by the Rev. Christopher Potter, Vicar
I must admit that contributing to the support and growth of the Gospel in the church was a lot easier before I joined the Episcopal Church. Before that, donating was usually done “on the fly” and based mostly upon what I had in my pocket on any given Sunday morning. Sure, I supplemented my offerings with a check or two each month. When I received my contribution statement at the end of the year, I was proud to see that my donations were ‘in the thousands,’ and were at or slightly higher than the parish average. It was only if I got a visit from the priest in the Fall that I was told I needed to give more or, contrarily, if my giving habits were ‘acceptable’ to the church. I knew that the giving criteria was decided solely on the subjective judgment of the priest based upon what car I drove and my home address. It was awkward.
Thanks be to God, I was gifted with an accidental entry into the Episcopal Church. Soon after my arrival, the rector invited me to her office where we sat down and I told her ‘my story.’ After what seemed like an hours-long conversation, she said to me, “You need to know that the Episcopal Church is a pledging church.” Having NO IDEA what that meant, I had to ask. She explained beautifully to me that it was an exercise in the spiritual life of the church where we got to recognize and to put into action our gratitude for God’s many blessings. As a spiritual exercise, it was a way that we can come closer to God, recognizing our dependence of God for our life and lifestyle. It was also the mechanism by which members supported the ministry of the Church.
I learned about the spirituality of giving – where I made a commitment to God each year to return to God a percentage of my gross salary (and at the time, it was very gross!), learned about living within my means and about trusting in God’s benevolence in my life. I also learned how a parish made its annual budget: that the plan for expenditures for the next fiscal year was based entirely on the pledges of the members.
It was a hard sale for her. I was in the middle of a contentious divorce, I had lost my home, and was trying to recover after being laid off from my job. Listing all the reasons I didn’t think it was a good idea, and without missing a beat, she said, “It sounds like this is the perfect time to learn about trusting MORE in God.”
I started slow. I pledged 5 percent I think, that first year. It was uncomfortable, but I found it tolerable and repeatable. That is, until a few years later when the treasurer of the parish stood before the congregation and said, in effect, ‘the average pledge in the parish was such-and-such, and that God was knocking on our doors to ask if we could increase our pledge by as much as 200 percent.’ I couldn’t help but wonder if that was directed at me – not the other 150 or so people in the church that day. At first, I was floored by what I thought was his gall. As the coffee hour ensued that morning, however, I was surprised when I heard people debating amongst themselves about whether God was actually asking them for this increase and if God was “willing to cover the gaps” created by such an increase. It seemed odd to me that the conversations were about God’s role in this request, not in the veracity and gall of the treasurer.
As a result of the conversations where my ‘family members’ were wondering how God might help them out with a pledge increase, I decided to take my next step in pledging – to 7 percent!
With this and every increase of my pledge, I learned to tighten my belt a little more. Some days, I found myself at the edge of my budget (too many days left before my next paycheck) and learned to turn to God for assistance. I had never had to trust like that before! That dependence did, however, make me increasingly sensitive to how many ways God blessed me beyond my paycheck.
Every church, every not-for-profit agency is dependent for their budgets upon the contributions of members who find a need, a benefit from belonging. The Episcopal Church is not alone nor unique in its approach to pledging. Every member and contributor needs to make a decision about the ‘value’ of what they receive from their contribution and to reflect that value in their pledge. When you do so this year, please consider the successes we have enjoyed at St. John’s during a pandemic year, and how we have been kept together by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Remember too, that there is a trust component connected to giving; where sharing your blessing can transform your relationship with the Creator, and, in turn, change your relationship with the world.
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We’ll see you at St. John’s!