Comments shared by Elizabeth Cottrell recently at both of Emmanuel’s Sunday services.
“As every man purposeth in his heart, so let him give, not grudgingly or out of compulsion; for God loveth the cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
Some words get a bad rap…words that, over time, have been burdened with negativity. I’m afraid “stewardship” is among them, and today I’d like to us to reframe the word “stewardship,” so it evokes joy and opportunity instead of obligation and guilt.
A steward is a caretaker—a person who manages or looks after someone’s property. Stewardship is the work of a steward.
As Christians, we are stewards of EVERYTHING God has given us – our time, our opportunities, our possessions, our money, and, yes, our church. When we’re asked to participate in the church’s annual stewardship campaign, we shouldn’t treat it like just another request from one of the dozens of nonprofits that ask us for donations.
It’s not the same at all!
We’ve got to stop thinking of our pledge decision begrudgingly! We’re not being asked to give something we don’t have. We’re being asked to give from the abundance that God has given us and to give with cheerful hearts…cheerful hearts in the years we don’t have as much and cheerful hearts in the years we have more.
Emmanuel has never needed your most generous pledge more than it does now. I won’t sugarcoat it. The number of families has decreased, and our expenses have increased. We are projecting a significant deficit this year and next.
But this fact should not cause us to fear. “Fear Not!” is one of the most frequently used phrases in scripture. We should not be afraid as a church, and we should not be afraid as individuals. God has a plan for us, and we need to steadfastly seek to discern that plan.
Here’s the thing. Jesus is not calling us to worry about ourselves and whether or not the church meets our needs. Jesus is calling us to come to the communion rail to nourish and fill ourselves with his light and love and take that out into the world to share with others. He is calling us to do His work in our community together because it’s more than any one of us can do alone. THAT is why we need money to keep our doors open. Not because we just like worshipping here or because we have a historic building or any other practical reason. We need money but because we are building the staging area for the Jesus Movement of the Episcopal Church in Woodstock and Shenandoah County! Watch our own Bishop Curry in the short video below as he explains what the Jesus Movement is all about.
How thrilling to be able to be part of that movement!
In making decisions about when, where, and how much to give, we should always start with gratitude for what we have – for the incredible bounty God has bestowed on us. The traditional tithe— 10% of our income—is a worthy goal. If that feels too scary, just ask yourself if you can give more than you gave last year. I challenge you to try a little experiment: Give more, even if you don’t pledge more. After a few months—especially if you give from the “first fruits” and not from what’s left over at the end of the month—you might find that extra gift has not affected your daily standard of living one bit, and next year, you’ll have the confidence to increase your pledge as well as your actual giving.
Of course, stewardship is not just about money. Perhaps there’s something you can do for the church that we would otherwise have to pay to get done. Indeed, we need your help to serve in various ministries within the church. Your time and talents are critical gifts too.
I ask you to prayerfully consider your most generous gift to help to keep our parish and its ministries fiscally healthy. So it can continue to fulfill Jesus’s command to serve the poor, find the lost, and heal the sick through the Emmanuel’s Table food pantry, the Clothes Closet, Family Promise, Shenandoah Alliance for Shelter, the community meals, Halloween and Christmas on the Square, our healing services and our visits to shut-ins.
The Holy Spirit is alive and well in Beckford Parish, and just as Jesus did with the loaves and fishes, God can take our small and most heartfelt offerings and turn them into an outpouring of love, help, and healing beyond our wildest dreams. That is what I mean by joyful giving. Thank you for being part of that glorious vision.