Provided with enough
Parishioner Zach Moir speaks for many of us when he comes clean about the sense shame he often associated with the subject of Stewardship. Even when we long to be generous to the church, we long also to protect the (sometimes scant) financial resources at our disposal. Have you, like Zach, ever eyed the beautiful objects in our sanctuary with a thought to "what could be hocked" in dire times? Read on...
As an oldest child and the son of a pastor, shame is an affect with which I’m all too familiar. And in my many years as a Christian, shame is also what I have found to undergird many of the sermons I have heard on tithing -- the general gist being: you know how much you should be giving to the church…and it is most certainly more than you currently are. And while this “give until it hurts” idea works well if you’re trying to earn your own salvation, it has always left me with a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach --something unnervingly close to anger. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that I spent more years in school than any reasonable person should, and thus when anyone tried to imply that part of my seemingly measly stipend (for which I was grateful, don’t get me wrong) was actually theirs, I couldn’t help but see their claim on my income as, at the very least, insensitive…an insensitivity that sometimes led my eyes to roam around the sanctuary for items that, if things were so dire, could be hocked for far more than almost any percentage of my vast, worldly fortune. Yet, my inner shame-monger would rear its ugly head, and indeed I would give to the church what I could. And I’m glad I did -- though I was certainly far from the cheerful giver. I would say, more "stoically dutiful"…bordering on bitter.
I tell you all that to tell you this: my partner, Jamie, and I arrived at St. James' last fall. We had been looking for an Episcopal church, and St. James' fit enough of our criteria that we thought it warranted a visit: it was gay-friendly, there were both female and male clergy, and it was within walk-able distance of our apartment. Delightful. Knowing all too well that fools rush in, we waited an entire two weeks before deciding that St. James' would be our church home. All was good at the start: I began coming to centering prayer, we met a few people. And then about a month in, Brenda mentioned the stewardship campaign. I sighed, and immediately started crunching numbers in my head, wondering if the salary of a high school French teacher (me) and the stipend of a PhD in English (Jamie) could be stretched even further in Manhattan. I was unsure it could, and I felt no small amount of shame about the fact.
But as Brenda talked about giving, she talked about this practice being as much for each of us as for St. James'. She said that we should prayerfully consider what we were being called to give. It reminded me of a sermon I’d heard my dad give years ago called “An apologetic for gift giving,” the basic point of which was that giving a gift isn’t about outdoing others or winning favor. Instead, at its base, it’s about sharing what we have. When Jamie and I sat down to look at the giving chart once we got home, the conversation was not a simple one. But it was a good one. And as we decided what amount of our income we were going to share with St. James' in the coming year, I felt humbled: even though we were a graduate student and a high school teacher living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, God had provided us with enough…enough that we did have something to share with this church in which we feel so at home. And in the many ways that St. James' has encouraged us to grow in our faith, helping me take the shame out of giving has been one of the most meaningful. We don't give 10% (the shame in me wants me to tell you that we’re going to get there soon…however, mathematically, I’m not sure that’s possible), but it’s something. And it’s something that I’m learning how to do joyfully, and shame-free.