Stewardship is an all year around effort. Your many gifts and talents are generously offered throughout the year, and the fall brings focus on financial giving. This year’s theme is Faith Filled Generosity. Every Member Canvass Booklets which tell the story of St. John’s ministries have been mailed to your homes and they should arrive this week. If for some reason you do not receive one, please contact chelsea@stjohnsessex.org. Skip Fiorelli is again organizing and seeking volunteers for canvassing.


Parishioners continue to share stories of why St. John’s is important to them and why financial giving is needed. This year’s financial giving is more important than ever, given the impact of COVID-19 and the hope we have for the future. We invite you to pray deeply about your giving. More than ever we need to join together in sustaining our church home, the ministries outside our walls, and all the ways we are called to be on God’s mission in this place. Chris Woodside shares her story with us today.


A faith filled generosity reflection

Many years ago, I sat in a circle of confirmation students under the high ceiling in the library of Trinity Church in Princeton, New Jersey. It was a beautiful room that intimidated me. Dark wooden bookcases surrounded us. Our teacher, the Rev. S. James Steen, passed around a stack of tiny light-yellow scraps. They were pledge forms he had run off on a mimeograph.


As we each took one, he asked us to think hard. How much could each of us give the church each week from our personal allowances?


I was 13 years old. No one had ever asked me that.

I knew that my parents gave to the church. My father had even headed up the Every-Member Canvass one year. I slumped. “25 cents,” I printed, adding, “I don’t have much money.” That was wrong. I earned money at home. I sang in the choir at this church and was paid for it. My father was a banker. My parents, brothers, sister, and I lived in a large split-level house. I knew I was being stingy and told myself no eighth-grader needed to pledge. But the Rev. Steen was asking me to do it.


I really liked this priest. I still can hear his voice in my memory reciting Rite I Eucharist, “the first and great commandment,” to love God, and the second, to love your neighbor as yourself. The very statement from Jesus that began yesterday’s gospel lesson, Matthew 22:36-39. I did not understand yet the connection between loving my neighbor and stewardship.

The memory of my 25-cent weekly pledge still makes me feel inadequate. I still squirm when dealing with money. It would be many years before I came to realize that a sense of powerlessness around money was part of the point.


Circumstances force a person, weekly, into making priorities around money. Would the church land on that list of expenses I would always pay? For a while I didn’t have to think too hard about what pledging meant. I married the son of an Episcopal priest, and because he had always felt strongly about pledging, I could simply let him deal with the problem.


But when I was still really too young to know better, I was asked to serve on vestries and other committees at St. John’s. I said yes, and now I faced the prospect of leading something I had always followed. Eventually I realized that I had become an active pledger, wincing with a sort of joy as I increased the pledge on the form. I knew that I want the church to be there for our daughters. I understood that my faith and the church where I practice it require that I must take an active, and sometimes painful, role in supporting it. The amount of money is not the point. The promise is the point. I will always feel a little inadequate to the task.

A LETTER FROM THE EPISCOPAL NETWORK OF STEWARDSHIP

FREELY GIVING OUR ALL TO GOD

Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’…. And … ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” – Matthew 22:36-39 

There’s a saying that the chicken who laid an egg made a contribution, but the chicken who made the sandwich offered a sacrifice. One could say that Jesus was alluding to the latter when he responded to the question as to which was the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all of who you are.” He was asking for more than a contribution; he was asking for the sacrifice of our all. 

As the Latin root of the word suggests, a sacrifice — a sacrum facere — makes one holy. Giving generously of that of which you are a steward — your heart, soul, mind and all your possessions — is life giving. And it is countercultural. As the bumper sticker declares, “S/He who dies with the most toys wins.” That’s a powerfully seductive statement. Only with God’s help can we avoid being allured into thinking that it is in acquiring possessions that our life gains meaning. May we grow in the wisdom that a rich life results in trusting that it is in God we live and move and have our being. 

This reflection is written while visiting Green Bough House of Prayer in Scott, Georgia. Here the three residents, with the company of 77 associates, have dedicated their lives, their all, to God and have taken on a Rule of Life to embrace silence, prayer, simplicity and living in the present moment, and accept all as coming from God. Do all for God. Offer all to God. This to me is a beautiful example of Faith-Filled Generosity. 


Very few members of the Church dedicate themselves to full-time contemplative living, but all of us are invited to learn to live Jesus’ greatest commandment, trusting that in so doing, Faith-Filled Generosity will flourish in our lives. 


As we move back into our church buildings, remembering only too well the COVID-19-caused absence of normalcy, may we re-enter with a renewed commitment to freely giving our all to God and faithfully loving our neighbors as ourselves. 

Rob Townes received his Master of Divinity degree from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and has spent his professional career as a nonprofit and church fundraising consultant.

FOR REFLECTION

  • When you have a sense of living within Faith-Filled Generosity, what actions do you see emerging in your life?
  • What helps you to live, and interferes with your living a more fruitful life?