Sunday, October 09, 2011

Church Stewardship Breakthrough

I am now a member of the Stewardship Team in my parish (Grace Episcopal Church in Jefferson City, Missouri). For a long time, there was a committee that conducted the "Every Member Canvas" to solicit annual financial pledges to the parish. But our parish vision changed, and we now work year-round to remind the parish that stewardship is a Gospel mandate that makes claims on us every day not just once a year. Now, the Stewardship Team organizes an event or program every month of the year.

We are working to help the parish grow into an awareness that stewardship involves not just financial support of the parish, but also care of the environment, caring for those in need, and outreach in the community.

Now it is October, and that's the month of the annual "pledge drive" in most Episcopal parishes. We used to ask only that parishioners return their "pledge card their commitment of the amount of money they would contribute to the budget. Not now.

Now our parish "pledge form" is a two-sided sheet that asks all parishioners above the age of two to check boxes to indicate the missions and ministries to which they will commit themselves, along with a small tear-off sheet on which they make their financial pledge. Among the "check-off" options are such things as pledging to engage in regular prayer, regular participation in worship, service at the altar (as acolytes, choir members, altar guild, etc.), various activities in Christian formation, maintenance of our physical facility, hospitality in parish or public events, and many outreach activities beyond the parish.

October is the month when we ask parishioners to make their pledges in all those areas. We ask pledges of money, but also of time and talent. I think that's all very good.

As part of the process, Stewardship Team members are asked to provide brief statements for publication in the Sunday service leaflet throughout October. Today was the day mine was to appear. I've known about this deadline for a while, and I knew it was going to spring from a statement I heard from Episcopalians in Sudan, when I went there as a diocesan missioner in 2006. [You can find my blog about that experience at LuiNotes. Scroll back to the 2006 entries.]

After much writer's anxiety, I woke around 5 a.m. one day this week, and my stewardship essay seemed to flow in a rush. I wanted to share it with you all. Here's the piece I wrote, which appeared in today's service leaflet at Grace.
"You don’t know that God is all you need, until God is all you have.”

My view of stewardship was changed utterly by my time in Lui. As many of you know, I was one of the diocesan missioners to the Diocese of Lui (Episcopal Church of Sudan) in 2006. A fragile peace agreement had been reached just two months earlier, ending decades of civil war.

During the war, the people of Lui lived mostly “in the bush” and often on the run. Homes were bombed or burned, crops destroyed. But the people still gathered in small groups to worship under the shade of mango trees. As I heard from more than one person: “You don’t know that God is all you need, until God is all you have.”

Their cathedral was bombed twice. And the Christians of Lui rebuilt it ... twice!

In a time of great scarcity, they shared food instead of hoarding it.

I found myself wondering: In similar circumstances, would I be as generous? Would I forego a full stomach so that others here at Grace could eat? Would I help make and lay bricks to rebuild our church when I didn’t even have a house?

The Christians of Lui lived out a theology of abundance rather than a theology of scarcity. They trusted God would provide – that there would be enough for all – if each shared his or her treasure and talents with the others.

That experience changed my view of the Grace pledge request. I now challenge myself to give as much as I can. I give in gratitude for all that God has given me, for the ministry and mission here at Grace, and for love of the community of Grace. As I increase my giving, I find that I still have all I need. Thanks be to God.
In 2006, and still now, I am humbled and in awe at how the Christians in Lui cared for one another during nearly five decades of civil war. I often ask myself how we in the "First World" should behave, having seen how the church in the developing world acts. Look behind all that "Anglican Covenant" stuff, and I find faithful Christians who have a lot to teach me. And I am humbled.

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