Lately at Westside we've been talking about stewardship. We're even planning to have a Congregational Conversation about it at our next potluck on October 15. I suspect that many of you are like me and don't really have a very clear idea what the word “stewardship” really means. We are probably like the folks Dave Ramsey (a well-known Christian financial advisor) refers to when he quips, “When most people hear the word “stewardship,” they grab their wallet or purse, either to open it or get a firmer grip.”
So I decided to dig a little deeper to try to understand what stewardship is really about. I found out that the word originates from the word “steward.”
A rich person, who wanted to relax and enjoy those riches would hire a steward to manage his property and other assets. The steward was to act as if the property were his or her own, managing it well and cultivating its success, always with the master's best interests at heart. The key relationship between the master and steward was trust—trust given and trust earned. From there the concept has been applied in many other contexts: environment, economics, health, information, theology, and others.
Not surprisingly, churches have energetically adopted the principle of stewardship. The Episcopal Church says that, “Stewardship is about being grateful, responsible stewards of the gifts we receive from God.” They see it as more than just giving money to the church. “It's also about contributing time and talents, and volunteering for ministry and mission. It's about reaching out to build relationships from a perspective of abundance instead of scarcity.”
According to the Methodists, “Giving becomes a celebration when the believer discovers the joy of generosity, which grows out of God's grace.” They maintain that stewardship involves three responsibilities: • Receiving: "We receive with joyful thanksgiving the many gifts that God showers upon us—time, talent, treasure, our bodies, our friendships, natural resources, and the beauty around us. • Managing: "We take good care of what we have received. We manage these resources wisely—for our own good and the good of others." • Giving: "Out of gratitude in receiving so abundantly, we want to share with others.”
We UU's, of course, are a bit uncomfortable with all the God talk, so we translate these concepts to our own sphere of thinking and believing. The author Wayne Clark, quoted on the website of the UUA's Mid-America Conference, defines stewardship as “the growing, nurturing, promoting, and building of the gifts, call, and spiritual vocation of the congregants of a faith community.” The focus shifts from simply conducting a successful canvass campaign to “inculcating a sense of commitment to generosity of spirit,” to “creating a culture of ever increasing generosity.”
Weighty stuff. So, I took a day or two off to think over these inspiring approaches, then decided to write my own personal concept of stewardship as it applies to my relationship with WUUC. Here's what I came up with.
My concept involves three components. The first component is active, conscious recognition of the immense blessings I receive by being part of this church community. In addition to the feeling of sanctuary (safeness, welcome, love) that I find among the members of this community, there's the healthy challenge from having to consider other ways of looking, thinking, and feeling. And there's the nurturing that has improved me and made me a more confident, compassionate, and better person than I was when I first walked through the church doors.
My second component is to try to make sure that I respond to those blessings with feelings of active gratitude, that I make a point of reflecting the blessings I receive back to other members of the church community and even beyond to the larger community. This means being sure that I reach out to make others feel safe, welcomed, gently challenged, nurtured, and loved.
The final component in my concept of stewardship is expanding that generosity of spirit into generosity of action. This means giving my time, talents, energy, and money to help Westside thrive and being grateful for the opportunity to do so. It means cultivating an attitude that makes me happy—positively happy—to share my blessings to help this church become ever stronger and ever more effective in making a difference in our lives, our community, and our world.
Okay. There it is. I've bared my soul and, as usual, I'm embarrassed. So, I challenge each of you to risk embarrassment and think about your own conception of stewardship. Then bring those ideas to the potluck on October 15 so we can all talk together about how to apply them to make Westside even greater than it already is.