It’s “stewardship season” at our tiny church.
“Stewardship season” is Christianese for what other voluntary organizations call “the annual fund drive.”
Various members get tapped to stand up and say “what stewardship means to me,” hopefully to good and inspiring effect. After three or four weeks of that, plus a couple of letters, we collect pledges, add them up, and see what we can afford to do during the coming year.
Here’s the “minute for stewardship” from this past Sunday:
Perseverance. What my mom and grandmother used to call “stick-to-it-iveness.” That quality of keeping on keeping on, of continuing until the job is done. In old-fashioned language, “steadfastness.”
These days, that’s what stewardship means to me. It means persevering.
I say “these days,” because just yesterday I saw a shocking statistic – as I was scrolling through some social media on my phone I read that according to Barna Research Group, a respected source of data on churches and their relationship to the culture, 1 in 5 churches in the US will close their doors permanently as a consequence of this COVID-19 pandemic.
1 in 5 churches will not be able to persevere.
And we probably know why, too, because we’re going through the same challenges ourselves these days: we’ve been meeting “online” now for months, and it feels different. Even though the sanctuary is open on Sunday mornings, for many of us it feels too risky to sit in a room with other people, even in a spacious sanctuary with all its beauty and memories, even with people we know and care about and love, even for worship, where whoever we are, and wherever we are on life’s journey, we can meet God.
It’s easy to feel that the church is “on pause.”
But we know that this church is a living reality, that needs our care – our stewardship. Because stewardship is caring for living things – like keeping plants healthy even during a drought – like feeding a family. And caring for living things includes paying the bills.
We need perseverance to pay our caring pastor to keep worship alive, to pay our music director who keeps music playing, to pay our office manager who sends us weekly worship packets and communicates with us, to pay the old light bill, and the new faster wifi bill, to pay to support the local, national and international work of the body of Christ, that goes on reaching people who are struggling.
Stewardship, perseverance, demands that we see the connections between our pledges and the worship we attend over YouTube, the Bible study or the book group we connect with on Zoom, the virtual shop a lot that can get real physical food into the hands of real hungry people, the caring, loving pastor who’s just a call or a text away.
Stewardship means paying the price to be one of those 4 out of 5 churches that will persevere through these days, that survives, and by faith and hope and love, more than survives: keeps on bringing new life to people who need to meet God, whoever they are, wherever they are on life’s journey.
Staying alive. Keeping on. Perseverance. That’s stewardship. And it is as old as the church itself.
As Paul told the Corinthian Christians, in 1 Corinthians 15:58:
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
People need this church. So let’s be one of those 4 out of 5 churches. Let’s persevere. Let’s pledge generously this year.
This year’s financial picture looks fairly dismal, actually, according to our Treasurer, thanks to the loss of revenue from many sources associated with the response to COVID-19. There were weeks when Sunday morning worship was only online; after that, attendance at in-person worship has been way, way down; we aren’t letting outside groups use the building and pay for the privilege; fundraising events, like a holiday bazaar, are on hold. It adds up.
Plus, the normal things, like people dying or moving out of state, keep happening, pandemic or no. Most of us think first about how those things affect our relationships. But then, they affect the budget, too.
What it will all turn out to mean for our tiny congregation, practically, God alone knows. We remain hopeful. And for now, carry on with “stewardship season.”