I was raised by parents whose faith was very much at the core of their being. They held leadership roles at church, brought us to church family camp, sent us to church youth camp as teens, encouraged us in social action and service, and wrote religious education curricula for youth and adults. Their religious education materials for parents drew upon their own dilemmas in raising 5 children. At the time we were mortified but now these books bring much laughter as we see ourselves through our parents’ eyes and how they used our conflicts and misbehavior as a teaching tool for other parents. Just imagine reading about the time you picked the prize flowers out of the neighbor’s garden which they had intended for entry into a flower show. Imagine knowing that your childish misbehavior was being used for teaching discussions about parenting from a faith perspective.
My parents had us each give a weekly offering and they also tithed which meant they pledged 10% of their income to the church. They were even audited multiple years by the IRS because apparently tithing is not the norm. I internalized the importance of generosity of spirit and support of one’s beliefs.
As an adult, the faith I was raised in was not quite the right fit for me but being involved with a faith community was important. Each time I visited a UU church I was captivated. When I took a very part-time clerical job at All Souls Church, I decided to attend and was hooked. This was during a time of fully lay-led operations and I was amazed at the rich variety of services and activities, the thought-provoking discussions and the energy of the congregation. I was invited to participate fully, which I did.
However, I was quite taken aback when I received a call to ask me to pledge. In truth, I was probably a bit irritated. I had forgotten about my family’s weekly offerings and the tithing of my parents. Like many in our culture I was not yet comfortable talking with others about money or being asked to give. I was in a new job and had never thought about the finances of the church. I believe I made a small one-time gift. It made sense to me to give to the church. As a newly employed young adult I had started giving to numerous groups and causes which I wanted to support.
Moving forward I’ve been involved in conversations about giving in multiple contexts:
- In my work and volunteerism with various human service organizations I was often responsible for soliciting gifts from community supporters and grantors. I learned to think about philanthropy as a way to live out our values through generosity.
- In my ongoing professional education I took courses in philanthropy and received graduate certificates in development and fundraising.
- And at All Souls Church I began to participate in many Stewardship Campaigns. One time, our Stewardship process involved each person speaking with another member of the congregation about their financial commitment to the church. That year, we were all on the Stewardship Team. At other times we have had small group discussions in people’s homes over tea and cookies or wine and cheese. We’ve had luncheons and large group conversations at the church. We’ve had teams that visited and called upon each individual connected with the church. I’ve participated in each of these activities. Sometimes the conversations were awkward, perhaps because people had the same discomfort with talking about money that I had had years before. But most often these conversations were wonderful as people began to share with others why All Souls is important to them.
I’ve come to understand my own Stewardship commitment to All Souls Church as being in a realm very different from my charitable donations. All of my gifts — to human services, advocacy and environmental organizations – express my values and I support the missions of each of these groups.
However, my commitment to All Souls is so much larger in scope as it engages my full self. I am inspired through worship and my interactions with members of this community. I grow when I give of my time and take on new volunteer challenges at church. I have experienced some very supportive and long-term friendships. I have found counsel and solace when needed. I have celebrated life changes for myself and others in this community. I was married here and raised my children in this church. I was grateful that they were able to participate in interfaith service trips, just as I had done in my youth. My involvement with All Souls Church is not a Sunday experience; it encompasses my daily life. When I am not actively participating in a particular church activity I am still conscious of my own desire to embrace and live out the 7 Principles which is not always easy as most of you know.