Sacred Trust: Fall 2022 Stewardship Reflection

As we move into the fall stewardship campaign season, the diocesan Stewardship Committee offers the following reflection to frame our theological understanding of stewardship.

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“I have bragged about your generosity all over the place, and just to make sure that no-one gets embarrassed, I’m sending Titus and two more of my heavies ahead, to make sure all’s well with the collection by the time I arrive to receive it. But everyone should give according to their own conscience, as God loves a cheerful giver.”

You may or may not agree with this summary paraphrase of a portion of 2 Corinthians chapter 9, but it is clear that St. Paul faced a challenge motivating the Christians of Corinth to contribute to the collection he had been undertaking across the Roman provinces of Achaia and Macedonia (which comprise much of modern Greece). From other writings, we infer that he even asked that they contribute weekly what they could afford, rather than giving a lump sum reflecting perhaps a year’s worth of generosity.

Why does all this sound so familiar to us?  The good Corinthians faced the same challenges we do: our congregations may run on love, but our operations and ministry to the communities surrounding us require both commitments by volunteers to pitch in, as well as a bit of money. Paying a priest, rector, or parish administrator in kind (a nice ham this week, a bushel of apples next week, …) or putting them up in a rectory without paying the utility company to provide water, light, heat, would not work that well in our day and age. Nor would we enjoy worship services in a dark, unheated church, or feeding the hungry in our neighborhood in a dark unheated, room, particularly in the depth of winter. A gift in the form of money to our church is simply a convenient way to arrange for all of these necessities for worship,  ministries, and outreach.

What St. Paul writes next remains true throughout the ages: he reminds the Corinthian Christian community that each member should give according to their conscience and in gratitude for God’s abundance in their lives, as a sign of our love of God. That is and remains the call to Christians, from the days of St. Paul to ours.

There is another important element here, perhaps not as noticeable at first. Paul goes to great lengths to reassure the Corinthians that they know the two unnamed brothers as trustworthy, and that the two will make sure that Paul (and perhaps Titus) will handle the delivery and distribution of the gifts in an upright manner worthy of the givers’ trust. This trust is important, as the proceeds of the collection are to be distributed to the poor among the Christians in  Jerusalem—with no way for the generous givers in far-away Achaia and Macedonia to verify that that eventually happened.

Are we not, likewise, asked to trust our leaders, our priest or rector, our wardens and vestry, to faithfully and prudently use the gifts we promise to make in the coming year? The good Christians in St. Paul’s time had nothing to go on but their trust in St. Paul and his companions. We’re in a better position: our leaders, priests, rectors, deacons, wardens and Vestry are right here in our midst, and we can also see firsthand the impacts our gifts have. These impacts could be as simple as having light, running water, and heat in our buildings. It could be as rich as having a priest or rector in the chancel, and a caring parish administrator in the office. It could be as loving as a regular meal for the hungry in our community.

When we make our commitment for next year’s gifts to our congregation, we live out not only our love for God, and our gratitude for God’s abundance in our lives, we also return the trust our congregational leaders have in us: they trust that we will give faithfully and abundantly; we trust that they will use our gifts of time, talent, and treasure prudently and wisely—showing good stewardship of the gifts which we entrust to them: taking care of our own and our neighbors, caring for God’s creation, spreading the good news of love by all we do.

Reflection by Peter Koeppel, member of Trinity Memorial Church in Binghamton. Koeppel serves on the diocesan Stewardship Resources team and the diocesan Creation Care Initiative and is a frequent contributor on the topics of creation care, stewardship, and racial justice and reconciliation. 

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