Reaching Out in Trust
As I write these words, the leaves have started to fall, amid 90+-degree temperatures. It looks like October and feels like July. The chill of Winter seems far away, but as the light lessens in these days, a primal alarm bell goes off in my mind:
Will there be enough?
Enough food? Enough friends? Enough light? And, hardest question of all, enough money?
I’ve come through some lean years before my call to Trinity early this year. With some help from my folks, with lots of tightening my belt, and by putting up some debt, I got through the last 5 years on about an average income of $14,000 a year. This income came mainly from church music, supply preaching, a project-to-occasional-project contracting job with Augsburg Fortress Publishers, an occasional hymn commission, an odd day of work here or there, postponing student loans, Medicaid (thanks, Obama! Seriously.), putting up some credit debt, and making a deal with the IRS on self-employment taxes.
Somehow, it was all together enough. I kept my apartment, had some really lovely friends to cheer me through the hard times and celebrate the good, and did not have to make a decision between food and heat in the winter. I could not have gotten through these years on my own. Nor can I still.
Nor, really, can any of us.
“Stewardship” tends to be a dry and awkward conversation in congregations. It is like that chicken dinner that has sometimes been more appetizing, other times been somewhat overcooked, underseasoned, or just plain tedious and boring. But, in the main, it is hard, just plain hard, to ask people to give money.
I have a confession: In the 7 months that I have been your pastor, I have not set an example in financial giving. I have been telling myself that it is because I need to pay back those debts of poverty. That I need to save a little bit more for the future. That I want to spend some money now that I have it. I’ve told myself that I will withhold submitting expenses for reimbursement and contribute that way. But, eh, this isn’t exactly what inhibits me from up-and-up giving money to Trinity.
I still fear not having enough when it gets cold. Despite your extraordinary generosity to me, financially and in many other ways, I still live in an unhealthy fear of scarcity. I need to work on that. You’ve no doubt heard about this scarcity mentality in past stewardship drives. Perhaps you have it yourself. There are primal reasons for it. There are scars of poverty (do you think there may be a connection between “scars” and “scarce”?) that we sometimes carry from our youth or middle age, and fears that some of us have of not having enough to keep us fed and clothed in our final years.
So, I’ve got an idea. Let’s talk about stewardship. And let’s talk about money. We’re going to thank you for your past financial support at Trinity, and ask for your continuing financial support. I’ll probably tell you more about my own inhibitions around giving, and how I’m working on getting better at giving. Let’s talk about how we see our ministry at and through Trinity growing in the future. Let’s talk about how we will passionately welcome this future, and make room for those to come, while we take generous care of those who are here now, as those in the past have done.
I really want to hear where you are at with giving money to Trinity—if you give a little, or if you give a lot, or if, like me, you don’t give much of anything right now. What does this giving or not giving mean to you? What are your fears and hopes around giving, and how you have you found the courage and trust to be generous when you have taken that step?
I’m also going to ask for your help in becoming more generous financially myself—both in holding me accountable in my giving, as well as in helping open up those conversations of trust that will help encourage us all to give. I think we can help each other out with this, because giving, like living, is a communal effort.
Let’s set up some conversations. I’d love to set them up at people’s homes, if we have some people who would like to host. Don’t worry about how clean or messy your place is, or whether you are living in a palace or a closet. I’ll welcome you to my home. We can get to know each other better. We can get to know better what we need as a community, and what we want to give.
And I know, in our journey together, that we will end up with enough. Because God does provide. Sometimes it just helps for us to remind each other of that primal fact.
May God bless you each and every day! And thank you. Really.