When a congregation is in transition, the bishop, the wardens, and the interim clergy from time-to-time identify specific areas that it may be useful for a congregation to focus on. As I have mentioned on the last several Sunday mornings, this June we are looking together at the subject of “stewardship.”
Stewardship is a core theological concept, at the foundation of the life of the Christian person.
All that we have in life is a gift from God, even our very lives themselves. As such, we treasure what we have, and we tend to these gifts as God would have us do. A playful analogy might be to imagine that we are the housesitters of God’s Kingdom here on Earth, looking after God’s gardens, lovingly caring for God’s pets.
The choices we make, then, are choices we make about things, people, animals, and places that God loves, even us, even in the times when our lives are hard. We are irreplaceable treasures.
This task of caretaking, the choices we make, and even our understanding of the Earth and all that is in it as being God’s: these are what stewardship is, beyond all else. We are stewards.
The reason I say that this is especially important to understand in times of transition is that this is a time that reminds you, all of you, that the Church is yours, and the Church is you. The Church is not the clergy in charge, it is not the diocese, it is not the bishop. This is a congregation that lives out that reality boldly, but it is always worth remembering, worth reflecting, and worth naming that reality.
It impacts what you hope for in your search, and how you welcome the person you call. A congregation which understands the Church in terms of our clergy only might reject someone who does not fit the space of the past person, or of the person they hoped they would find. In many ways, the priest you call is like anyone else who joins the congregation: they are themselves, and they find their work as one steward among many of the congregational life.
It also comes up in terms of money, which is the area of stewardship most talked about, and probably the most misunderstood. The reason this comes up more in times of transition is that some people view the money they support the Church with as a way of showing their appreciation (or the absence of the same) for the clergy in charge. Others might withhold giving until they see how they feel about the incumbent, as though the Church were one of many charities supported by an individual’s philanthropic giving, competing for support on the basis of the current leadership, mission, and plan.
I see no real evidence of those maladies in this congregation, but I want to name them openly, too, as things that many of us wrestle with. We can easily fall into the trap of thinking about our relationship with the Church as with some charity outside of us whose work we support, or as a community centre whose resources we sometimes make use of, but this is not so.
The Church is yours, and the Church is you.
The Church’s existence in its current form, moreover, is not inevitable, but is something we create and re-create together continually. We are stewards of it as we would be of any other aspect of our lives: planning for maintenance, doing our chores, enjoying its blessings, celebrating its abundance. The Church is not some other thing out there somewhere: it is the household of the faithful, of us, of you.
Take a look around, then, and see the marvellous things you do, and see the marvellous thing you are. You are a vital, beautiful, and generous community. So much is done throughout the parish on behalf of the parish, at every single one of St. Mary’s, All Saints, and St. Mark’s.
Moreover, your stewardship of God’s Creation does not end there. I see you supporting important organizations in the community. I hear about your good works for those in need. We share stories about the wonderful things you have done, and we take time together enjoying the abundance we share.
Celebrate yourselves and this community, and remember that the good work you do, the generosity of your giving, the gifts you offer to the Church, and the living example of faith that you are is an act of love on God’s behalf: indeed, it is an act of stewardship.
The stories of stewardship we hear of in the Hebrew Bible in particular focus on the offering of firstfruits, of sharing abundantly, and of giving in proportion to the gifts we have received. In that same spirit, we will gather at 5:30pm on Thursday, the 21st of June, 2018, for a potluck dinner following the 4:45pm Thursday Eucharist. Bring a food item to share as you are able, but come ready to be fed, too!
After our bellies are full, we’ll have a facilitated discussion on the subject of stewardship. I’d encourage you to think about any questions you might have about stewardship, whether in general (“but what does ‘dominion’ mean in the book of Genesis?”) or in specific application (“what is tithing, really?”) You all have much wisdom to share with one another from lives lived as good and faithful stewards, and I’m happy to try to answer anything I can, too.
That Thursday is National Indigenous Peoples Day, which is an occasion for us to remember particularly that we, as a predominantly Settler community, are neither the original nor the only people made in God’s own image to be stewards of this land, and that stewardship of our relationships with one another across social boundaries is a crucial part of our faith. We live and move and have our being here on these lands where HUL'Q'UMI'NUM' and SENĆOŦEN speaking peoples and their ancestors also gathered as God’s own: heirs of God’s Kingdom and stewards of God’s Creation.
I look forward to every opportunity to gather with you in this time, and I remain overjoyed to serve with you in this time, to share in your stewardship of this place. I hope to see you on Thursday the 21st, at 4:45pm for the Eucharist, and at 5:30pm for dinner and discussion.
Yours in Christ,
The Revd. Juli Mallett