“The stewardship drive is not about the church asking you for money. It’s about us asking each other how we will take care of and nurture what we love so much, so that we can live more truthfully into the promise of our living faith tradition. “
Standing on Solid Ground. Rev. Krista Taves. A sermon delivered at Emerson Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on February 10, 2013 for the beginning of our Annual Stewardship Drive.
Spirit of Love and Power, Abundant source of Life, God of generosity and grace, we give thanks this morning for the abundance of this incredible world we live in. We have been blessed in so many ways. We are surrounded by grace. And yet it is so easy to fall into ways of thinking and being that focus on scarcity, we so easily fear that love has its limits, that generosity will be the victim of realism. We fear that if we care for others there will be nothing left for us. Help us to see these fears as the barriers that keep us from truly seeing, knowing, and embracing each other and this world.
Spirit of Justice, so much that we struggle with socially, politically, and economically stems from the illusion of separation, and when we allow ourselves to be lured into this illusion, we become complicit with so many of the injustices that hurt our spirits and bodies. We heal this world and ourselves by tenderly and courageously stepping away from alienation and towards that radical interconnectedness that is our saving grace.
Spirit of hope, help us see the abundance that has always been there, the abundance that has been waiting for us, if we could but see it and trust it, and help us understand that abundance exists only in its sharing.
We pray for the peace, joy, and confidence that comes from a trust in abundance of our own hearts and this beautiful world.
In the name of unconditional love and infinite mercy, this we pray, amen and blessed be.
Do you remember when you started getting an allowance? I had to negotiate mine. I didn’t have one and learned that my friends at school did, so I built my case and convinced my parents to pay me an allowance. It started at $1.25 a week. I had to clean my room, both bathrooms, vacuum the living room, sweep the halls, and help every night with supper and the livestock. $1.25 was just enough to put a quarter in the collection plate on Sunday and buy a coke and a chocolate bar at Ron’s Garage, this old greasy shop down our country road where all the retired farmers sat on old ripped up bus seats and smoked and gossiped. I can remember the wall of smoke I’d have to push through to get to the cash register. The cokes and the chocolate bars were in an old rusty refrigerator and I can still feel the cold hit my forehead as I leaned in to get my coke and my chocolate bar. What I remember most though, is Ron himself. He was a gentle soul and treated the youngest child clutching a few sweaty coins the same way he treated his oldest client sipping bad coffee from a gritty Styrofoam cup, with respect and gratitude.
Then there was the time my grandmother offered to pay me a penny for every fly that I swatted. It was my first job! And as soon as she turned her back I opened all the doors and windows and killed 200 flies in an afternoon! It was my first lesson in expanding the market so you could fill the demand.
For many of us, our first jobs were our first lessons in stewardship. Those who raised us were teaching us about the value of work, the value of money, the value the giving your word, and the importance of how you spend what you earn. What we often fail to realize is that our experience of earning an income is also an important part of our spiritual formation. Earning money and spending it is a spiritual discipline and it defines us in so many ways.
On almost every Sunday of the year, we talk about stewardship, which is the spiritual discipline of taking care of what you love with your heart, your time, your money, and your talent. Most Sundays, we talk about stewardship in terms of what we give away to the community. But on one Sunday of the year, we focus on this community, our beloved community, the congregation that for many of us is our spiritual home. This church helps us raise our children, builds our spirits, challenges us when we get too comfortable and comforts us when we struggle.
For many of us this church is so special because this is a place where we always matter. No matter who you are, where you come from, what you do for a living, and how much money you have in the bank, you matter. Now this is no utopia. We stumble and fall. We disagree, we struggle with how we should be together. Sometimes this community disappoints us. Sometimes we fall short of our values. This is the nature of human creations. But at its core, we are committed to living through the stumbles into the two fundamental truths of our faith – 1) that everything is connected to everything else and 2) that we are held by a love beyond measure. In covenanting to honor these truths in the whole of our lives, we manifest a religious world-view where we all matter. That’s what’s special about our 500-year free-church tradition.
