September 2016
Why Give?

Building Our Trellis

In a vineyard, a trellis is essential to support and guide growth. What are the components I need to create a fruitful financial trellis?

A few years back, a group of us gathered in the wine country of Northern California to celebrate the thirtieth birthday of a dear friend’s youngest daughter. It was a memory-making, enlightening, and grand celebration.

One afternoon, as we were walking through a vineyard, surrounded by lush, green, healthy vines, I realized my technical knowledge of how grapes are grown was surprisingly and embarrassingly limited. The ah-ha was that only some vines would bear fruit. Yes, all the vines had the same environment: cool nights, rich soil, and proper watering and pruning. Yet without a trellis, there was no opportunity to be fruitful.

A vineyard trellis requires a series of wires, braces, and wooden posts. The structure must be adaptable, withstanding time and changing conditions while being resilient in the face of harsh weather, sustained wind, and long periods of heat. It must be deeply anchored in the ground so as not to topple with every slight shift in the soil. A trellis is essential to support and guide growth, allow air to circulate, and most importantly to expose the vine to full sunlight. Are you surprised to learn that yes, I am speaking about our finances, individually and as a parish community?

Practices such as budgeting, financial planning, saving, patience, and wise investing provide the cool nights, rich soil, watering, and pruning, while thoughtful discernment of core values, awareness of passion, vision, and openness to change, provide a flexible trellis, essential for bearing fruit.

Where to begin

If your parish is considering ways to encourage parishioners to create and/or explore their own financial trellis, a series of workshops might be in order. However instead of jumping quickly to bringing in local experts, consider a series of conversations where reflections, experiences, tools, and resources are shared. While experts impart, conversations are synergistic and in my experience allow for harvesting of a deeper, broader, and more fruitful crop. Ah, but we know people do not like to talk about money. Agreed! So let’s take a no numbers approach that feels safe for all.

Consider offering a series of five or six conversation-based workshops at your church. You will need to identify facilitators and scribes, invite participants, provide a comfortable venue, some art supplies, and offer sweet and savory treats. Identify topics that may spark conversation and reflection and assign each session one of the topics. Mix things up: Have some of the topics be practical and some conceptual.

Some ideas to get you started:

  • A discussion around these or similar questions: How did your family, from as early as you remember through high school or college, handle money? Who did the banking? Was money ever discussed? What were the messages you gleaned from your parents? Are those messages, and, if appropriate, those of your spouse whose experience might have been vastly different, evident in your handling of money today? 
  • Extend an invitation to identify and share financial tools and resources: websites, spreadsheets, methods of tracking, paying down student and/or credit card debt, budgeting and saving, and investing for the future. 
  • Reflect on this quote by Archbishop Desmond Tutu “We are all caught up in a delicate network of interdependence, unable to celebrate fully our own heritage and place in the world, unable to realize our full potential as human beings, unless everyone else, everywhere else, can do the same.” 
  • Share a time when you felt supported by community. Share an experience, in the words of Wendell Berry, when “practicing resurrection” made new life abundantly evident. How can we cross borders and breakdown what divides us? How do you complete the sentence “The Kingdom of God is like…?” 
  • Share the core values you would like to impart to the next generation. Are those core values evident in your financial actions? What are the next steps needed to practice what Eric Erikson termed Generativity: Care for the Next Generation? 
  • As people of the Sacrament, with outward signs being deeply rooted in our lives, image your trellis. In what ways does it encourage a life committed to bearing the fruit of deeper simplicity and broader generosity? With the crayons and paper in front of you, draw a prayer flag reflecting your trellis or an image through which you see the role of a trellis. The prayer flags can be hung, unsigned, around the room, outward and visible signs for all to see.

Fruitful financial planning is a matter of both heart and mind, practical and conceptual—very Anglican - both/and not either/or. Ask yourself along with significant others in your life, “What is the fruit I wish my handling of financial matters would produce? What are the components I need to build my trellis to produce this fruit? What light and air and grace and hope and love can I weave together into a tapestry that shows forth God’s light and ruach— wind, spirit, and breath?

Now go in peace and make it a reality.

Crafted for the October 2016 issue of Vital Practices by Celeste A. Ventura with gratitude for the encouragement of Nancy Davidge at the Episcopal Church Foundation. Celeste served for twenty-two years as a financial advisor with Merrill Lynch. Since 2002, she has had the privilege of serving as one among many on CREDO faculty in the area of financial wellness. With her involvement in both the Episcopal Church and the world of personal finance over the decades, she has found the most effective entrée to financial concepts stems from visual images. “It has been a time of joy and challenge, deep collegiality, passion and insight. Images have always feed [sic] my soul and this opportunity to share some reflections with a broader community is pure gift.” She lives in Carmel Valley, California.

Try This
Celeste outlines a process for encouraging conversations where parishioners can share reflections, experiences, tools, and resources. What might this look like in your congregation?


  • Let’s Make a Plan, a resource from The Learning Center, on the website of CFP -Certified Financial Planners, has interesting video scenarios for anyone to explore. For example: More Than a Will, Easing the Mid-Life Squeeze 
  •, Budgeting and tracking tools for income and expenses, plus access to credit score, and tools to manage and track investments. 

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This article is part of the September 2016 Vestry Papers issue on Why Give?