by the Rev. Ralph F. Howe, Jr., St. James, Baton Rouge
I am one of those unusual people that grew up in the Episcopal Church. I have been told that this is a rare thing, that most Episcopalians have come from other denominations. For me though, the Episcopal Church has always been part of who I am. I remember, vividly, standing on kneelers as a child at St. James in Baton Rouge, and pulling myself up on the back of the pew in front of me, so I could see the altar. I remember a small church “bank”, placed in the path up to the rail, where coins could be placed in a slit in the top, and where people of all ages would come up on their birthdays to insert the same number of pennies as years they had lived. All of us had “mite boxes” during Lent, and even throughout the year, to collect for the church.
I am not sure when it was that I went from thinking that giving was a duty to the point where I believed that giving was a source of joy. Perhaps it came from my father who taught me that the things we had were never really ours in the first place, but were “on loan from God”. Perhaps it changed when things that I thought were so important to my life became objects that needed to be taken to the local charity, a garage sale, or the garbage can. Perhaps it came from a couple, Billy and Elaine, who first told me about the tithe, and how it had changed their lives.
Growing up in the church, I have seen all sorts of stewardship campaigns, Every Member Canvasses, and various ways to encourage people to give. I remember, as a young child, hearing about people, representing the church and going from home to home with pledge cards, and hearing of people hiding behind the curtains of their front windows so they did not have to have the “stewardship conversation”.
I guess I see my giving in a different light. I see it as a thanksgiving. My family has gone through issues of death, miscarriages, cancer, fear, stress, and a million other things that have caused pain in our hearts, but we have always been appreciative of a loving God in our lives. I don’t give because of a sense of duty. I don’t give because of pressure from an outside source. I give because I am thankful. I give because we are called to love others, and in giving, the Church can carry out its mission.
We often we ask why the world has become so crazy. As Christians, we have an incredible message to pass on to the rest of the world. We need to help that occur by giving of ourselves with our time, our special talents, and our treasure—all three.
I am constantly aware of those that came before me that gave of their time and talents, serving on committees to help the church run, teaching me in Sunday School classes, feeding me at covered dish dinners, pulling weeds in the church flower beds, setting the altar, polishing silver, and hundreds of other things to keep the church running. I am also aware of those who cared so much for the church that they gave sacrificially so the mission could continue. I am aware of those who felt that their faith was more, or at least as important, as anything else. Stewardship, for me, is something deep in my soul. It is what I have to do to spread the gospel. It is taking what God has given me, and using to let others know about the love of Christ. It is something that cannot be short-changed.
The Rev. Ralph Howe, Jr. is the Senior Associate Rector and Day School Chaplain at St. James Episcopal Church, and a member of the Stewardship Congregational Consultants.
Our Congregational Consultant teams are comprised of knowledgeable lay and ordained individuals from throughout the diocese. These teams have experience and training in areas that are critical to congregational vitality and they are available to serve our congregations in a variety of ways. For more information, contact the Rev. Canon John Kellogg at firstname.lastname@example.org.