Stewarship (2003)

After the stewardship chair and the parish administrator – two of my favorite “church ladies” – asked me to speak and write about stewardship, I was forced to ponder three questions:

1) What is my concept of stewardship?
2) Am I a good steward?
3) Why did I agree to do it?

It would be a gross understatement to say that my concept of stewardship has evolved over the years.

My first thoughts about stewardship go back to when I was a 6-year-old at Tallowwood Baptist Church. I remember the thinking about the story of the widow putting her two pennies in the collection box. I thought I must be a pretty good steward because I put a quarter in the plate every Sunday – whether I wanted to or not. Of course that quarter was handed to me by my dad each Sunday expressly for that purpose.

By my seventh grade year, my life had changed quite a bit. My mom and dad had divorced and each had remarried. My “family” was then my mom and step-dad and my younger brother and two younger stepbrothers. The blessing of my parents’ divorce was that my mom married Tom Sayre. More than anyone else, Tom shaped – by many examples and a few words – the way I think about stewardship and a lot of other things today.

During that seventh grade year, my family joined Gethsemane United Methodist Church. Over the next few years, my stepfather became very active there in a sort of Junior Warden capacity. By then I was giving more and the money I was giving was money that I had earned throwing papers and mowing lawns. It was there at Gethsemane that I first began to understand where the money was going (although I still didn’t really understand where it came from). I also began to understand that time was something that I could and should give the church. I helped my step-dad with some of his projects, filled the coke machine, and worked with a preschool Sunday school class – but I didn’t think of those things as stewardship; they were just things I did following the example of my step-dad. And, for the most part, they were fun.

When I was in college at UH, I was still a member of Gethsemane. At that time I began to pledge and, for the first time, I began to understand why pledging was important. Up until then, I had thought stewardship was just putting money in the plate. I had no conception of budgeting and the need to be able to predict how much income was coming in. I still went with my step-dad on days when he had projects at the church and I worked with the junior high youth and sang in the choir – but I still didn’t think of those things as stewardship.

While still at Gethsemane, life changed again and I got married. Much to my surprise, stewardship became a point of conflict in my marriage. My wife thought I gave too much money to the church and I thought I didn’t give enough. She thought I spent too much time away from her doing church related things. I thought she should join me in doing those things. I talked with my step-dad about the money part of the conflict. He told me to have faith that God would provide me with what I needed to give. He was right; nevertheless, it was – and still is – hard for me to trust that it will “all work out.”

When I was 27, I began attending Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church and subsequently became an Episcopalian. While a member of Palmer, I began to think of stewardship in terms of money and time. I had a flexible schedule then so I had more free time during the week. In addition to pledging, I began to serve as a lay reader reading morning prayer a couple of times a week. The last several months I was at Palmer, I worked with the alter guild. Being male, I was resented at first but they figured out pretty quickly that I was good for moving heavy stuff around. And, fortunately for both Palmer and me, they thought better of turning me loose on the linens with an iron.

During my time at Palmer, I first heard the formulations “All things come of thee, O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” and “Time, Talent, and Treasure.” After many hearings, the first statement finally sank in. All of the second formulation – my “time, talent, and treasure” – originates in God and his grace. No matter what I give or do, I am only giving back part of what He gave to me. As to “Time, Talent, and Treasure”, I was giving some of my treasure and I was giving some of my time. But how did my talent fit in? What talent did I have? What could I do or give that no one else could or would? I’m a wine buyer, writer, and educator. I used to do layout work for Spec’s newsletters and before that for wine lists and menus. How could my career and my secular life more fully contribute to the church and my spiritual life? What “talent” could I bring to the table?

As I worked with page layout software on computers every day, I was able to get involved with laying out Palmer’s newsletter, “The Palmer”. Eventually I began to write some articles for that newsletter. While working with the altar guild at Palmer, I realized that directly or indirectly, somebody was providing the wine and thought, ”Why not me?” By writing and providing the wine and beginning to serve as a lay Eucharistic minister administering the chalice, I finally felt that my secular life and my spiritual life connected. I was able to begin to connect my living into the service of God.

Not too long back, my mom and step-dad went to the funeral of man they’d gone to church with for almost 30 years. I saw my parents afterward. My step-dad told me about something that this man had done each week for many years for Gethsemane that had been mentioned at the funeral. Something in his tone somehow said this thing wasn’t enough – that this fellow could have – should have – done more. Although I was a bit irritated with my step-dad for seeming to criticize this man, it made me think that I didn’t want my legacy in my friends’ and families’ memories to be “He didn’t do enough.”

 

So to the here and now:

I’m a forty-five-year-old divorced father of two who works as a wine buyer, wine writer, and wine educator. I am blessed with lots of fine friends, a great family, and a busy life. Am I a good steward? In a word – “No.”

But I’m a better steward now than I have been. I pledge. I don’t pledge as much as I’d like but I pledge enough that sometimes I wonder, while I am writing the check, where the money will come from. And I no longer have anyone but myself to blame for not giving more.

In providing the wine for communion and in my role as a lay reader and lay Eucharistic minister, I feel like my secular life and spiritual life are more connected. In writing the occasional article for Epiphany’s newsletter, the writer and educator in me connects as well. By driving my sons to acolyte practice and to church on the weekends I have them, maybe I’m beginning to pass on to them some of what my stepfather showed me.

As to that third question way back at the beginning of this talk – “Why did I agree to do this?” In an odd way, this too is a form of stewardship.

 

In the now, Stewardship means more. Instead of just being something to think about in October, Stewardship has become something that works on me – both on my mind and on my actions – throughout the year. After all, I’ve been thinking about – or more accurately worrying about – this morning since “the church ladies” first approached me back in June.

Am I doing enough? Am I giving back enough? No … but I think, and hope, and pray that, with guidance from God, both directly and through all of you, I understand more and, at the least, am headed in the right direction.

– Charles M. Bear Dalton

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