This coming weekend is Consecration Sunday, a day set aside to celebrate stewards of the church as we also make our financial commitments for the coming year. When I lived in Massachusetts, a common practice among area churches was to do a pulpit exchange on Consecration Sunday. Perhaps that way it looked a little less like the preacher was singing for her supper.
Having grown up in a different region, where clergy absolutely preached on Stewardship Sunday, I found this a bit strange. I can still remember a very compelling moment in a Maryland church where my two pastors, both of whom were in their 30s at the time, shared openly about their giving commitments for the coming year. One had come to a place where she and her family were able to move even beyond a tithe; the other, who happened to be married to another clergy person, was not able to give at that level, but was hoping for the first time to give 10% of their after-tax salary that year.
The transparency and detail of these pronouncements may strike New Englanders as strange. After all, aren’t our offerings best made in private, with only God and the financial secretary having access to that information? Yet as a young person also considering ministry, what I witnessed in their honesty was an openness to admitting struggle as well as gratitude. They shared their processes of family discernment, how their thoughts on giving had evolved over time, and how sacrificial giving can look a lot different year to year, or sometimes even paycheck to paycheck.
Women in the Word is currently reading through Alissa Quart’s Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America. Published in 2018, this pre-pandemic volume shares real stories (read: struggles) of the middle class. The title evokes the image of pressure from all sides: get the education (and the debt), do what you love (but don’t expect great pay), raise those kids well (but good luck finding daycare, and if you do, congrats on being an absentee parent!).
For some of us, this might be eye-opening material. For others of us, it’s daily life. So has it been in the church for centuries, and part of the church’s role since its beginning has been to figure out how to alleviate economic pressure among the body. Acts chapter 2 famously mentions that the early believers “shared all things in common,” yet in another place Paul lectures the Corinthian church on their inability to properly share a meal. As I try to instruct my two-year-old on the merits of sharing, I have to remember with some humility that it’s hard for adults, too.
That’s why I so appreciated hearing my clergy share with great transparency about their giving. It is not reasonable to expect that everyone can give the same way all the time, nor that everyone can increase giving levels indefinitely, two messages commonly heard in stewardship season. But both were willing to lead by example, entrusting their resources—and their related struggles—to a body that had nurtured them. For one, that meant being able to give what might be considered “extra.” For another, it meant admitting that the traditional expectation was too much, even if he desired to meet it. The church was blessed by both gifts, but even more so by the honesty of the givers.
I also honor our New England traditions around the privacy of giving and confirm that all pledges made are seen only by our financial secretaries. My spouse and I will be revisiting the conversation once more as we fill out our pledge card this weekend. I pray that you will take the time to do the same. And may we all know the blessing of honest stewardship, received by a God of grace and abundance.