In our children’s story (Benny’s Pennies by Pat Brisson) when Bennie got those five new pennies, what is the first thing he did? Benny found his people and he asked them, the ones he trusted the most, to advise him on what he should do with his five brand new pennies, and when they told him, he listened because he loved and respected them. He took their words deep into his heart and he strolled out into the morning sun. This is how we are called to be with each other, not just in this church but in the world, like Benny with those five new pennies, looking for our people, listening deeply, and then strolling out into the morning sun ready to use our abundance for those we love and cherish.
So today I want to talk about this church, and you the people of this church, as each other’s people. We are each other’s people. This is a family of our choosing. And what our annual stewardship drive is about is not how much money you are going to give the church. It’s about what you offer to your people, to the people who are stumbling with you for the purpose of living our two highest truths: that everything is connected, and that we are held by a love beyond our imagining. The stewardship drive is not about the church asking you for money. It’s about us asking each other how we will take care of and nurture what we love so much, so that we can live more truthfully into the promise of our living faith tradition.
I really want to hold onto this larger concept because it informs our goals. We are a people who have chosen to be here for each other, and I say that in the smallest and largest way, because Unitarian Universalism, with its message of unconditional love and forgiveness is about our covenant with the particular people in this church that we love, and it is also about our deep love for humanity and for this earth, and I believe that when we support institutions like this church we are not only serving the particular people here, we are also declaring our support for the wider circle of Unitarian Universalism and for life itself.
So let’s talk about our goals for this stewardship drive. These goals were carefully discerned for the purpose of putting us on solid ground. Nothing we are asking for has been through haste or a mere examination of desire, nor is it wishful thinking. Rather we examined our truest needs. We developed these goals the way Benny decided what to do with his pennies. We asked our beloved trusted leaders, “What do we need to fund so that we can live our mission and vision more fully and be more faithful to our principles of interconnection and love?”
And this is what we came up with.
One. We are for the first time we are offering benefits to our office administrator and director of religious education. Not only is this the right thing to do, it is our legal obligation. This is so important because we understand that compensation is a justice issue, and in our country with its weak social safety net, health benefits and retirement benefits, especially for our half-time staff, can make the kind of difference that is hard to put words to. We want to do right by the people who serve us.
Two. We are doing some long-needed repairs to our home. We didn’t know for a while if we were staying here, so we put some things off, because we didn’t want to waste the gifts you so generously gave us, but now know we are, at least for now, and we have to take care of our house, just the way each of you takes care of your house. This is our home, the place where so many of the most important things in our community happen.
Three. We have some big changes coming to worship and religious education, which are the two most important things we do. We are probably adding a second service and changing up religious education because we believe that hospitality is at its root about making room for those who need to find us. These changes are about taking care of you by growing our beloved community. And it takes money to do it right, and we want to do it right because we are worth it, and this church is worth it and our faith tradition is worth it.
And finally, our goal is to restore the dues that we pay to the Unitarian Universalist Association. We cut our dues when the Great Recession hit, but our association has stood by us even when we couldn’t do our part. It is one of our lifelines and it is our national voice for all the issues that we talk about on facebook and during fellowship time, the issues that will hurt our hearts until they are resolved: marriage equality, immigration reform, the prevention of gun violence, reproductive justice, environmental justice. When we support our association, we are supporting our sisters and brothers across the nation who are striving to live the faith like we are. They are also our family.
So these are our goals. Taking care of those who serve us, taking care of our home, growing our beloved community, and restoring our covenant with the larger faith movement. Each of these is deepening the stewardship of this congregation to its people.
So this is now the time for each of us to discern what we are going to do with our hard-earned pennies. And one of the tools we have for this discernment is the Fair Share Giving Guide (http://www.uua.org/documents/congservices/stewardship/fairshareguide.pdf)
which comes to us from the Unitarian Universalist Association, to help us understand what kind of generosity we need to consider so that we can fulfill the expectations we have of our beloved community. I want to go through that giving guide with you this morning because I think it’s really important, and if we are open to it, we will find ourselves in a very different place, the kind of Solid Ground that we yearn for in this religious community.
For many of you, I am aware that the recommendations here are going to feel extremely low because many of you come from churches where you were expected to tithe. For some of you the giving recommendations may feel more demanding than you are used to. We all come from different giving traditions and different family practices and assumptions of money.
This guide is based on three principles. One, that our commitment to our congregations is connected to our values. It is one of the most important forms of stewardship we have.
