The Rector Gives Witness to Giving – January 28, 2018
O God, Giver of Life and Source of Freedom, we know that all we have is received from your hand. Teach us to share your gifts generously. Send the Holy Spirit to work through us, bringing your message to those we serve that we may bear witness to the love of Jesus Christ in our lives.
With grateful hearts we pray.
It’s St. Paul’s Day. We are celebrating our patronal feast. I suspect St. Paul was chosen to be our patron because he was a missionary and this was truly mission territory for the Church of England back in the year 1737. Two hundred eighty-one years later, the choice of Paul as the patron of this community still makes good sense. Paul was a Jewish convert who became a disciple of Jesus and who made his principal mission work among the gentiles, “the outsiders” and today we continue to proclaim God’s radical welcome for everyone—no matter how alike or different they may be from any one of us. Here, no one is turned away from hearing that message because of gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic status, or whether they are believers or not and everyone is invited as a guest at God’s Table. Radical hospitality is in our DNA.
We’re doing something a little different this morning. Our parish wardens, Louise Truax and Bob Giolitto, are here with me to offer you some food for thought about the importance of our St. Paul’s community and what we are called to do to keep it true to its mission, vibrant in its ministry, and financially healthy.
I’ll begin by asking the question, “Why the need for church?” What are we here for?” And I’ll take us to the Gospel story we hear today in which Jesus confronts a person being tortured by demons. Now we sophisticated 21st century folk may find this a bit surreal. We’d likely send that person for a psychiatric evaluation. But let’s stretch the metaphor of the “unclean spirit” and think about how many people are “bound” by hopelessness, depression, anxiety, fear and even dread of the future.
When Jewish storyteller Isaac Singer was asked in an interview, “Are we living in a time when the Evil One is triumphing?” he answered: “I would say we are always in such a time. I would say that human life is one big crisis. The moment you have conquered one crisis, there is already another one lurking…but the hope is that the crisis does not last forever, and beyond all this crisis, all this darkness, there is a great light.”
I believe that people desperately want to see that light, to have an “anchor” in their lives, a place where they can feel at least somewhat grounded, accepted and valued just as they are, comforted by the knowledge that God loves them unconditionally, and challenged to become better people than they were yesterday.
A place where they can learn how to talk with their partners, families and friends and their children about the important values that bind us together as fellow sojourners in this crazy yet amazing world. A place where they know they will find support in times of their own darkness and where the care given to make worship uplifting and inspiring in its ritual, its music, the prayers and the preaching will help them face the week ahead.
Here we look to the Great Light that Singer speaks of who is Christ—who in the words of Episcopal priest, Walter Russell Bowie: “spoke to the wilderness” in the possessed man. “Be still,” he said, “and come out of him.” And suddenly, all that was tormenting the man’s mind left him. He stood before Jesus, quieted and healed. Faced with the mini and huge crises of life, I think we all just want to leave here each week quieted and healed. This place is our beacon, our refuge, and our strength. As Thomas said to Jesus “Where else can we go?” Where else can we go to find the treasure of what is in this community of faith? To ensure that we are here for those who are here and those yet to come, there is a challenge before us.
The question that may be raised when we hear about giving is “How do I determine my pledge?” The standard in the Episcopal Church is the biblical tithe or 10% of our income. I’d like to suggest that we consider at least 3% and increase it each year by 1% but whatever decision you make about your annual giving, please give as generously as possible and in proportion to your ability.
And regardless of what you decide to give, I hope you will consider having a visit from a member of the community to share your experience and thoughts about this amazing church and what it stands for and means for you. These visits are not just about raising our awareness about financial support of this church; they are about forging relationships.
At our leadership retreat last May, Mother Suzanne Wille strongly urged me to share my own personal testimony about my giving. Our stewardship consultant, Maryann Doyle, has recommended that as well. It is not something that is easily shared but I’ve come to understand that it is important.
When I was sent to Holy Trinity Church, Danbury, as pastor in 1975, my salary was $300 a month. I eked out a living from that, paying for a car loan, insurance, and the basic necessities of life and still I managed to give $5 a week to support the work of the church. I did that –and continue to pledge—because I believe so strongly in what we do here and that, as a spiritual leader, I must set an example. I’m in this with you, not a part from you. My pledge for 2018 is $25,500—an increase of $1,000 over my 2017 pledge. No, I don’t have kids—but I do have two needy, hungry Chihuahuas—and a mortgage and taxes and a car payment, etc. Last fall I had to put in a chimney liner—so I understand what comes with owning a home.
I’ve increased my giving every year and never have I gone without everything I need to live comfortably. There is joy in giving. Our giving, together, will support the Core Values of this faith community: proclaiming radical welcome, offering excellence in worship/music, building and sustaining a vibrant community and local community mission. Pledge income is fundamental to the budget. You hold the power to make a difference and to ensure that we don’t compromise those core values.
In Daily Facebook, Bishop Steven Charleston, a Native American and Episcopal Bishop writes, “What comes next? The answer is: we never know. No matter how smart we are, how carefully we have planned, or how much data we have gathered, we are still only mortals who can never control the future.
“We live in the now, in the eternally changing series of spaces we call the present. The now is where we shine. In the now we can have impact, be creative, shape reality, build relationships that can withstand change. We can turn a moment into a memory, a glance into a promise, an idea into a vision that will last forever.”
We can if we do it together.