be that spending a little intentional time considering “enough” in your own life through the eyes of faith might just help you navigate with some clarity all the other “enough” problems that plague this world?

Just a thought.

That’s enough.

Pastor Merle.

Central States Synod Assembly June 6–8, 2019 at the Marriott Kansas City/Overland Park, KS

The Synod Assembly is the highest legislative authority of the synod and is charged with electing members to the Synod Council, other synod committees and churchwide voting members, voting on a budget and on other resolutions that are presented to the assembly. In addition to conducting the business of the synod, voting members and visitors gather for worship, presentations, and workshops designed to support the ministry we do together as a synod.

This year’s Assembly will also be an election for the Bishop. St. James is allotted two voting delegates, one male, one female. It will in “in town” so we will be commuting to the assembly in Overland Park.

If you would like to serve as a voting delegate, contact the church office at 454-5295 for more information.

Stewardship Notes from the Pastor

“Holy Currency Event, Saturday Sept 21st, 9 a.m. Hollis Renewal Center.


This is a “put it on the calendar now” kind of thing. Eric H.F. Law is an Episcopal priest who has devoted his life to changing the conversation around Stewardship. He introduces the idea of currency back into the conversation, and not just money, but the time, resources, abilities, relationships, truths and leadership that is required for currencies to “flow” in order for there to be balance and wholeness in our lives and in our world. This is an interactive experience that will change the way you think about your own understanding of gifts, giving, and how you use those things placed before you. More information later about registration and costs, but for right now put it on your calendar. I have personal goal of 10 people from St. James attending. If 10 were to experience this, it would trickle into the conversations of 10 more, and a 100 people would have thought about how God has gifted them with all they have. It’s a multiplication event, so consider blocking out a Saturday to be enriched and to become a blessing to someone else.

Pastor Merle

Two Cents

A great resource for learning about all kinds of financial things in a simplified manner is a PBS Video podcast called “Two Cents.” The hosts walk you through some things to think about, and let you make decisions about how best to invest, spend, and budget. The link below takes you to a particularly helpful program for understanding the forces at work and how people end up “stuck” in poverty. Click the link and learn!


Two Cents on Poverty

Church in the World Notes

St. James Church in the World Committee (CITW) is responsible for overseeing the Food Pantry and the Benevolence distributions from St. James. On a monthly basis they review worthy charities and causes and recommend where St. James Benevolences should be sent. This year, we’ll be identifying the charity a month in advance and providing you information about those charities, giving you an opportunity to make additional gifts toward those causes.

As a way of helping the congregation connect with the gifts made, Church in the World will publish in advance their chosen agencies with dynamic links that will allow you to simply “click and learn” about the agencies or charities. If you choose, you can make direct donations to those agencies as well. We are quite often moved to generosity by understanding, so here is our way of making known all the good that is being done!

In the month of March the committee will be lifting up these two excellent organizations:

Oaks Indian Mission serves children from ages 4-18 from a multitude of tribal backgrounds. Children come to Oaks by placement of families or legal guardians, tribes, courts or DHS. We are licensed to house 58 children in home-like cottages where they receive love, food, shelter, clothing and guidance. Children will attend school at Oaks Mission Public School. There is an opportunity right now to partner with the Mabee Foundation in matching gifts to build a new cottage to house children. Click on the link above to find out more. CITW will be sending $150.00 to be matched.

Federal Employees Education and Assistance Fund (FEEA) Following the government shut-down last month we all learned a great deal about the precarious nature of government employees who are required to report to work but receive no compensation during the shut down. St. James held a Spaghetti dinner to support our government employees and received gifts toward their expenses. We sent $350.00 in donations to FEEA and CITW will be sending an additional $150.00. Click the link above to see how FEEA supports and helps people in time of transition and need.


The 40 day journey of Lent from March 6th to Palm Sunday is traditionally a time of changing up one’s experience.

Some choose to “give up” an item or activity for the season of Lent. Denying oneself is a way of fasting or being mindful, a reminder of how Jesus and the prophets fasted in the wilderness to focus their thoughts on God.

Other choose to “add” something to their daily journey. There are Lenten devotion books and e-mails that will come to your inbox daily to help you carve out a little time to center your thoughts on Jesus. Here are some links to look at and to which you can subscribe.

In the Meantime. Weekly reflections by Dr. David Lose on the week’s upcoming Gospel lesson.

God Pause Daily devotions from a variety of writers connected to Luther Seminary.

I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say. A 40 day downloadable devotion booklet, featuring some writing by Emily McQuillan.

You can also pick up a “Christ in our Home” in the Narthex upstairs.