In just a little over a month Americans of all persuasions, living all across the country, have the opportunity to engage in one of the most important civic actions any citizen can perform: we have the opportunity, and the right, to vote. In casting our individual ballets we have the astonishing privilege of having a say in who we want to be as Americans, in the kind of country we want to create together, in what our future might look like as a people.
It’s also true that, starting in just over ten days’ time, you will have the opportunity to do much the same thing here at the Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church, if on a smaller scale. In churches people tend to vote with their wallets, and starting on Sunday, October 14, you will have the chance to do just that, when we invite you to make a pledge in support of the ongoing ministries of this church.
The team that has been planning the specifics of this year’s stewardship season, including our themes and our goals, will soon be sharing those details with you directly. We have agreed that this is their work to do — their duty and their joy — so in lieu of detailing that information here, let me instead share a personal story. It’s about why I am part of what surely is a tiny minority of people who looks forward every year to this season on the church calendar.
In a recent meeting here at church, someone expressed the view that stewardship season is all about money. This is of course the way most of us see and understand stewardship. Indeed, this view is implicit in the remarks I myself made earlier in this article. But money is the least interesting part of this story.
Before I went to seminary, I worked as the director of the major donor and foundations department of a Christian non-profit. As you might surmise from my title, my work was mainly focused on building our cadre of donors who were willing and able to make major gifts to the organization. Yes, money was part of the mix. Money bought the cement and hand-pumps we used to install fresh-water wells in rural Uganda. It paid for the vaccines and malaria medicines we distributed to rural health clinics in Ethiopia. It provided the capital we used to provide micro-loans to small-scale entrepreneurs (mostly women) in Bangladesh, and the seed we made available to subsistence-level farmers in Kenya and Mozambique who lost their harvests to draught or elephants or bandits. And of course a percentage of these gifts also paid my salary and the salary of everyone who worked at Partners International. But what really mattered in these exchanges was not money but the work itself; the work we were able to do together — our donors, our staff, and our partners overseas: the work of changing lives, building capacity and creating hope.
In my role, I happily asked for significant gifts because I believed in the cause. I saw the effect those gifts had in the field, in the lives of the people living in the communities with which we partnered in the ongoing work of making God’s love real and creating hope in some of the world’s toughest places, where hope was sometimes hard to find. And more often than not, our donors generously responded to these requests because that was the kind of work, and the kind of change, they felt good about helping to effect.
So, yes, in the weeks to come you’ll see the details of our challenge budget for next year, and you’ll get a pledge card. That’s the part about money.
But over the course of stewardship season, we plan to focus on the larger story in play during this season and beyond — a story not about money but about the ways your gifts and pledges help us bring God’s love to life and to create hope here in our beautiful corner of the world.
So, if you like a good story, stay tuned! It’s coming soon . . .