24 September 2000
As the trees put on their fall colors, I am reminded that this is the traditional time of year for "stewardship campaigns" in the Episcopal Church.
I grew up in a small-town church in Wyoming and so had a child's eye view of the Episcopal Church. Stewardship drives happened every year and were mysterious things to my young self. Notices would go up on the boards along a theme. The one I remember in particular involved saddlebags being passed from one Stewardship lead to the next. Depending on the year, there were either pledges, commitments, or goals.
As I grew into an awkward teenager I realized there were two sub-texts to the steward ship campaigns. The first message was that the church is a corporate structure with obligations. The second message was that each person has gifts and is supposed to be a good steward of those gifts.
Both of these messages have given me problems over the years.
The "corporate message" seemed hypocritical to me. It takes a lot of money to build a church, maintain the buildings and grounds, and pay a priest. And who benefits from having the building? The congregation. As a teenager I felt it would be more sensible to have a membership fee to support the budget. Why not be honest with ourselves (one of my favorite phrases when I was sixteen) and admit that the church is for our own benefit and plan accordingly?
The “gift message” was even more agonizing. I remember talking to my mother and saying that I had no identifiable gifts. I remember dreading stewardship campaigns that included asking me which of my gifts I would use for the church that year. It was depressing to look at that blank page and not be able to think of a single thing to write down. I felt poor in spirit and overlooked by god.
What I have realized by reflecting on my stewardship past, is that my whole notion of stewardship underwent a transformation as I walked the path to adulthood.
The stewardship that I claim as my own is much larger than just supporting the Episcopal Church financially. My stewardship is acted out every day of my life. It has influenced my choice of profession, encouraged me to value relationships, and motivated me to grow into myself by realizing that no one else can do the job of being uniquely myself.
Stewardship defines my relationship to god-because even on those days that I do not believe in god or cannot relate to the Christ figure-stewardship guides my feet on the path.
My name for stewardship is the Holy Spirit and the Spirit is with me all my days.