“The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability, how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance, our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.”
--Whyte, David (2015-04-08). Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words (Kindle Locations 1099-1102). Many Rivers Press. Kindle Edition.
Last fall I headed through Portland and into the beautiful Columbia River Gorge to the Menucha Retreat Center. Normally, I love this drive. The Columbia River roars on your left, the winds through the gorge buffet your car as you hurtle down I-84, and the cliffs climb on both sides of the river. But this time, I have to have to admit I was kind of dreading the trip.
I was attending the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving’s training to gain my (drum roll, please) Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising. I’m not a huge fan of the word of ‘executive’; even less so the word ‘fundraising.’ At that point, when I heard the word “fundraising” I thought sales, and I didn’t go into ministry to sell people stuff. The only good thing I could say about the word “fundraising” is it at least seemed more honest that the churchy “stewardship”, which just sounded like a hollow euphemism in my ears.
Part of the chip on my shoulder was another learning group I was engaging. At the same time as I was doing this fundraising training, I had also studying with poet David Whyte near his home on Whidbey Island. Poetry and fundraising could not have seemed more disparate to me. At that time poetry was entirely about thankfulness, expansiveness, and opening ourselves to new possibilities, while fundraising seemed more about control and manipulation and trying to get people to cough up something they didn’t want to freely give.
What I learned through the Lake Institute is I couldn’t have been more wrong. What I learned is that fundraising, when done faithfully, is fundamentally about thankfulness, expansiveness, and opening to new possibilities.
Lake taught me that faithful fundraising isn’t about manipulating people and squeezing resources from them. Rather, fundraising is about helping people to discover their passion and call. Because of Lake when I speak to my congregation about stewardship now I invite them to discover people and institutions they cherish and love. When you give to people and institutions you are passionate about, it isn’t painful; it’s joyful. So, I tell them give. Give. Give to our church, or give to our school district, or give to some cause that you love. Just give to something you care about. That isn’t sales: that’s discipleship. I’m now as a pastor helping people, as Whyte puts it, to become generous citizens of loss rather than misers who always stand at the gates of existence but never walk fully into life.
I also learned through Lake that giving isn’t primarily about money; giving is about relationship and trust. As part of the certificate program I had to come up with a project to implement in my congregation. Most of it is what I expected, creating new ways people can give, and developing a planned giving effort. But I never would have expected what has turned out to be the most powerful practice from Lake.
The most significant, vital practice I’ve started, thanks to the Lake folks, is simply praying for people and letting them know I’m thinking about them. Our congregation (about 300 people) is split into twelve parishes. Every month I pray for one parish and write each of those families a very small note letting them know I lifted them up in prayer. I’m not asking them for money. I’m not thanking them for money. I’m praying and giving thanks for them and their presence in my life. I have seen an incredible response. Some people write back heartfelt notes, telling me my prayer came at just the right time. Other people I haven’t seen for a long time have come back to church, feeling seen for the first time in a long time.
Who are you in relationship with? With whom have you lost touch? What might happen if you took the time to see them?
I never would have guessed that poetry and fundraising are cut from the same cloth, and I am forever grateful to Lake for opening my eyes. I’m a better pastor, and honestly, I’m a more generous person because of it.
Learn more about Rev. Dr. Ken Ever-Hood and his publications, including The Irrational Jesus: Leading the Fully Human Church.