When I was a little girl, I suppose I knew that my Grandma Wright did not have much money. She lived in a tiny, two room apartment carved into the back of an old house. On overnight visits, I slept on a cot next to her bed. Together we would watch Bonanza or play dominoes. In the morning, she would fry cornmeal mush and let me drown it in maple syrup.
I can see her now, adjusting a simple cotton dress with buttons up the front, tightening the laces on her sturdy black leather shoes with chunky heels, and placing a net over her waves of silver hair. Pocketbook on her arm, we would walk to South Arlington Methodist Church for quilting and midweek prayer. Grandma arrived early to get the big aluminum coffee pot percolating as the other women arrived.
When I think about the widow whom Jesus watched place two copper pennies – all she had – into the offering plate, I think of Grandma Wright. She lavished me with love and fun, reflecting her trust in and gratitude for God’s provision. Her life revolved around her faith; all she did and all she possessed was caught up in that orbit.
Recent studies show that on average today, Christians in America give less than three percent of their income to the church. This aligns with statistics revealing that many churches see average annual pledges, when they are made, hovering around $1,500 to $3,000 – far away from a tithe for most household incomes.
Jesus talked about money quite a bit, but churches have a tough time with it. Americans want to keep their money-business private. People find ways to avoid examining how they could possibly “sacrifice” more to the church, so they will skip a coffee hour presentation on stewardship as they rush off to grab a $6.00 Hazelnut Macchiato down the street.
What is an intrusion-adverse congregational leader to do? One powerful way for leaders to teach about the spirituality of joyful gratitude is to adopt a Financial Stewardship Statement. The Rev. Angela Emerson, Minister of Stewardship Development in the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, explains that the ultimate goal of such a statement is “to shift the culture of the congregation - from a limited view of scarcity to God’s worldview of abundance.”
Creating a Financial Stewardship Statement involves taking time to pray and study scripture to discern messages that reflect the spirituality of responding to God’s abundance. Once written, the Statement should be published and referenced frequently. Here is an example posted by the Diocesan Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Nova Scotia & Prince Edward Island:
“Stewardship is a response to the abundance God bestows upon us.
It is the joyful, loving, good will gift, sent forth to God’s purposes, given to be made Holy.
It is given first as faithful witness of trust that God will provide.
It is given proportionally as a faithful discipline of a Holy Habit.
It is given without reserve, as God loves us without reserve.
The result is the gift becomes love and the giver grows into a deeper relationship with God.”
Such a statement can guide a year ‘round discussion about grace, gratitude and discipleship, as well as an annual campaign of financial commitment for the following year.
I would like to think that my Grandma Wright never needed a Statement to teach her to respond in gratitude to God’s abundance. She was a living witness to how the love of Jesus can permeate a life, even through the worst experiences of poverty in the Great Depression. However, today’s church-goers may need a nudge, as our society is permeated by the message that consuming more than we need is what we deserve because we have earned it. So I will encourage my church to teach about the spirituality of joyful stewardship.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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