Recently I was asked, “Why do you pledge to St. Luke’s?” I must have taken a deep breath because then this person, who knows me well said, “the short version”. So, here is the short version and rather unglamorous reason of why I pledge to St. Luke’s.
My family has a multi-generational relationship with St. Luke’s. My mom was baptized, confirmed, married, served as an ordained deacon and most recently we said our final goodbyes to her from within this sacred space. My siblings and I have been married here, baptized our babies, married off some of those babies and buried loved ones, all from this church. I count on this tradition continuing for generations to come.
I am part of a very tight knit and loving family and am blessed to also have a supportive community of friends many of whom I see right now in this sacred space. My mom always said that strong families and strong communities take work and support to make them happen. By work she meant taking to time to be together, eating (or breaking bread) together, laughing and listening to each other’s stories. Building community moment by moment.
In the same way that strong families don’t just happen, strong churches don’t just happen. It requires the support of my time, talent and treasure to ensure that this sacred space is always available to me, and to all of us, when we need it. I needed this space more than ever this last week when we said goodbye to my mom. During that incredibly difficult time, I never once doubted that when I called the church, someone wouldn’t answer “St. Luke’s Church”.
If you have ever called after hours, you know that the answering machine will give you Tim or Noel’s cell phone in case it is a pastoral emergency. This number is available to everyone who calls. It isn’t a special “bat phone” number available only to those who pledge. Jim and I pledge so that the doors of St. Luke’s will always be open for all who need it and that the phone will always be answered and not just for those of us who pledge, those of us who put money in the plate but for everyone who needs the love and support of this sacred community.
That the church can continue to welcome the people who need a place for their support group to meet, for those who feed and minister to the poor, the homeless, the lost. That generations will continue to come here to get married, baptize their babies, and say goodbye to loved ones.
In the same way that strong families don’t just happen, strong churches don’t just happen. It requires the support of my time, talent and treasure to ensure that this sacred space is always available to me, and to all of us, when we need it.
When Tim asked me to share some thoughts about what stewardship and pledging mean to us, I jumped at the chance, because believe it or not, stewardship has really become a very important part of our lives.
It all started for us almost 30 years ago in 1983. We were living in Potomac Maryland, a Washington suburb. I was on the Vestry of St. Francis, our local Episcopal church, where we had belonged for a few years. Our daughter attended church school there. We pledged to the church – I can't remember how much, but it was just enough so that we felt we were "respectable" and didn't feel too guilty. After all, we had a lot of expenses and there were plenty of other people at the church who seemed a lot better off than we were, so we figured they could make the church's ends meet, and things seemed OK with our church finances.
One day, I participated in an educational workshop about stewardship. It had nothing to do with fundraising or pledging. It was all about what role stewardship plays in our lives as Episcopalians. It really changed the way I thought about giving, not just at church, but about stewardship and philanthropy overall.
I came home that night and was all pumped up. I couldn't wait to share what I had learned with Linda. So, I want you to get the picture here…. I drove home in my powder blue 1980 Chevy Malibu. I had a full head of dark brown hair. We had a young daughter in nursery school that seemed to need a new pair of shoes every two months. We were just coming out of a terrible double-dip recession and unemployment was over 10%, the GDP change had been negative for 6 of the last 12 quarters. Gas prices had just raised to $1.40 a gallon, and it was killing us – I had a 50-minute commute. Getting the picture?
It was late when I got home that night. Linda was a nursery school teacher. She had just paid some bills and was tired. So, I said, excitedly, "I learned a lot at church tonight. I think we should find a way to give away 10% of what we make to do God's work." I could tell by the look on her face that she didn't think it was one of my better ideas.
I didn't sleep real well that night, and I don't think Linda did either. But over the next few weeks, we talked about it, and thus started the journey of stewardship that has meant so much to us.
But let me share a bit of what I learned at that workshop. As Episcopalians, we have the luxury of having our faith based on the famous 3-legged stool — Scripture, Tradition and Reason. I learned that the concept of tithing – giving 10% of the money we make to do God's work – is deeply rooted in Scripture. It was based on an agrarian society where farmers would give away 10% of their crops to help those in need.
I also learned that tithing is supported by the Tradition of our faith – it's been embraced as the accepted standard for giving by the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion and the General Convention of our U.S. Episcopal Church.
OK, but surely, this wasn't meant for us, we thought at first. Those scripture writings were based on a two-millennia-old frame of reference. We lived in the 20th century, and we paid taxes that provided welfare, so tithing shouldn't really apply to us, right? And the rationalization went on. And then there was that third leg of the stool – Reason. Was it "reasonable" for us to commit to give away 10%? Well not right away, we figured. And what comprises "God's work" anyway? So, we figured certainly our church did, and we also thought the money we committed to United Way and some other charities did. And next thing you know, we thought that 10% would be a real stretch, but it was certainly a reasonable goal for us some day.
