Nurture generosity, Martin Marty tells TENS annual conference

April 30, 2008

"Generosity is what it's all about."

That's what the Rev. Dr. Martin E. Marty, professor emeritus of religious history at the University of Chicago and a Lutheran pastor, told the 150 in attendance at The Episcopal Network for Stewardship's (TENS) annual conference April 12 in Founders' Hall at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kansas City, Missouri.

Marty's speech played on the theme of the April 11-12 gathering: "Let Your Light so Shine: The Power of Witness in Nurturing Generosity."

Generosity, unlike stewardship, has no limits, Marty said. "It's not that you've got to be generous, but you get to be," said Marty, who was a pastor for 12 years before embarking on a 35-year teaching career at the University of Chicago. "It's not haranguing or threatening. It's liberation."

"Turn things upside down," Marty urged attendees. "You don't overturn if you operate on 'guilt' or 'only meet the budget' or 'we have needs.'"

Quoting from Arthur Frank's "The Renewal of Generosity," Marty said, "'Generosity begins with being able to look someone in the eye.' That's what's behind stewardship that works. If you teach that, you're off and running."

Marty, who has written more than 50 books, including When Faiths Collide and The Mystery of the Child, said true stewardship is not being "passive until budget time, let off the hook by a pledge, being apologetic or embarrassed or using public relations gimmicks to overcome the reality. Jesus teaches generosity. It's freedom."

And it's acceptable to celebrate successes, he said. "The stewardship committee has the assignment of setting the table for the party," Marty said. That's a symbol of the "set table" for the Eucharist, he added. "Jesus was not interested in atheism; he was concerned about 'slavery,' not accepting the gifts of God -- not being able to be free."

"Good stewardship is celebrative." Marty said routine, planning, prudence, strategy and programming have their place, "but a new spirit must be evident. God-given reason relates to the heart's reason."

Power, he said, is given a bad name. "You can't do anything without it," Marty added.

Again citing Frank, Marty said good stewardship creates a cycle of "generosity, gratitude and more generosity." And that relates to hospitality and welcome, he said. Both "better be a part of every parish."

"No matter what we do," Marty said, "it will someday disappear. What matters is how you use the moment."

Marty was the keynote speaker at the April 12 morning plenary of the conference, for which the Diocese of West Missouri -- home to Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral -- partnered with the Diocese of Kansas as diocesan underwriters. Principal underwriters were the Stewardship Office of The Episcopal Church and Saint Francis Community Services.

Conference attendees came from throughout the United States, Canada, Central America, Europe, and Australia, and participated in more the 15 workshops on various topics.

TENS -- The Episcopal Network for Stewardship -- is an independent ministry of denomination, diocesan, parish and individual members, and is based in Wichita, Kansas. Members also include similar independent ministry organizations such as the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parishes, The Episcopal Church Foundation, and the Anglican Church of Canada. TENS' executive director is Tom Gossen. More information on TENS may be obtained online at http://tens.org/ by phoning 1-800-699-2669.

Conference set for 2009 in Tennessee
TENS' 2009 Leadership Development Conference is scheduled for February 11-12, 2009 in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The conference is timed to precede the annual convention meeting of the Diocese of East Tennessee.

Diocesan co-sponsors include the dioceses of Tennessee, West Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Atlanta. Featured keynoter presenters are set to include Bishop Greg Rickel of the Diocese of Olympia, based in Seattle.

Founded in 1996 as in independent ministry, TENS is currently completing a strategic planning process that will guide the organization into its next phase of development serving the church through training, encouragement, nurture and support of diocesan and congregational leadership.