Spirituality Pages

You never know what might happen when you try to duck responsibility. Several years ago, in yet another attempt to avoid the diaconate, I agreed to go on Stewardship. The consequences of such decisions can't be foreseen. In this case it got me thinking more and more about the whole subject of Stewardship and church support in general. Some of you all are more aware of this thinking than you might wish. Over the past couple of years I've barraged you with articles in the Parish News, helped draft letters, and even imposed on your good will by delivering a sermon on the subject. As Casey Stengel would say "you can look it up", which in this case means a lot of this stuff has found its way onto the internet.

It's not that I hadn't thought about Stewardship previously. I grew up in a family that believed that supporting the church was both a privilege and a duty. Undoubtedly these beliefs resulted partly from the fact that my mother's father was Methodist minister. Although he died in 1913, my grandmother made sure we never forgot this essential fact and the responsibilities that went with it. On the other side, my father's mother ran the Sunday School at her Methodist church. So the necessity of supporting the church was a core belief instilled in me from an early age. A portion of my allowance was set aside for the church offering. I think initially it was a nickel out of a princely allowance of 15 cents per week. I still think in such terms. A portion of my salary is budgeted up front for church support. I must confess, alas, that the proportion is no longer a third.

Anyway, it never occurred to me not to pledge support to the church. I have realized lately, however, that not everyone concurs with this point of view. Undoubtedly, this is because we live in a much more secular society than the one in which I grew up. I found it ironic that in a recent poll of Americans, something like 84% claimed that their religious faith was important to their lives. One would never know it by their church support. Overall participation in and support for Christian churches has been dwindling steadily for most of my lifetime.

Also, one would never know it by people's knowledge of the core values of the Christian faith, the core teachings of Jesus. You know the stuff like :

"Love God with all your heart and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself." (Mk 12:29-31)
"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." (Mt 5:43-48)
"Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me." (Mt. 25:31-46)
"Feed my sheep." (John 21:15-19)

You know, all those things that say we should be about the business of taking care of the world and the people in it.

We don't see these values expressed much in the way we have come to order our secular society. Rather, we have come to hear the name of Jesus misappropriated to justify the political whim of the moment. The people who write news stories, those who tell us what's going on in the world, no longer have the background to say things like, "wait a minute, that's not what Christians are about". The reason for this is simply that not enough of us are supporting our churches, our Christian outreach, and our passing on Christian values to future generations through our Christian education programs.

I fear that we are all in for dark times indeed unless we, here and now, begin to reverse this trend. It can only begin, here and now, with support of the institution of the Christian church, whose representative, for those of us here, is the First Congregational Church of Reading, U.C.C. So, this is why Stewardship has become increasingly important to me. I don't want to live in a society devoid of moral values and I don't want our children to grow up in a society devoid of moral values. Those values can only be passed on through the church. The only value secular society knows is "what is profitable today?" That's not a value that will provide for the overall betterment of all people nor ensure a sustainable future. Christian values, as expressed in the example and teachings of Jesus, will provide that better life for all and a sustainable future. It is up to us, however, to ensure the institution of the church survives so that those values will be lived and will be passed on.

In closing, I must confess that I also have a selfish reason for supporting the church. They let me sing in the choir. When one sings, a different part of the brain is activated, a part in which one's defenses against the non-rational aren't so well buttressed. Sometimes, while singing a channel opens up through that unguarded part of the brain and I can hear the voice of God speaking to me. That is indeed a blessing worth supporting.

12 June 2005

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