Sunday, October 06, 2013
I’m a member of my parish’s Stewardship Team. We are no longer just about the “annual pledge drive.” We have a year-round mission of helping to educate, inform, and inspire the parish to contemplate and live out stewardship in all its manifestations. We lead book and movie discussions. We host special events. We try to keep “stewardship” in the forefront of our parish awareness throughout the year.
But this is October – the month when most Episcopal parishes do their “pledge drive.”
In the past 3 or 4 years, we did a combined “pledge drive,” asking people to pledge their money, time, and talents. This year, we decided to let October be about financial support of the parish. (We’ll tackle time and talent in early 2014.) After much discussion, we decided to talk about money this month. You know how Christians – and Episcopalians – don’t want to talk about money. It’s considered gauche. Most of us were raised with the mantra that – in polite society – we do not discuss politics, sex, religion, or money. But Jesus and the Gospel writers talked more about money than about almost any other topic. Our Stewardship Committee decided we’d dare to touch that “fourth rail”; we decided to talk quite explicitly about money this month.
Each October Sunday during the “announcements” period at the 8:00 and 10:30 services, one of us Stewardship Team members will stand up and talk about Church and money. We are to share something from our personal experience. Today was the first of those Sundays, and I was first up at the 10:30 service. I went to the lectern with four small note cards with “bullet points” on them. In case any of you want to know, I’m going to try here to write what I tried to say today from that lectern.
Hello, I’m Lisa Fox, and I’m a member of our Stewardship Team.
As I was preparing to talk with you today, it struck me that this is a significant anniversary for me. Fifteen years ago this weekend, on Friday night, I drove my moving van to Jefferson City. I spent Saturday unpacking as much as I could. Then Sunday, I walked into this church for the first time. From that first Sunday, you made me feel at home. I wrote my first offering check that day. And I have never quit giving my money to this parish since then.
There’s an old saw that “polite” people don’t talk about sex, politics, religion, or money. But our Stewardship Team has made a very conscious decision to talk about money this year. And so I shall.
A few moments ago, we heard the children’s choir introit. They sang almost everything we need to hear as they sang, “I am the Church. You are the Church. We are the Church together.”
But I want to share a few thoughts with you anyway.
I want to tell you why I tithe to Grace. By the way, I am a little nervous saying that I tithe. I don’t want it to sound like I’m bragging. But we hear others talk about their spiritual disciplines. For example, some people mention that they pray the Daily Office. Why shouldn’t I also say that tithing is part of my spiritual discipline?
Here are three reasons why I tithe.
First, I tithe in gratitude for what God has done and is still doing in my life. Our priest reminds us that the definition of “Eucharist” is “thanksgiving.” I tithe because God has blessed and redeemed me more than I ever deserved.
Second, I tithe in gratitude for what this parish is doing and has done for me, and in gratitude for what it’s doing for other parishioners. I expect most of you, too, have been blessed by the ministry of our members.
Third, I tithe in gratitude for and solidarity with Grace’s mission outreach to the wider community and for what that lets us share with the Diocese and the wider Episcopal Church.
Last year, I was pleased that I finally pledged 10% of my income to this parish. But then something happened. As several of you know, my paid-off car was totaled while I safely at home in June. I had to buy a new-to-me car. I had counted the cost and thought I knew what I could afford. But the payments came up a bit higher than I expected. When the first payment came due – God help me, I confess – I immediately thought, “I cannot afford this. I have to make room in my budget. I guess I’ll have to reduce my pledge to the Church.”
And then a big head-slap came out to me – maybe from the Holy Spirit, or maybe from within my own spirit.
I was reminded of what I have so often heard: “A budget is a moral document.” I believe that. I have a budget. And I thought of all the items I have in that budget, including my Internet connection, my cell phone charges, my eating-out budget, and my larger-than-it-should-be Starbucks budget. What in the world made me think that I should look first to reduce my pledge to Grace Church and the mission of the Church??
Fortunately, that big ol’ head-slap quickly brought me to my senses. I had made a promise to God and to this parish. How dare I first think about reducing my parish pledge? Why in the world would that strike me as the first possible cut? I realized I could cut back on other things to take up the slack.
Everything I have – including this new-to-me 2007 car – is a gift from God. And God has asked me to give the “first fruits” back to the church. God “whopped me up-side o’ my head” about my priorities. This parish is one of the things I treasure most in my life. My treasure should be where my heart is. And TEC and this parish matter more to me than my new-to-me car.
I hope you will join me this month in discernment about what God has given you and what you value about this parish. And please join me in discernment about what we should give back to God in gratitude for the gifts we have been given.