Two, that we are a congregation that is economically diverse. We have families who make $10 000 a year or less, and we have families who make six and seven figure incomes. We understand that different levels of income make different demands on us. If you make $35 000 a year, the recommended percentage is less than if you make $250 000 a year, because the person who makes $250 000 has more disposable income. At $35 000 most of your income is used for your basic living expenses. This guide is a form of economic justice and helps us recognize the true generosity of our people. A pledge of $300 from someone who makes $20 000 is as generous as a $20 000 pledge from someone who makes $300 000 a year.
The third principle in this guide is based on our commitment to Unitarian Universalism. We understand that we are all in different places in relation to our faith. Our principles are not easy to live. They sound deceptively simple but they are demanding and complex. Being committed to the inherent worth and dignity of every person sounds so obvious, but when we experience what it takes to live this affirmation, we see that each of us stumbles every single day. Our faith development is a process and like any relationship, it matures over time.
The giving guide reflects this process of deepening. At the supporter level you’re saying that this congregation has started to become a significant part of your life. As a sustainer, this church is becoming central to your identity. As a visionary, you are committed to the present and future strength of Unitarian Universalism in this church and beyond this church. You have begun connecting to the larger mission of our 500-year religious tradition. A tither is someone who sees their life path as being in complete unity with our Unitarian Universalist principles and purposes. This is your life.
Each of these levels has a beauty of its own and none is superior to the other. They are meant to challenge us, so if you feel just a little bit uncomfortable, that’s probably a healthy thing. Our faith should never just be comfortable. I am asking you to take another step into the radical interconnectedness of all of life, and our pocketbooks are no exception. Especially in a society where money matters above all, our pocketbooks are way up there in terms of how we live our values. Look at your checkbook and you will see your values. Look at your credit card bill, and you will see your values. Then think about your commitment to this faith and what that it may be asking of you. Is it time for you to become a supporter, is it time to become a sustainer, a visionary, a tither? Go from wherever you are now, to your next step.
In the next week or so, every one of you who is a member or friend is going to be contacted by your Visiting Steward to set up a time to meet and I would encourage you to welcome them with open arms because these are your people and they are serving you. When you get the email, reply. If you see them in your call display, answer the phone. You are honoring yourself by welcoming them. These are your people. And you will be invited into a conversation about how you are also one of our people. At that visit, you will be asked to make your pledge for next year.
At this time, I would warmly invite all our visiting stewards to come forward and let us take the time to enter into a renewed covenant with each another.
A Covenant between Our Congregation
and Visiting Stewards
Stewards: We stand before you committed to doing our best to make our congregation’s
dreams come true by asking each of you for your help in supporting the mission and vision
of our congregation.
Congregation: Committed to the dreams and hopes of this congregation and understanding
that nothing buys nothing, we accept the responsibility for turning those hopes and dreams
Stewards: We commit ourselves to preparing for each stewardship conversation by
having already made our own financial commitment and becoming knowledgeable about
our annual stewardship goals.
Congregation: We commit ourselves to make time in our busy lives to have a stewardship
conversation and to respond when you call. We commit to prepare for the conversation by
reflecting upon our relations with the church and to engage the visiting steward in honest and
Stewards: We commit ourselves to listen respectfully to your dreams and concerns. We
promise to keep private what should be private and pass along only that information that
you have asked us to share.
Congregation: We commit ourselves to generosity of spirit and promise to make a financial
and time commitment to the best of our ability.
Everyone: And together, we commit ourselves to enjoy each other’s company, to
respect each other’s ideas, perceptions, and beliefs, and to have a good time while
raising money and talents to ensure the future health and strength of our church.
We are the hands, the hearts and the minds of our living faith tradition. May we be a blessing to our faith
and to each other. Amen.
We are the hands, the hearts and the minds of our living faith tradition. May we be a blessing to our faith and to each other. Amen.
N.B. – These sermons are made available with a request: that the reader appreciate that, ideally, a sermon is an oral/aural experience that takes place in the context of worship – supported and reinforced by readings, contemplative music, rousing hymns, silence, and prayer – and that it is but one part of an extended converation that occurs over time between a minister and a covenanted congregation. Excerpts may be used and this material may be amended for other uses provided that credit is give to the original author, Rev. Krista Taves.