Stewardship Witness, by Phil White
November 3, 2013
I am on a spiritual journey. And, this congregation - which I walked into less than a year ago because I wanted to sing Christmas carols one last time before we moved into a new liturgical season - has been a lighthouse pointing the way for me to rise above my limitations and live more fully into my baptismal covenant. Now, before you all write me off as over-wrought, let me explain.
A few weeks ago, when Mary asked me to speak on stewardship and give witness to my faith in front of all of you, she gave me a theme: what would cause Jesus to say "wow" about St Pauls? My first thought was: Hmmm ... Episcopalians are not given to superlatives - we are widely known as God's frozen people, you know. But then I prayed and over a few weeks of thinking, watching our congregation and even jotting notes on my iPhone during Sunday worship (not that I condone such awful conduct) it came to me that this congregation lives into Jesus's teaching in Matthew's Gospel (at 5:16) that you should "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" through its welcoming of new people into its midst. Now, I have visited many an Episcopal church because my wife, Martha, and I like to do that when we travel and because I have done some work for ECD and TAH that has taken me there. But, I have never come to one that so effortlessly opens itself up to new folks - yes, I mean "opens itself" because in every new relationship there is risk on both sides. At St Paul's, I experienced a welcoming that just simply ignored that risk, did not ask questions of me and allowed me into communion with you from the very first time I walked through the glass doors at the back of the sanctuary.
Last December, Martha and I wanted to attend a service of lessons and carols because I like to sing the traditional songs and read the Christmas story - it is after all the beginning of the story of how we are saved by Jesus's triumph over death - something to really sing about - though I suspect that even God cringes when I sing. So, we came here because you guys were singing and reading on a Sunday that worked for us. We were greeted at the door with smiles by people who asked our names, about our family and made us welcome in a social sense. We were sought out at the Peace and were chatted up after the service. So, we came back the next week and got the same treatment - but from people we hadn't met the week before. So, we kept coming without really thinking about why - it just seemed to fit. I could tell you that I loved Mary's sermons - which I do - or the wood filled surroundings - which I do - but I kept coming because you guys kept opening up and pulling me in - not by giving me jobs or even inviting me to pot lucks and Singles and Doubles - but by being genuine in your interest, offer of friendship and warmth.
Your warmth soon became action. Remember that journey I started with - part of it, a huge part of it - is about service to others in recognition that the enormous material gifts and talents God has given me are not mine, but are loaned to me to use as Christ has taught us, in the service of others. By the way, living that way - which is very hard and at which I am woefully inadequate - is what stewardship means to me.
Anyway, in the last few months, this congregation has allowed me the chance to serve it as a whole and many of you individually. You have opened the books to me as part of the team that worked on the team that did the parish audit. Not exactly the stuff of spirituality, but an enormous act of trust - mostly blind trust. By the way, we need money and use it wisely. So, fill out and return those pledge cards.
On a spiritual level, you have allowed me to serve you most intimately through reading the lessons and administering the chalice. For me, that experience is powerful spiritually. I feel a connection with you as I read the scriptures and hold the cup for you - it is both physical in that my spine literally tingles and I feel taken over by God while I walk along the rail and offer you a chance to be in community with each other and with Christians literally around the world, many of whom partake of the same ritual, and also by offering a taste of God's promise of eternal life.
Could Jesus, who calls us to welcome strangers by saying "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matthew 20:40) say anything but "WOW!"