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Creating An Oikos Organization
by Jean Siegfried Darling


The Spiritual Household
Oikonomia, the Greek word for "household management," is the source of our word "economy." For many years the social science of Economics was called "Political Economy." Only since the 1950s has it been recast as an art of mathematical modeling which has somehow slipped out of political life. It has become the purview of experts and somehow independent of human control, like the weather.
Another vision of economics, in which an economy is seen as an ecosystem, gives us a more hopeful and human-oriented view. This new way of looking at economics helps us see our church as a micro-economy within the larger world ecosystem. In addition, by viewing the economy of an institution as a household (oikos) to manage, relating to human beings both inside and outside it, we can restore the human element lost when we pay attention to money alone.
What is the church as Household? What does it take for us to be stewards of this household, treating people responsibly, using our money wisely as well? What are our inflows and outflows? What are our resources? How can we nurture them responsibly? How can we be a good neighbor?
These are the questions we hope to help you begin to answer in this document. We hope to help you ensure you are both responsible in your decisions that affect the economic life of your church, and intentional in your economic presence in the community, that you make deliberate decisions and know why you have chosen them, and that those decisions do not rest on money value alone.

The Spirit of Gift
As children we are taught not to take toys or candy away from other children, and to be generous, to share, and give gifts to others at appropriate times. We all experienced those who for whatever reason didn't learn these lessons, who simply seized the things they wanted.
And as adults, when we began earning a living, more and more aspects of our lives became dominated by the rules of trade, rather than gift. Trade, the middle road, lies between gift and seizure. The world today is based mainly on trade, with rare forays into gift, and all too frequent instances of seizure, some veiled, spurred by greed and hatred.
Yet a congregation is a voluntary organization, built on gift - including both gifts of volunteer time, and of money. We can carry the spirit of gift into our dealings within our organization and with the outside world, as we handle our money, the medium of exchange.
For too long, intangibles of value to human beings have been left out of the economic equations, and thus social costs of certain policy decisions were not predicted nor properly attached to those economic events that led to their creation or exacerbation. Some examples of uncounted intangibles:
On the debit side:

  • the cost to a person of working too hard - working seven day or 60 hour weeks;
  • the cost to society of unemployed or underemployed people - their human capital is lost, their potential wasted;
  • the cost of social problems - substance abuse, violence, crime;
  • the cost of industrial and other pollution;
  • the cost to society of poor public services - health care, education, transportation.


And on the credit side:

  • the value of a parent staying at home to care for children in their early years, or a family being able to care for an aging parent or disabled relative;
  • the value of people having leisure time to spend with friends and neighbors or engage in creative pursuits;
  • the value of an active democracy, with people involved in local civic affairs or creating meaningful public ceremonies;
  • the value of people pursuing their dreams and aspirations.

Inflows and Outflows, Enrichment
In a factory modeled after a natural ecosystem, the aim is to prevent pollution - all "outflows" should be used; none should pollute, or simply be dumped "outside" the system; all inflows should be sustainable, not destructive to their sources. Similarly, in an Oikos organization, all outflows should reflect the aim of promoting love, and at the very least "doing no harm." All inflows should be nurtured and renewed.

Inflows: Value flows into the church from parishioners in the form of gifts of money, time and effort to support the church; it may flow in as revenue from building rental; it flows in from the work of the employees; it flows in as goodwill in the community.
Honor these inflows periodically, and respect them as genuine additions to the economy of the church. Honoring value means using it wisely. But abundance is created by generosity, not restriction.
Outflows: Value flows out of the church in cash outlays for salaries, rent, mortgage, utilities, supplies; it may flow out as public meeting space, a community resource; it flows out of the church in efforts the congregation makes in the community - outreach and service, justice work.
Honor the mission of the church in its outflows. If you believe that unions help bring equality to society, use union print shops or other union services when you have to pay for outside help. What is the church's mission? How does it relate to the wider community? Devote some of your resources to it.
Is yours a green church, committed to supporting environmentally sound products and processes? Then pay attention to the cleaning supplies you buy - make sure they are biodegradable. For coffee hour supplies, buy paper cups, not styrofoam, or better yet, use ceramic cups; consider buying coop Fair Trade coffee, rather than commercially grown coffee.

Enrichment: Value is enhanced within the church when members are nurtured in their leadership skills, when they have opportunities to explore their creative gifts. Value is enhanced as the church becomes a spiritual resource to its people and to the community; it is enhanced as it is used as public space available to the community for gatherings that support the mission of the church.

The Heart Leads
What is important is the heart. These suggestions are one way to follow the UU heart in managing our resources. We are a microcosm within a larger macrocosm - our outflows are inflows to some other system. Our inflows are outflows from other systems. It is up to us to touch those other systems with respect and knowledge of our impact, and right intention.
We suggest a Study/ Action/ Reflection model. Find out what is going on in your congregation or in your community around any of these economic issues, decide to do something about it and act on that decision, then examine what you did and its effect, so you can modify your next action accordingly. Record and attend to the questions raised by your experience, for further study.