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Saturday, October 08, 2005

it's beginning to look a lot like stewardship

I've been away for a few days, first at a clergy conference, then at a women's retreat. I'll have more to say about that when I've had a good night's sleep. SSo here's a post in the meantime:

Husband and I were having a conversation about stewardship this evening over dinner. (Look, I promise we talked about other things, too. And went to a local Japanese steakhouse for flaming food and flying knives. . .)But as we head into the cold months, it is that time of year when we clergy find ourselves talking about stewardship.

So let me share a story. It happened a few years ago in a galaxy far, far away, so I can now share it.

After General Convention in 2003, like many Episcopal churches, we suffered the loss of some pledges. In our congregation, most of them were minor, but there was one man who had been a faithful giver who told me that he would no longer be giving his pledge to the congregation (to punish "them" at the "national church," of course).

A week or so later, a young member of our congregation who had been in jail on charges of murdering his mother committed suicide before accepting a reduced sentence. At this point, due to the absence of the senior priest, I was the sole priest in the congregation, ministered to the family, arranged for the service, prepared the liturgy, wrote the homily.

After the service the man came up to me and complimented me on the beauty of the service.

And I felt white-hot anger. He walked away before I could compose myself to say anything, but in that moment I felt robbed. Because I know it cost me money to go to seminary to learn how to do all those things, and it cost me time and effort to spend time with the family, and wrestle with the homily and put it into words. I felt angry as if someone had broken into my home and stolen from me.

There are people who don't yet get it about stewardship. I understand--I was one of them for a long time. There are people who can't afford to give much. I understand that. But to deliberately withhold money from your own congregation while reaping concrete benefits from that congregation--it's an ugly thing.

4 Comments:

At 12:19 AM, Blogger Annie said...

Yipes! It doesn't sound like a topic that would be good for the digestion.

Annie

 
At 4:47 PM, Blogger G. Brooke said...

Oof. Yeah, "voting with one's pocketbook" is supposed to entail the voter doing without the thing she chooses not to purchase.

Your post makes me wonder about possible responses to, "I'm withholding my pledge because of national issue X." Maybe something like, "Sure. There are many ways that you can contribute your time and money to this parish alone. For example..."

 
At 9:48 AM, Blogger Emily said...

Brooke,

There are some churches that have set up ways of doing that. But the problem is that diocesan assessments are based on income, so unless you funnel it into a special project, the money still gets percentaged into funds for the diocese and the national church. So if you accept funds from someone and say you won't direct it towards whatever they're angry at (the diocese, the national church) you still have to come up with the assessments on that income. Which I don't object to, by the way. But they're really not easily separable. Theologically or fiscally!

 
At 10:28 PM, Blogger G. Brooke said...

Hey Emily,
your response to me makes sense. I suppose a reasonable analogy could be made to taxes: nobody likes the way all of their taxes are spent, and there's really no way to pay taxes only to the things we like. We pays our money, and if we don't like where it goes, we work toward those changes in other ways.

Of course, that doesn't mean a parishioner will listen to the analogy... :^)

 

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