July 6, 2011

The Giving Connection

Deciding where to give these days is getting tricky.

I’ve been part of a wonderful Episcopal congregation in New York City for over 15 years. Week in and week out I’ve seen the incarnate love of God expressed in and through the members of this church. Whether in healing prayer, prophetic witness, or soulful singing, these sisters and brothers exhibit a little bit of heaven on earth when they gather in God’s house and the neighboring streets. This community stirs my heart and constantly reminds me of the joyful and difficult call to “Be not afraid” (Luke 1:30) and to serve one another in the name of Jesus.

I’ve also been living and worshiping with another community for the last two years: a monastic community of Episcopal nuns an hour away from the city. The rhythm of daily prayer, combined with bible study, music, silence, and theological exploration have replenished my soul and allowed me to listen to the Holy Spirit in new ways. Their commitment to living responsibly and responsively with Earth, while practicing farming and sustainable living patterns, reminds me daily about my connection to all God’s creation, seen and unseen.

In addition, changes in my personal life mean that I’m now spending most weekends in another state. While I miss my other two spiritual homes, I’ve started exploring the local options for Sunday worship and fellowship. I’m trying to keep an open heart and mind, wondering where I might put down another set of roots.

Yet in the midst of these changes, I’m clear about my relationship with God. I’m following the Spirit, even if I don’t really know where we’re going. I’m also clear about Church. I’ll continue to pray and participate with others, even if I’m diving in and out of a variety of communities. Finally, I’m clear about giving – financially and otherwise.

Several years ago, I took the big leap to tithing. (Before that I’d given, like most church folks, about 3% of my income.) For a few years I’d felt nagged by the idea that I should be “practicing what I preach.” Working in a professional role with Episcopalians, particularly regarding stewardship and fundraising, I knew that I should probably be practicing what we hold up as the goal for Christian giving, 10% or tithe. But that idea alone, motivated by guilt, wasn’t enough to change my practice. Two other events precipitated the change.

First, my job at the time was financially unsteady. The stress of it was starting to wear me down. So my decision to tithe in the midst of economic uncertainty was decidedly a spiritual practice. I had to start giving away more to counteract my fear of having less. I decided I had to cultivate a culture of trust; especially a trust in God. The second catalyst was hearing Marie, an elder and well-respected member of my parish, stand up unbidden during Stewardship Sunday and urge everyone to tithe. She gave a passionate testimony for how God acts in our lives and our commitment to act in return. So I decided to do it, because I trusted Marie and the example of her life.

I still give for these reasons and many more. I give out of gratitude. I give to remind myself of the high calling and cost of discipleship. I give because my church communities do amazing work, and they need all the resources they can get. I give because I have so much more than most people in this world, and at the end of the day I know it all belongs to God, not me. And I keep tithing because every time I get stressed about money and think about cutting back, it feels as if I’d be cutting my own umbilical cord to God. I just can’t do it. The practice has become integral to my life and faith.

Now my struggle is not whether or how much to give, it’s where. The idea of simply filling out a pledge card for my church at the beginning of the year has become a quandary. To which community am I giving? Do I split my pledge or give more overall? Shall I commit my time, talent, and/or treasure to different places? I haven’t figured out all the particular answers, but the questions themselves are helping me be intentional, once again, about my practices of stewardship, giving, and commitment to Christian community.

This reflection by Anne originally appeared June 29, 2011 in The Steward's Well, a quarterly newsletter from The Episcopal Church Office of Stewardship. It is reprinted with permission.