Stewardship: a hope-filled expression of our faith

Peter Seal, 11 February 2018

2 Corinthians 4: 3–6; Mark 9: 2–9

Today is what we call Stewardship Sunday. It’s an important day when we focus on the gift to the church of our individual time, skills and money. It’s a sensitive day for all of us because these themes touch deep places in each of us. As your parish priest I’m very much ‘in role’ today; part of my calling, and my duty, is to preach regularly about stewardship. I do so with a sense of pride about all we have been able to achieve together these past 16 years.

As you’ll know, I’m absolutely convinced that what we give in the form of our time, skills and money is an expression of our faith commitment.

I send our parish magazine to my aunt each month. Now a widow, and living alone on the Isle of Wight, she thoroughly enjoys reading every page. She always phones me with a comment, an observation or a question. Last month she phoned to say thank you and added, ‘It’s wonderful to see how many people are energised to become involved in so many different ways’. This is a tribute to our collective working together. It gives me the opportunity to say something I need, and truly want, to say in the most heartfelt way I can …

It’s just one phrase, two words: ‘Thank you’. The words are on my lips, but we’re really saying them to one another. It’s as though we’re looking one another in the eye and saying, ‘Thank you for being my sister or brother in Christ; thank you for your part in all we can do and be together, as a church community’. This expression of thanksgiving is at the centre of today. It cannot be overstated.

I heard a bishop describe his diocese as ‘a miracle’. Today I rejoice with you in what we might describe as the miracle of our shared lives together in this place.

It’s a fact that in any voluntary organisation 20% of the members contribute 80% of the time, skills and money. That’s true of us too. This is actually good news! What it means is that there’s always potential for growth and development.

In my years here with you, I’ve seen so many of you grow into deeper commitment, taking on roles you never imagined yourselves doing, and contributing in ways that have brought considerable personal satisfaction – often because of the sacrifice they involve. This is cause for great rejoicing.

I’ve seen so many of you grow into deeper commitment, taking on roles you never imagined yourselves doing, and contributing in ways that have brought considerable personal satisfaction – often because of the sacrifice they involve.

I often find myself saying how fortunate I am to work with many wonderful people with a wide range of gifts and skills; and I add that my task is to be the glue, holding it all together.

I want to offer you two challenges in connection with the gift of your time and skills. First, what I’d like you to do, please, this coming Lent is to reflect on what you already give by way of your time and skills and then to ask, ‘What extra could I give this year, as my contribution to the life of our church communities?’ Put another way, the question is, ‘How do I currently contribute and what might I now be able to offer?’

(I’m conscious that some of you may be saying, ‘I’m already doing so much’. Then the question is, ‘What can I give up doing?’ Of course, there are times to give things up, and times to do something different.)

And secondly, something about prayer. I know that there are many ways to pray and that we each need to work out what is most effective for us, within the context of our respective lives. But praying for our church communities is something we should all feel we want to do. Prayerfully reading through the weekly welcome sheet is one way of engaging with this. Another is to join the midweek e-mail for specific prayer needs, which Kathleen Freeman kindly compiles and circulates. Details are on the welcome sheet.

Just as important as our time and skills is the gift of our money. I feel as though I’m walking a tightrope this year because of our Building for Life fund-raising appeal.

As a parish we’re engaged with two distinct but closely related financial needs. It’s as though we’re a two-cylinder financial engine, with two pistons firing in a complementary way. The first piston is what today is all about – let’s call it our ‘housekeeping’ – that is, running this parish. This year’s budget is £217,000; that’s £4,200 each week. Two-thirds of this comes from what we call ‘regular giving’, with the added gift aid. That’s the money 162 of you generously give each month. The balance comes from collections, donations and hiring out the facilities and car park at St Paul’s.

By way of a reminder: the Church of England has long suggested that Christians might give 5% of their income to the church and 5% as other charitable giving. I know from what you have said to me that there are a few people in our congregations committed to this biblical guideline. What I want to do again today is to commend this biblical guideline to you all. I commend it to you as a target figure.

I feel that I can do this with personal integrity … I confess that it’s taken me very many years, but I reached this target in my church giving last year and have recently increased my giving for this year. As the saying goes: practise what you preach!

To balance the books this year we need to increase our income by 5%.

The second piston of our financial engine is Building for Life. I’m very aware that we’re in the middle of a major fund-raising programme to enable us to realise our vision. I know that many of you have responded to this very generously. Some of you have made an additional monthly commitment to the separate Building for Life fund. Thank you very much. I completely understand that some of you may feel you have made as large a financial commitment as you can, at the moment.

The bigger picture for us, as a parish, is that, by God’s grace and guidance, we as a church community are not only one of the larger churches in our diocese, with all the day-to-day expenditure that requires, but we are also committed to re-ordering St Paul’s so that it becomes both a place for dignified worship and a community resource serving this community and beyond for many decades to come.

By way of a reminder: the gift of money for our church community is part of our faith commitment. What we give is one way of saying, ‘I believe in God, I believe in Jesus Christ, I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in what we’re doing and being together, I believe there is a future for our local churches; I believe you, Lord God, are calling me to be part of that exciting future’.

In conclusion, stewardship – the gift of our time, skills and money – is perhaps best seen as a life-giving, hope-filled expression of our faith.