I’ve been asked to share with you a bit about my experience of financial giving here at St. Paul’s – but let me start at the beginning of my story. When I was a kid, I wasn’t part of a devoted church-going family, but sometimes my parents would send me off to attend Sunday school with my friends at the United Methodist Church down the road from our house. Whenever I would go, my parents would send me with a couple of dollar bills to drop in the offering plate. The view of giving that I learned from this was that it would be unacceptable to show up at church without some sort of offering.
That was my earliest experience of being formed around financial giving – that giving money at church was somehow like paying your bus fare. I have grown a bit since then, of course, in my faith, and in the concept of being part of a church community. But that way of seeing giving as something that was expected of me, as something I “should” do, has stayed with me. I brought that perspective with me when I first came to St. Paul’s in 2009.
In this sanctuary, I experienced what I think many people do when they start coming to St. Paul’s: I encountered God in a new way… in the quiet depth of our worship, in sharing the Eucharist around this table where everyone is welcome to come. In short, I was captivated. As I began to find a place in this community, I began to realize that my experience of God in this place was demanding a response from me. I started to look for ways that I could give of myself, of my time, and become more involved in the life-changing work that was happening here. And eventually, I took what was, for me, a big leap, and I made a financial pledge. It was the first time in my life I’d ever done such a thing.
One truth I’ve always understood in an intellectual way is that God doesn’t need my money. Of course. That seems really basic. But it’s been a sticking point for me in my discernment around giving. We are blessed with this beautiful sacred space to gather in – and yes, it does take money to pay the bills. That is true, and it’s a good thing to be aware of. But too often that has been the starting point for my decisions about giving, and my pattern has been to give “my fair share.” And yet, paying the bills, I believe, has little to do with the kingdom of God – the one we pray for every week when we say “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” One day this building will fall to dust; the real work that we do here, the holy work of living into that prayer, is eternal. And I am so excited that I get to be a part of that.
And when that is what’s in my heart when I make decisions about giving, then financial giving becomes a transformative spiritual practice for me, like prayer and worship. Like any spiritual practice, giving from a place of abundance and joy is a habit that, for me, develops gradually. And I’m not yet very good at it; I am still learning and growing in this particular form of stewardship. But during this season, as I’ve considered what to pledge to St. Paul’s, I have realized that I am ready to take another leap and increase my pledge, and to begin thinking in terms of proportional giving – a practice that I’ve not engaged in before.
I have faith that I will continue growing in this, in my own time. What is more important for me than the mathematics of my pledge is to keep challenging myself to find that place of deep love, and to give from that place. And I deeply love this community, and I am so excited to be a part of the work we are doing, together with God, in this place.