by Anne Brock, Program Manager
We recently had the opportunity to spend a few days with all those who gathered for the annual spring Ecumenical Stewardship Center conference, this year entitled Generosity Transformed! The keynote speakers addressed transformation in three main topics: Mission, Ministry and Money.
Of course, I was immediately drawn into Rev. Dr. Anthony Bailey’s message as he opened with pictures and reflections from his pilgrimage on the Camino de Santiago, part of which I walked a year ago. He spoke about a conversation he had while walking one day; about a Singaporean solider who asked question after question. Dr. Bailey suggested that we need more questions and less statements to help us get to the truth of things, challenge our assumptions, and expose our fears.
He flew through the Bible showing us examples of God’s diverse generosity for all people. God’s generosity is collaborative and subversive, he said, and it’s for all the nations, all people. Whether Hagar and Ishmael or Peter’s daydream on the roof top, he showed us that it’s always been about everybody – we are all part of God’s plan of generosity.
He concluded by asking, what does it mean to be fully generous? It’s more than abundance; instead, it’s abounding. God’s generosity is abounding – always moving, always including. We have to learn to stand up against what seems impossible because if we don’t do it, God will find someone who will. We must be willing to be changed, to push against the status quo, to be transformed in a way that welcomes all into the conversation, just as God planned from the beginning.
Rev. Dr. Ginny Brown Daniel acknowledged that church giving is antiquated, but it is also functional. Although the methods may have changed, there are still three key skills to stewardship in congregations today: Ask for Money, Receive Money and Say Thank You. Transformation requires adapting to new methods of giving and new ways of engaging.
Whether checks are dropped in an offering plate or sent in the mail or electronic giving comes in via Venmo or credit card, the skills remain the same. First, one has to ask for money: very few organizations have the opportunity to ask donors for money each week. Many congregations have a clear advantage here with weekly offering moments in services. Second, how do you receive the money: congregations need to adapt to the multitudes of ways that people manage their money, making digital giving options easy and accessible. Finally, saying thank you is a must: there is still a place for form letters, but handwritten notes or quick a ‘thank you’ on social media platforms go a long way in appreciating donors.
Rev. Lee Hull Moses convicted those gathered to talk about the role of money in our whole lives, not just in relation to the stewardship campaign. She urged us to talk about money, actually talk about it. Maybe that means offering financial literacy classes based on life stage or providing information on estate planning or incorporating prayers about financial stress in worship. Rev. Hull Moses went on to say that after talking about money we need to talk about justice, which includes acknowledging that for certain parts of the population, money has been earned on the backs of the mistreated and devalued in our society.
She wanted us to understand that “self-sufficiency” is not beneficial to anyone because all of us require help in some form or another. Instead, we should be aiming for community – how can we live together, gather together, listen together in a way that we find sufficiency in the whole, not the individual? Rev. Hull Moses called us to learn the difference between excess and abundance – where we are seeking an abundant life, one in which our resources are put to good use, we build community and we trust one another.
Each practical suggestion she offered leads toward transformation – of self, of community, of congregation. If we take these seriously, imagine the kind of transformations we’d then begin to see in our families, country and world!
Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis, Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, wrapped up the conference with final thoughts about what we heard and what we can do moving forward. She helped us understand that pledging is challenging for people because income isn’t always consistent. How can we expect people to pledge a certain amount each week, month or year if they don’t know what amount they will earn in a week, month or year? Pledging should not elicit shame in our congregants.
Tying into what Rev. Lee Hull Moses spoke about, Rev. Baskerville-Burrows asked: Do we believe we are enough or not? Do we believe God created us as enough? Do we truly know what it means to be loved? In order to answer yes to any of those questions, we must be grounded in gratitude and generosity; we must believe and trust in the faith we profess.
Conferences like this one remind us that we are each capable and up to the challenge of stewardship and generosity. These events remind us that we are not alone in this work, that we have many conversation partners ready to help us through the next obstacle we’re facing. When we come together for opportunities to learn, connect and affirm one another, we grow in new ways that help transform us for the continually changing work of stewardship. Hearing great thinkers such as these help us see how far we’ve come and, as always, how far we have to go.