When studying a congregation, there are several aspects of the life of the congregation that are symptomatic of the spiritual health of the community and its members: hospitality, worship attendance, faith development, outreach to others, and stewardship. Those who are discerning a call to become the next spiritual leader of a congregation are especially interested in examining these practices in light of their own priestly gifts and vocational emphases. What will the candidates find when they look at us?
During the short time I have been with you, we have been exploring these practices and other areas of congregational health in a variety of settings and one thing has emerged as urgent. Saint John’s Cathedral is now at a crossroads when Christian stewardship must have our full attention. In many ways, how God's people relate to their possessions and how they express their generosity toward God touches every other aspect of personal spirituality and the common life of the congregation. When we practice the spiritual discipline of stewardship we become more generous. Generosity changes both the giver and the Church.
This is nothing new. St. Paul addressed this relationship with the members of the Corinthian Church: “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor. 9:10-12). Jesus said it this way, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and God's righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33).
I have been in conversation with leaders and staff regarding the pattern of giving in the Cathedral community. What I have learned convinces me that this is the perfect time for a transformation in the culture of giving at Saint John’s Cathedral.
The essence of the change that is needed is for parishioners to be less focused on the church's need to receive and more focused on the giver's need to give. It is possible that many members have not taken full responsibility for their own personal stewardship because the parish leans too heavily on the generous endowments of past benefactors.
Emphasizing the church's need to receive is a fund raising strategy. In contrast, emphasizing the giver's need to give fosters Christian stewardship. One is based on need; the other is based on God's bountiful generosity toward us. One is consumer-oriented, the other is God-oriented. One anticipates receiving something in return; the other is our response to something already received. Certainly, fund raising is necessary from time to time when an extraordinary need or opportunity arises. But in the Church, faithful stewardship of God’s bounty must be the foundation.
Your Vestry and Stewardship Commission have provided you with sound explanations and compelling reasons for the congregation's need to receive your contributions. They have offered you statistical information, budgets, audit reports, and comparisons of average levels of giving with other area congregations and with congregations of The Episcopal Church. Everybody knows it takes money to operate this Cathedral and you will continue to receive such reports.
These reports are useful indicators of spiritual health and they provide assurances about the fiscal management of resources. But they are not an adequate basis for Christian stewardship, have provided very little motivation for greater generosity, and certainly should never be an excuse for a Christian to withhold what belongs to God.
We give to God because of God’s central place in the stories of our lives. We give to God because God first gives to us. We give to God because we believe that all that we have, whether spent, saved, or given away is a sacred trust from God. We give to God because of our consciousness that we are the only creatures that are created in God's image and entrusted with the divine vocation to be stewards of everything God has provided. Giving to God is our birthright, privilege, and legacy!
Today's generation of worshipers at Saint John's Cathedral have inherited a legacy of generosity and stewardship from those who came before us. But I wonder if we have lost touch with the vision of being a leading parish of The Episcopal Church in our time? Is it possible that this legacy has somehow become a stumbling block instead of a steppingstone? Are we leaning on the endowment to balance our annual budget instead of allowing it to inspire us to new and more generous levels of stewardship?
A common question that is asked by candidates for the role of leadership in endowed congregations is, “How heavily do you depend upon your endowment to balance the budget for the ongoing mission of the parish?” The correct answer is, “ZERO.” At the present time the answer at Saint John's Cathedral would have to be, “Forty percent,” and that's too much.
Now, during this period of transition, this Cathedral community has the opportunity to take the step that will change the answer! The spiritual readiness is here. The resources are here. All that is needed is for the willingness to be stirred up.
That is the reason our Stewardship Commission is inviting us to increase our pledges by at least one percent of our household income. If every member will take this step as a matter of spiritual growth, it will make a remarkable difference in your life and also allow the Cathedral of The Episcopal Church in Colorado to reclaim the vision of leadership entrusted to this generation. Gay and I have accepted that invitation and made our increased pledge. So have others. Won’t you join us?
A great lay leader of another generation said,
The only way to have is to give,
The only way to keep is to share,
And the only thing worth finding is opportunity.
I recognize that some people find that talk in Church about possessions makes them feel uncomfortable. I understand that. But I hope that you will pray for the grace to live with that discomfort long enough to find in this challenge a priceless opportunity for spiritual growth, both for you and for the Church you love.
“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16).
Click HERE to make your pledge today.
I’ll see you in Church!
The Very Reverend Ronald D. Pogue
Saint John's Cathedral