Much has been written about stewardship within the Church, which borders on being cliché, but the truth is that without the financial support of its members, the Church cannot survive and further the mission to which Christ has called it.
Currently, stewardship is more vital to the Church than it has ever been before. Supporting the message of the Church is also sorely needed because what gets passed off as "Christianity" in American society is much more a cultural Christianity than it is the Gospel. Most people equate "Christianity" with narrow-minded, homophobic, misogynistic bigots who believe the world was created 6,000 years ago in 7 - 24 hour days. Needless to say, this is not the Christian message.
We give because we know the flip-side of this message. We understand the Gospel to be about love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, kindness, justice and generosity. We financially support the Church in order that this message can be visible within the community, inviting people of all sorts and conditions to come and experience the transformative love of God in Christ. We support the Church in order that its members might go out into the world living this message, drawing those who haven't heard it into a community in which Christ himself is not only present but accessible.
We don't give out of a sense of obligation or guilt (We're Anglicans and Anglicans don't DO guilt!) but rather out of a sense of thanksgiving and responsibility. We are thankful for the lives we have and the material things we have that support that life. We are even more thankful for our relationships which help us grow in love and joy. We are still even more thankful for the reality that we are loved just as we are with no strings attached and given a community to grow that love, and learn to give it to others.
We are responsible because we understand that what we have is a gift of which all are deserving. We are responsible with our finances in order to make that gift a reality to all people no matter whom or what they are. We are responsible with that gift in order that the message of the Gospel may be heard and embraced in a culture that preaches the opposite message.
Yes, our financial support of the Church keeps the lights on, the Rector, the Choir Director and the Organist paid, and such things. But our generosity to the Church is much more than that. It is an outward and visible sign, a Sacrament, of our commitment to the real meaning of life. It is a tangible participation in the most important mission the world has ever known. It's about making the world a better place where the Christ's promise of abundant life is made real; touching and changing lives in ways we may never see or know.
The Modern Tithe
The Hebrew Scriptures talk about setting aside 10% of one's income as an offering to God. In those times, the tithe not only went for the support of the Temple, the Priesthood and the Rabbis, but also financed what we would know as social services. The Temple and Synagogue looked after the widows and orphans, the disabled and those in financial distress.
Some scholars believe that about 60% of the tithe went for these purposes leaving about 40% for the upkeep of religious purposes. In our own time, social services are supported by private agencies, many religious, and by our tax dollars. This means that the tithe in our own time is about 4% of our income.
For many of us, 4% of our income doesn't make a big dent in our budgets. For some, it would mean going without for basic living expenses. How much we give depends on how much we have. For some, giving beyond 4% would be quite easy. Giving past 4% would also be a mark of thanksgiving for the blessing of this life and for the Gospel itself. Giving past 4% also makes room for those for whom 4% is a burden but whose presence in the community is vital. How much we give IS important. The spirit in which we give it is even MORE important.
If you are discerning making St. Clement's Church part of your financial budget, please do so with thanksgiving and in prayer. Below is a prayer inspired by the one composed by our own Bishop, The Rt. Rev'd Greg Rickel. Offer it as you think on these things.
Gracious and loving God, giver of all that is good and true and beautiful and life-giving. My/Our financial commitment represents my/our sweat, my life/our lives, my/our dreams. It is but a token of the awesome gifts that have been given to me/us and is pledged in thanksgiving for all I/we have received, for all I/we have been inspired to be, for all I am/we are challenged to become.
May my/our gift be the first fruits of all I/we have and not what I/we have left over, so that I/we may live out as closely as possible how you give to me/us in Christ. May I/we see them as my/our offering to you, sacred, holy, yet earthy, filled with hope and wonderful possibilities. May I/we hold this image in my/our heart(s) and mind(s) so as I/we watch my/our offering each week come to your table, I/we can see my/our very self/selves being part of this offering, it is me/us on the table, (a) living sacrifice(s) to you; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.