dear abigail::what's the PW etiquette for gift-giving?

>> March 28, 2010

Dear Abigail,
Graduation season is approaching and my PH and I will be invited to many graduation parties.  Last year, my PH wasn't yet on staff at our church so we attended only the parties to which we were given a written invitation. There were only a few, so we were able to give a small cash gift to each of the graduates. 

But now that my husband is the senior pastor at our church, we'll be personally invited to many more parties, and are likely expected to attend those posted in our church bulletin (even if we don't receive an actual invite).  

How do we handle this?  It seems impossible to attend every one, especially since we will have a newborn at the time.  And, how do we handle gifts?  We aren't in a financial position to give cash to each graduate anymore, but don't want to seem stingy either.  What's the etiquette? ~ PW in MI

Dear PW in MI,
It's tough having a generous heart on a short budget, isn't it? First of all, it's important to treat all invitations with appreciative grace, whether you can attend or not. 

Your PH can forestall many issues by making a simple announcement from the pulpit a couple of weekends in a row, along the lines of: "Summer is almost here, and my lovely wife and I wish that we could attend the parties of every single graduate this year, because we are so proud of all of you. However, with the new baby coming, my wife needs to rest and I'll be spending a lot of time caring for her and the baby, so we regret that we won't be able to celebrate with each of you personally!"

In late spring, or when all the graduates are home for the summer (if they have gone away to college or boarding schools), you and your husband might plan a "Graduates' Blessing". Invite all the graduates to come forward during the worship service, and both of you can congratulate and bless them for their achievements in front of the congregation. Give them each a card with a thoughtful, handwritten message and a carefully selected bible verse from the two of you. 

This way you will have created a way to celebrate with all your graduates without over-taxing your energy, dragging your newborn to dozens of parties, or overdrawing your checking account. And hopefully the spiritual blessing will stand in the memory of your young people for years to come.
~ Abigail

Dear Abigail,
As a PW I am often invited to every birthday party, baby shower and wedding shower -- and I LOVE to attend them!  

We can't afford to buy presents for each one, yet I feel bad if I show up empty handed.  What is the best way to handle this?  I don't want to miss out on important moments in people's lives or offend someone if I go to one party and not another.  But buying gifts for everyone adds up  quickly.

Do you have any ideas or gift suggestions that are both meaningful and budget friendly? ~ Jana

Dear Jana, 
You and PW in MI have a lot in common: an obvious love of people, enjoyment of giving gifts, and a slim budget. 

For celebratory parties where a gift is expected, try shopping at places like Marshalls, TJ Maxx or Ross (assuming you're in the USA) where you can find tasteful and attractive gifts at a very low cost. Some pastor families choose to set aside a percentage of their offering just for this purpose, since there is usually little money left in their budgets otherwise, and they consider the giving of small gifts as part of their ministry.

If you are artistic, you might consistently give a gift that is handcrafted - such as a knitted scarf, or a bookmark with a bible verse in calligraphy, or whatever it is that you do. Or you might volunteer to bring a dish and help with the decorating. This way you can give the gift of your time.

Or, you and your PH may decide that your family policy is to never give gifts at all (unless it is to a family member or extremely close friend). If that is the case, then make sure to apply your policy across the board so no one feels hurt or left out. Instead, you can make it your tradition to give a lovely card with a handwritten message of blessing and encouragement, and a special scripture verse at every occasion.

Whatever you choose is fine, as long as you keep your policy consistent so that people don't feel that you're playing favorites. Most people understand that the pastor's budget can't stretch to give fancy presents at everyone's party, and what they want most is the support of your presence and acknowledgement. 

~ Abigail

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CJ,  March 28, 2010 at 11:23 AM  

I completely understand where these ladies are coming from. Thanks for the answers you supplied....they will help out our family as well.

Anonymous,  March 28, 2010 at 11:30 AM  

Thanks Abigail...great advice! I will let you know what we decide upon. I agree, it does need to be the same across the board so that no one is left out. Thank you for taking the time to share your great ideas and wisdom with us!

LaVonne March 28, 2010 at 1:25 PM  

I really like this week's Dear Abigail. Thank you for practical advice. :)


Melody March 28, 2010 at 5:45 PM  

This hits home for sure! I have found that stocking up on gifts is what works for me. When I find a huge baby sale going on at the end of the season I will buy a boy and a girl outfit and save it for the next season's baby shower gift that I will most likely need to buy. I can find a nice $25 gift many times for el cheapo. The key is to buy off season and save it. Same for bday gifts, etc. I will buy a few of the same item and make a note of who I gave it to on the other one that is left in my closet waiting for the next gift to be given. I wouldn't feel comfortable taking part of our offering and putting that towards gifts though. PW's aren't the only people who have to give gifts and even though we many times live on a smaller salary I do feel that giving our offerings in whole is an important part of our spiritual health.

Jodie,  March 29, 2010 at 12:06 PM  

Great post on a problem many of us face. Just an idea for graduations...our local Christian bookstore offers a discount to pastors...maybe order a nice book for all the graduates which would come to $5 - $10 each

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