This is being written on March 11. The news is full of scary medical predictions, the store shelves are empty of toilet paper, and we’re all trying to figure out what “social distancing” means. What does any of that have to do with Stewardship?
In the Episcopal Church we have a bad habit of equating Stewardship with the annual pledge campaign, as in “How’d we do with Stewardship this year?” when what we really mean is did we get the same number of pledges as last year. That is not Stewardship: that is the annual pledge campaign. Pretending that Stewardship is just about the annual pledge campaign is a lazy use of language and it cheats us out of something meaningful. Something meaningful that can actually help us in anxious times like these.
Stewardship is the act of being a steward. A steward is a person given responsibility to care for something of value, something we treasure. Stewardship is about taking care of something considered worth caring for and preserving. The word goes back to Old English, and it has retained through all those years the sense of taking care of something that we feel is valuable, something we treasure.
Stewardship starts with the Steward. To be good Stewards, we need to take care of ourselves. That means that when we are going through a stressful health events -- like the current coronavirus -- we need to listen to our doctors and health experts, and follow their advice to help keep ourselves safe. Washing our hands, for a start. Remember when you were on an airplane (when we used to fly!) and you heard, “put the mask on yourself first before trying to assist others”? You are no good to anyone else if you get sick, so wash your hands, get enough sleep, keep yourself safe. First things first.
Once we've committed to taking care of the Steward, let’s think about the people and communities that are important to us. Let’s go back to that definition of Stewardship: the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving. Who is that in your life? What is it? Who and what is something worth caring for and preserving?
Stewardship is about caring for our families, close in and farther out. That includes our church families.
How can we be good Stewards in a time of great anxiety? The specific things you decide to do as a Steward of your church family will vary to the person, but here are a few ideas:
This is a great time to check in on each other - especially those who might fall into a higher risk group. Give them a call. Does your church have a phone directory?* Look through. Who did you not see at church last Sunday? Might they appreciate a call?
How might you show your caring for your church family through helping out, through “time and talent?” Perhaps there’s a task that another church member is no longer able to take on that you could help with.
Maybe there's someone you've meant to thank for the work they do. Why not drop a note or email just sharing your appreciation?
What about your own pledge? Are you on schedule? In times of anxiety people can forget to get their pledge payments in and that can run havoc with a church budget. Bills still need to be paid, and ministries still need to be funded.
Caring for the caregivers. Sometimes we expect our clergy to shoulder the worry and anxiety all themselves. But they need self-care and your concern (and prayers) too. Maybe a call or email to let them know you’re thinking about them?
We all hope we will get back to some sort of normal soon enough, but in the meantime, let’s practice strengthening our “Stewardship muscles.” We’ll all feel a little bit better as a result.
P.S. *Church directories used to be "standard" but in recent years many churches have eliminated any form of printed directory, instead depending on emails or online database. The truth is a printed directory makes getting in touch with each other church members much easier. It also just physically feels like a representation of our community in a way that access to an online directory does not. So when things get back to normal, why not advocate for a printed church directory that gets sent/delivered to all members? It doesn’t have to be extravagant - published from the computer and printed on the copier is perfectly appropriate!
This article is from the March 2020 issue of the Stewardship Matters e-newsletter. Click here to read the full issue.