Journey to Generosity

Two weekends ago I had the pleasure of attending the Episcopal Network for Stewardship’s (TENS) annual conference at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Minneapolis. TENS has been a valuable resource for me since I started working for the Foundation, and when I took on our stewardship and capital campaign consulting service earlier this year, the time was right for me to attend a TENS program.

The theme this year was “Journey to Generosity”. We all know that generous stewardship isn’t just something we do once a year; it’s who we are, and discovering ourselves as stewards and living out that identity is a journey we are on our entire lives. I was excited to attend sessions that might help me on my own path towards generous giving and living, as well as support and strengthen the work we do at the MMFA.

The first workshop I attended was titled “The Spirituality of Philanthropy”. The Rt. Rev. Jake Owensby, Bishop of the Diocese of Western Louisiana, talked about the creation story as being the first story of stewardship: Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden to care for it….to till and keep it. Rev. Owensby said we don’t till and keep something that’s already finished; we’re a part of an ongoing creation…it’s not a finished product. Yet we treat it like it is; we consume it. He posed the question, “What if we lived as though we are co-creators of something that’s coming into being?” We also discussed the difference between being a benefactor and being a beggar, and the dangers of thinking of ourselves only as benefactors. He invited us to share an example of a time when we had to ask for something, when we were truly in need, and to reflect on that experience and how it shaped us. We read the story of Zacchaeus and talked about why Jesus chose to dine with him and what it meant to the community. I could go on and on about this workshop; it was fascinating!

Next I went to “Talking About Money” led by the Rev. Chris Harris (a former tax attorney). The first thing we did was complete a “Money Motivation Quiz” which helped us understand how strongly we are influenced by our relationship with money as freedom, security, power, or love. I scored most strongly in the love category, meaning that I like to use money “to express love and build relationships”. I also scored highly in the security category, which means I “desire the stability and protection that money supposedly provides”. To download and take the quiz yourself, please click here. Rev. Harris also invited us to turn to our neighbor and share our happiest and unhappiest money memories; that was an interesting exercise as money is such a personal thing and not something we talk about very often. It wasn’t hard to tell a stranger my unhappy money memory, but I don’t know that I’d tell it to anyone I know. What does that say about the connection we make between our self worth/value and money?

My third workshop was “Inspiring Legacy Giving”, led by John Hoskins, senior philanthropic advisor for Saint Francis Community Services and for the St. Francis Foundation. John used the word “VOICE” to talk about planned giving within a congregation, explaining that a planned gift allows us a last expression of our faith, and we have to give VOICE to its importance. Vision, Operations, Invitation, Community, and Education are the key components to a successful planned giving effort.

Finally, I went to “Stewardship, Congregational Vitality and Speaking the Truth”, led by Rev. Sarah Fisher, associate rector of St. Patrick’s Episcopal in Atlanta, and Canon Mary Macgregor, recently retired from the bishop’s staff of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. Mary called our attention to the link between the vitality of a congregation and its understanding of stewardship. She encouraged clergy and lay leaders to not shy away from helping members understand what stewardship really is by focusing on generosity and thankfulness to God as motivations to give to God’s work in and through our churches. We worked in teams to develop a year-round stewardship effort; my group's used seeds as a starting point and talked about how we're rooted in and growing with God. We thought it would be neat to give a seed to everyone in the congregation in the spring and have them plant them together; these plants could then be taken to elderly members who can't come to church. The congregation could create a garden and give the harvest to a local food bank. Children could make "seed bombs" and take them somewhere in need of flowers. Members could also collect food and flowers for a local school in need, local food bank, or take the flowers to a retirement home. As each group shared their work, Rev. Fisher pointed out how we only had 15 minutes to come up with something; think of what our churches could do with an entire year. She also said stewardship committees have to have creative, passionate people on them, not just people who are skilled with money.

As I look back over my notes from the workshops and keynote sessions, these are the thoughts that resonate with me the most:

  • From Dave Toycen, recently retired president of World Vision, Canada: “To be generous means we know we receive more than we deserve, and we give more than is required.”
  • From the Rt. Rev. Jake Owensby, Bishop of the Diocese of Western Louisiana: “We belong within this creation; it doesn’t belong to us.” “How much we give is a spiritual decision, not a financial one.” “Humans make scarcity, not God.”
  • From the Rev. Edwin Bacon, Rector Emeritus of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena: “To flow is at the root of the word affluent (affluere). In the context of generosity, affluence is anything that flows towards others and is represented by our generosity with whatever might be at our disposal- whether it’s our attention, material resources, or our care. If we see affluence as only meaning material wealth, then we may miss that everyone has the capacity to be affluent spiritually.”

I could go on and on about what I learned and share other items which inspired me; I could also talk about how lovely it was to fellowship with Episcopal lay leaders and priests (many of whom knew who Moravians were and some who even knew actual Moravians!) in a spirit of generous stewardship. Instead, I’ll close by saying that yes, we live in a world full of uncertainty, full of doubt, full of fear. But no matter where we’re from, what we look like, or what we believe, I bet we can agree we were created to be generous. We want to give. And the wonderful news is there is no end to God’s love and the blessings we receive from Him, so there needn’t be an end to our generosity.

I once attended a lovefeast that began with only one candle being lit; the pastor explained that the lit candle represented God’s love for us. The congregation then came forward one at a time and lit their candles off the flame of that one lit candle. After we finished, the pastor pointed out how the candle was still burning brightly, and that God’s love and grace and generosity are inexhaustible and unchangeable and will never end or be used up. What a gift to be children of God and to be able to respond with our own love, grace, and generosity.