A season or way of life

September 26, 2011

It's that time again. Get ready for the fund-raising season at your local congregation. Oh, you may hear it called a "stewardship" campaign. In reality most churches are trying to raise money to cover next year's budget.

Very few congregations, in my experience, practice true stewardship. Many practice fundraising but call it stewardship, wrote the Rev. Dan Matthews, former rector of Trinity Church, Wall Street, who also identified four ways of giving: charity, philanthropy, fundraising and stewardship. What makes stewardship different, wrote Matthews in "Trinity News," is that it's "giving with no strings attached. It is related to creation and my place in it."

I recently shared the Matthews' article during a parish vestry retreat I led on the theology of abundance as well as the Rev. Steven Bonsey's booklet, "A Reluctant Giver's Guide to the Practice of Stewardship (or Tithing for Fun and Profit)." In only 24 pages he challenges believers to examine how they live. "Stewardship is a way of life by which we enjoy and care for all of God's creation," writes Bonsey. The booklet is published by the Diocese of Massachusetts.

A few days later I attended a continuing education session about the "five holy habits" at an alumni gathering of the Seminary of the Southwest. It was developed by the Rev. Susanne Methven for her parish in Tulsa in response to a 2003 General Convention action. Resolution A135 encouraged members of the Episcopal Church "to develop a personal spiritual discipline that includes, at minimum, the holy habits of tithing, daily personal prayer and study, Sabbath time, and regular corporate worship."

Now that's stewardship. These holy habits emphasize our use of time, talent, and treasure as a person of God's own making and redeeming. They move us to ask how we might respond to God's unconditional love and giving to us.

Raising money in a fall campaign for next year's parish budget is a very small part of what should be a year-round practice of stewardship. Stewardship is, or should be, a daily spiritual discipline shaping how I spend God-given time and talents to help build the reign of God on earth here and now.

Jesus said the reign of God is very near. Practicing stewardship – the five holy habits of worship, study, prayer, tithing, and keeping Sabbath – is one way to claim citizenship in the reign of God.

If we operate out of this spiritual discipline, then placing our pledge card into the basket being brought to the altar on ingathering Sunday is truly a prayerful offering of thanksgiving, rather than a promise to pay membership dues.