Group Reflection: Common Purse

On Sunday we reflected as a group on Acts 4:32-35. The conversation was wide-ranging and included stories of people’s attempts to live with a common purse and/or live in community. Of particular note:

*Some people talked about their experience of moving to shared finances in married life. One couple was delighted: joining forces meant they could finally use ATMs, because together they would regularly have over $20 in their account (the minimum needed to use an ATM). Another couple had struggled with how money and power played out, and whether or not the greater earner should have more say over how money was spent. This was a particular struggle for the lesser earner, who perhaps felt they should not insist on how money was spent.

*The correlation between money and power was picked up by others whose have family members who insist on paying for everything. They commented on how other people’s generosity can feel profoundly disempowering for those on the receiving end.

*Someone told a story of friends who lived with a common purse. One or two members of the community had paid employment, which enabled the family and creative life of half a dozen. For a while, the group decided on every bit of spending – right down to whether someone got money for new underpants! – and that level of decision-making seemed very stifling. However, the group then moved to providing its members with allowances for discretionary spending, which helped a lot.

*Others had also attempted to live with a common purse. They found that a bank would not open a joint account for seven people! And so their attempts were in part stymied by our banking system.

*There was a general sense that our relative wealth and financial commitments, especially mortgages, probably make it feel harder to share resources so radically. Perhaps this is because we feel we have much more to lose than those who have little to begin with. There was also a thought that the Acts community expected the imminent return of Jesus in a way that we don’t, and that this generates different economic expectations and social contracts.

*Some people are interested in sacrificial giving: giving not just out of our excess, but out of our need. How to balance a call to sacrificial giving with the needs of children and leaky roofs is something which warrants further exploration.

*Some people talked about the practices described by Mark and Lisa Scandrette, including those found in the books Free and Practicing the Way of Jesus. People became interested in reading one of these books together, and perhaps then working out a practical experiment in faith to try together. There was a strong sense that fixed-term projects felt more do-able than open-ended ones; that subsets of the congregation might like to try different things – and that some people will not be remotely interested, and that’s okay! Congregations have open boundaries and participants have varying levels of commitment.

*There is no immediate plan for any particular action. We will let things settle for a while, and see what arises.

***

THE QUESTIONS which generated the above discussion were:

What made the apostles’ witness so powerful? Do you think it was their words, actions, economics, or something else?

How does the description of the common purse make you feel? Excited? Sceptical? Anxious? What does this tell you about where you place your trust?

Have you ever lived with a common purse, or seen others do so? What did it enable? What did it prevent?

Do you think our relative wealth makes it easier or more difficult to entertain the idea of a common purse? Why might this be?

For those who are married, how does a common purse play out in your household? Was it difficult to establish an economic relationship?

Do tonight’s readings suggest some form of practical response? If so, what?

Image shows Facelife courtesy Michael Leunig.

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