Then, one day when we came home from church after we had been wrestling with this, Linda said she was struck by what the Celebrant said at each Eucharist service when the offering was made, even though we had heard it a thousand times before: "All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own, have we given thee."
All things come of thee? We thought about it. The fact that we were fortunate enough to be born in this great country? The fact that we were blessed to have parents who gave us good educations and upbringings? The fact that we had jobs? Yes, all things… So, stewardship was just giving back to God a small part of what He had already blessed us with. Suddenly, 10% seemed more reasonable.
So, we figured we'd see how much of a stretch it would be to get to 10% of our earnings. We sat down and added up what we gave. Believe me, we counted everything! I think it came out to 2 or 3 %. We weren't impressed.
So, we decided to see if we could increase it by just 2% of our take-home earnings during the next year. We increased our pledge at St. Francis, and we gave a little more to our favorite charities. You know, it was a struggle to make that commitment, but boy did it feel good. We felt like we were committing ourselves to a deeper relationship with God. And you know what? We never even felt that 2% -- or the 1, 2 or 3% increases we made in future years. We didn't think of it back then, but we were on our "Stewardship Journey". And we had developed our own "theology of stewardship" – what felt right for us.
So, each year since then, about this time of year, we sit down and look at where our giving is, what we think we can and want to do the next year. We plan it out, and we make our stewardship budget for the year; it's a commitment – to ourselves and to God. We decide then and there where we'll give our yearly commitment. Of course, our pledge to St. Luke's is now the biggest share of what we give, because it's the center of our lives as Christians, and we think this place does such good work. But we also include in our tithing commitment charities, and other places we consider to be God's work.
Frankly, each year, making that commitment to take another step, to give 1 or 2 % more, can be a struggle. But we have never regretted any of our annual decisions. It became a joy. We'd celebrate each year after we made the decision.
We got to our 10% goal quite a while ago, in fewer years than we thought it would take. The journey has not been without challenge – but it has brought us closer to our faith, closer to our relationship with God, and I dare say closer to one another.
Thank you for allowing me to share these thoughts. less
The journey has not been without challenge – but it has brought us closer to our faith, closer to our relationship with God, and I dare say closer to one another.
A Beloved Son
Good Morning: Thank you Father Craig for allowing me a few minutes to share with the congregation my sincerest appreciation and gratefulness to you as well as to all the wonderful church school leaders who, over the years, have provided our children with much wisdom, inspiration and hope through the youth ministry of this Church. Both of my children have benefited immensely from the unselfish giving and devotion of others so that they might have a better understanding of the church and its mission, the teachings of the Holy Gospel, and the true meaning of giving of one’s self unto others. In a world that is seemingly endlessly fraught with uncertainty, divisiveness, moral decay and the daily and incomprehendable departure from common sense and personal responsibility, it is this church, its congregation and its leadership for which I am so thankful for in helping to reinforce the best values and principles by which we strive to live our daily lives. This church has truly been a welcome beacon of light for all of us, and particularly, for our children. For all of this, we are truly blessed and most grateful.
I am reminded of a story that Father Craig has told this congregation from time to time, particularly as it relates to forming the foundation of our relationships with God and the Church in our own lives as well as instilling and nurturing this spiritual foundation in our children’s lives. It is unique because it tells about one of those chance encounters in life that one never forgets. The story begins, quite by chance, on a warm summer afternoon back in 1993 as my two children and I, Max, age 3 at the time and Morgan, age 1 and in a stroller, were criss-crossing Academy Field on our way home from a trip to town for ice cream. As we were walking across the field, a tremendous thunderstorm appeared out of nowhere and we were quickly surrounded by flashes of lightning, bolts of thunder and teaming rain. The closest shelter appeared to be under the overhang of St. Lukes and we quickly made our way to the safety of the church to ride out the storm. As we waited for the storm to pass, and as if by Divine Intervention, the door to the church quickly opened and we were greeted by none other than Father Craig himself, who welcomed us into the church with open arms along with a delightful offer of cake, soda and coffee. He was by himself that day and just happened to have stopped by the church that afternoon. I quickly realized what a spiritual moment this had become, as did Father Craig. This was a true offering of “Shelter from the Storm” to quote Bob Dylan. We had a wonderful conversation with Father Craig as we got to know each other. He and I both acknowledged how fate and God has brought us all together in that moment of time. Having just moved back into East Greenwich after 6 years in South County and having been congregants of St. Elizabeth’s Church in Hopkinton, I knew this chance encounter would begin a new journey for all of us into the warmth and serene sanctity of St. Lukes Church and its congregation. I also realized that the foundation had been set for Max and Morgan to grow and embrace the spiritual formation that would be so important in their young lives. I have been forever grateful to Father Craig for opening the doors of the church that day and embracing all of us. It was truly “meant to be”.
