Giving to church has changed in some ways since I was confirmed in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1997. Judson accepts gifts in the time-honored forms of cash and checks, of course, but plenty of people donate via Venmo, and we break up our yearly pledge into monthly credit card payments. So I rarely find myself digging in my wallet for cash to stuff an envelope the way I did when I was a teenager. But I gave, obviously in paltry amounts, from a young age, as the daughter of a church treasurer who reminded me that churches were not exempt from the demands of Pennsylvania Power and Light or the elevator repair service. Unsexy though that may sound, it’s still a stewardship narrative, and as the year leans towards an end, there’s no shortage of them around our church and many others.
Valerie invoked what she called “a collective memory of blessings” in her message this morning to develop her own stewardship narrative, one that gets to the heart of how giving to a community is expressive of the ways we belong to it. Prayer often begins as an expression of personal blessing: thanks for family, friends, health. But because we belong to a community that blesses us in different ways, we express our gratitude for that blessing by giving back. For so many folks at Judson, it’s about belonging to a kind of place, a church, to which we thought we could never belong, or never belong in an authentic way.
It’s why, I think, the church that looks for ways to exclude rather than include is the doomed church, spiritually and practically. With every generation at Judson, and at churches that are similarly inclined to wonder how to grow their collective memory and collective blessings, more and more people find ways and reasons to belong. Valerie invoked the memory that is older than anyone currently sitting in the Meeting Room: a tradition of outreach to immigrants concurrent with the history of the church as a whole; a place of safety for sex workers, addicts, and persons with HIV/AIDS; a commitment to dismantling racist structures in church and in the broader society. For the folks who belong to us, and for those who want to belong to something, and for the belonging we experience when we walk into our beautiful space, we give. And the amount matters less than the act itself, as no less an authority than Jesus would remind us.
I’m thankful to belong to Judson, spiritually and practically, to belong to a place that is looking to broaden that circle of belonging. I’m happy to broaden that circle, and to keep our (still new!) lights on.