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Transformational Living...and Giving

In one of the final assignments for this summer’s Money and Mission of the Church course, I asked students to make a Top Ten list of stewardship takeaways from the semester. While students certainly spoke about ways to ask for funds, most of the lists began and ended with theology. Like Erin Weber-Johnson’s essay today, students emphasized God’s creation and provision, and how we might live with what God has entrusted to our care. The lists were powerful testimonies of God’s work in the world, in the classroom, and on students’ hearts. What makes your Top Ten stewardship principles? How is your life being transformed by giving?  

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders 

Transformational Living…and Giving

Erin Weber-Johnson

“There are the kinds of practices that the church's people engage in over and over again, because they are practices that constitute being the church, practices to which God calls us as Christians. They are, likewise, practices that place people in touch with God’s redemptive activity, that puts us where life in Christ may be known, recognized, experienced and participate in. They are means of grace…”
Craig Dykstra in Growing in the Life of Faith

Summer Stands

In my neighborhood, July and August are peak lemonade stand times. Last weekend, I counted no less than three within my block alone. Small entrepreneurs make their fortunes on loose change while I drink my fill of powdery water.

One six-year-old from my faith community named Meredith put out her own lemonade stand to make money, not for a personal goal, but to donate to her parish.  Recently, Saint John the Evangelist Episcopal Church voted to sponsor a refugee family. News came this week that the family was coming, from Myanmar. With stories of millions displaced by war and violence, Saint John’s felt called to live out their faith by caring for a family that for nine years lived in a tent in a refugee camp in Thailand.

Meredith heard about the plight of refugees in church and her parents kept the conversation going at home, and she decided to do something to help. When her mom asked her why she felt inspired to give back, Meredith said “Because this family has nothing!” Her lemonade stand was a manifestation of her own faith and desire to care for others. Boldly she asked others to join her in giving--and it inspired generosity in return. By the end of the weekend, she had made over twenty-five dollars. Her mom reports that she even threw in two weeks of her own allowance.

Ministry of Invitation

I've worked in fundraising, specifically in the context of churches, for over seven years at the Episcopal Church Foundation. I spend a lot of time thinking about why people donate their money and other resources. I'm often asked how I can continue to do this work.  I am specifically asked what sustains me in the work of asking people for money, over and over.

Fundraising as a ministry is a practice that becomes a space for conversion. When invited to give to God, the giver becomes part of, as Dkystra describes, God’s redemptive activity. In the course of giving, and inviting others to give, this practice is, in of itself, grace. It is an opportunity for transformation -- both personal and communal. Our giving changes us, and it changes the world around us.

Open to All  

Transformational giving, as a practice, isn't limited to our children.

Years ago I was working with a church on a capital campaign. Many in that community were on restricted incomes. Yet, that January, the roof quite literally fell in, and a capital campaign became a must. When thinking about giving to a capital campaign, potential gifts come from extraordinary sources of income. These extraordinary gifts don't take the place of a parishioner's ordinary annual gift. They are in addition to it. 

Following my explanation of this to a group of leaders, a man approached me in his late 70's. He noted that he was living on his monthly social security check and that he pretty much gave as much as he could to the church in his annual pledge. 

As I was thanking him for his sacrificial annual giving, his face brightened and he interrupted me. He stated that twice a week he went out for coffee with a group of local guys and threw dice. I admit that at that moment I was afraid of where he was headed with this train of thought.

“I'm willing to give up my coffee money for two years as a gift for the campaign.”

Oh, he still would get together with his guys and bet his pennies. But he was willing to drink water instead of coffee and risk his friends’ teasing. To this day, this man’s gift serves as an example of giving for me.

Lemonade stands and coffee money. Beautiful manifestations of God’s grace among us.

For More Information

Erin Weber-Johnson works as Program Director for Strategic Resources at the Episcopal Church Foundation. In her current capacity she works with Church leaders to faithfully answer the following questions, “What is God calling this organization to be/do?” and “How do we respond?”

Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, October 17-20, 2016. For more information

Practical Resources for Churches is offering several webinars on Stewardship & Finance this fall. To see individual topics, and to sign up, visit their website.

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

Lemonade Stand image by Patrick, Creative Commons Image on Flickr.

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