January 15, 2016

Why I Give

Editor’s note: Do members of your church have an opportunity to offer public testimony of what their faith – and their church – mean to them? Many associate this with appeals for participation in annual, capital, or other campaigns. Today ECF Vital Practices shares testimony from a newer member of an Episcopal church – and while it was given during the congregation’s annual stewardship campaign, Holly’s message is also one of personal transformation. I invite you to consider ways for members to share their transformation stories throughout the year.

Please join me in prayer.

"Loving God,

"We who gather here at St. John’s are no longer strangers because we have been welcomed by this “Church of the Open Door” in your name. By your love we are bound together in our care for one another and this holy space.

"As we consider our life here at St. John’s, help us to give from the heart and to the best of our abilities, willingly and with hopefulness. We pray that our giving would not be hindered by fear or a spirit of scarcity.

"Fill us with your grace, that, as joyful stewards of this calling you have set before us, we may have the strength, the will, and the imagination to fulfill your vision for our Church; in Christ’s name we pray. Amen."

                                                         (Campaign prayer used by all speakers)

Good morning. I'm Holly Stoerker. It was two years ago that I first came through the Open Door at St John's. And today is my one-year anniversary of joining this parish as a member.

Shortly after I was asked to give this stewardship talk, I quite by accident stumbled upon an article written by a Harvard Business school professor. It was called “Four Questions Fundraisers Must Be Prepared to Answer.” I was delighted! “Now,” I thought, “I have some authoritative insights to share.”

According to this article, fundraisers should address 4 key questions when making their pitch:

  1. Does the organization do important work? 
  2. Is the organization well managed?
  3. Will my gift make a difference? 
  4. Will the experience be satisfying to me? 
If the answer to all of these questions is “yes,” Professor Stevenson claims, it will be difficult for the prospective donor to say no.

But.... then I read our Gospel lesson for today. Today we heard Jesus say, not once, but twice... “My kingdom is not from this world.” … “My kingdom is not from here.”

While Professor Stevenson may be right on the philanthropic mark when it comes to fundraising for charitable organizations, devoted to all sorts of worthy causes... frankly, it's not what speaks to either my heart or mind in a stewardship message at church. “God's kingdom is not from this world.”

So why do I give to the church, to this church, to St. John's?

I'd like to share two reasons with you this morning:

  1. Out of gratitude
  2. Out of trust

1. Gratitude

I believe we are creatures of gratitude. We were created to be grateful. We are called to be grateful. 
The Apostle Paul tells the early Christians in Thessalonica, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 

Now, I could list all the reasons why I give thanks to and for St. Johns. But my pledge to St. John's is not a transaction for services, or even a thank-you gift to St. John's. It's a gift of gratitude to God.... gratitude for my life, our life together, and the life of the world.

What are you grateful for? Well here are few of the things you said 2 months ago on Gathering Sunday, when you took a sticky note, wrote down what you were thankful for, and put it up on the gymnasium wall. You said, “I am thankful for...”

  • Good friends
  • Hats
  • Coffee
  • 2nd chances
  • 3rd chances
  • Oceans to explore
  • Patience
  • Music
  • Modern medicine
  • Water skis
  • Whatever’s within reach?
  • Answering the phone
  • New beginnings

Well, me too! I am thankful for all those things and for the fact that I get to share in your thankfulness, thus compounding my own. And I respond, not out of obligation, but out of gratitude, by giving of myself and my riches.

The second reason I give to the church...
2. To exercise my trust muscle – it transforms me.

Confession time: I am a worrier and a control freak. One of my biggest challenges, dare I say sins, is failing to trust God. Relinquishing control, which I never really had in the first place.

So when I stretch myself to give to the church, and then give a little more, it pushes me a little closer to that place where I recognize and confess my vulnerability. Giving away my wealth helps me in the process of dying to self. In a way, it's a self-improvement plan. Giving isn't designed to make me feel good, it's designed to make me good. To shape me into the person God intended me to be. Made in the Creator's own generous image. To make me the generous, cherished, redeemed individual God had in mind when first He thought of me.


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