Fast-forwarding to today, Max, along with his fellow youth group missioners, has just recently completed his second trip to the Dominican Republic with Project Reunite. I know these trips have had a profound impact on Max and his perspective on life in general. The exposure to another culture so far removed from his own and yet joined together so cohesively through the spirit of worship and mission, has enlightened him to the conditions other people live in, often, quite happily. To quote Max, “it was amazing to see people so happy with so little”. It is quite obvious that the virtues of kindness, compassion, empathy and leadership have been bestowed and reinforced upon him as well as all of his fellow youth missioners. After having listened to their inspirational messages in church following their return from the Dominican Republic and after having read their individual memoires in the Anchor, I think it is safe to say that it is experiences like these for our children that truly do help carry them through the “Journey to Adulthood”. These experiences also help to prepare them for dealing with the realities of life and the world we live in and the true meaning and joy of giving of one’s self. Again, I am so thankful to this church, to the adult chaperones who volunteered their time to accompany and watch over our kids during their trip and to this congregation for its spiritual and financial support of these very worthy missions.
So it is with these thoughts in mind that I turn to this moment of joy and exhilaration for my son Max, who is serving this morning as the Crucifer for the last time after many years of faithful service, as he graduates from Bishop Hendricken High School and then, tomorrow, begins his next journey in life in the service of the United States Marine Corp.
Following his 13 weeks of training at Boot Camp on Paris Island in South Carolina, Max will return home to begin college in the fall at Suffolk University in Boston. He will then begin his 6 year commitment to the Marines as a Reservist and will then be prepared to serve when called upon. Max will take with him all of the previously mentioned virtues that are so important in life and carry them proudly as he enters military service and represents this great country of ours with pride and honor. His mother, his sister and I could not be more proud of him. The leadership skills this church has imbued in Max have prepared him well to serve in his new mission to help and bring hope to others in need throughout the world. To Max, I thank you for being such a wonderful son and for making me so incredibly proud of you. You are the embodiment of all the best qualities of a son any parent could ever ask for. The sacrifices you are about to make and the commitment you have made to yourself and to your country show me that you have learned your lessons well. You are an inspiration to us all. I know the St. Lukes community has been a major influence in your young life and the lessons learned here will serve you well wherever your life may take you. We are so lucky to be a part of this great congregation and Church. Thanks again to you Father Craig and to the entire congregation.
Semper Fi, Max!
I knew this chance encounter would begin a new journey for all of us into the warmth and serene sanctity of St. Lukes Church and its congregation.
Organizing a Stewardship Committee is usually the hardest job in a parish. People are suddenly "very busy" or "going away" when asked to join the annual effort. Not this year. It's hard to say why, but several of us stepped forward to join Brendan Radigan on the Stewardship Committee last spring. And we all felt strongly that it was time to try something different when it came to stewardship and the October pledge drive. Still, it's a long way from "something different" to something new. We met over several months, checking in with the Vestry and Finance committees from time to time to make sure our ideas weren't too wacky. We got great feedback, then debuted our ideas for some parishioners at a b-b-q at John and Lorene Thompson's in August. The thrust of our plan: make outreach the foundation of our appeal. We'd seen how specific stories of outreach -- from youth witnesses from the Dominican Republic trips to guest speakers from Episcopal Charities -- really energized the parish. We saw that it was easy to give when you could see the good it produced.
St. Luke's, like every parish, has lots of brick-and-mortar expenses that focus spending inward. All our dreaming of fabulous outreach efforts won't heat the building come January, or pay salaries for our wonderful and very hard working staff. So, we came to understand that our outreach plans would require us to stretch beyond what we've already been doing. A tall order. But one that we were consistently encouraged to strive for. The Finance Committee was particularly encouraging of our efforts. They saw what we saw: that while many individuals were giving more each year, but in looking back over the past several years, there were fewer individuals pledging overall. That can never be good news for a parish, especially one as vibrant as St. Luke's. How could we help people feel that giving to St. Luke's would bring them closer to God? We hope that our outreach plans for the next year will do just that. As Brendan Radigan said so well a few weeks ago in church:
But, then again, this isn't just about money and isn't only about the people outside of our parish who will benefit from our outreach. It is about you and me as well. For the challenge to Reach Out to others is really a challenge and opportunity for us to realize the spiritual benefits of being better and more generous stewards and happier, more fulfilled people. Renewing Faith, Reaching Out, Changing Lives. It is the sincere hope of the Vestry and Stewardship Committee of St. Luke's that the faith that such outreach renews and the lives that such generosity changes will be our own as well as others.
And don't forget: We will be celebrating the culmination of parish stewardship efforts in ONE COMBINED SERVICE AT 9 a.m. on SUNDAY, NOV. 11. Should be a party! less
We saw that it was easy to give when you could see the good it produced.
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