Letter to Clergy from Interim Bishop
Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”(Luke 6:38)
I can still remember the time when a man from the “Every Member Canvass” team of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Darien, came to our door and said that he had come to talk about stewardship and our financial giving to the church. I was horrified – the very idea that this person, whom we barely knew, would want to talk about something so intensely personal was highly offensive. It was as if he had stopped by, unannounced, to talk about my personal hygiene or lack thereof! We listened to his presentation as politely as we could but were greatly relieved when he left. The truth was that I had never even thought about giving to the church – at our home church in England I would always be vaguely surprised when the offering plate was passed and put in it whatever spare coins I could find in my pocket. The idea that more was required was a brand - new concept, but to go from giving a few coins to giving a tenth of our income to the church seemed like a foolish impossibility. What were we to do? Over the next few weeks Angela and I spent hours talking, reading, and praying about this question.
We studied the key Bible references ... going all the way back to that strange encounter with that mysterious character Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20), when Abraham gave him a tenth of all that he possessed. We realized that the practice of tithing had very little to do with supporting the church budget and much more to do with acknowledging that we are all stewards of God’s amazing gifts. This is made clear by that familiar offertory sentence, “All things come of thee, oh Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.” (1 Chronicles 29:14) We were also reminded by the Apostle Paul that our giving must NOT be done reluctantly or under compulsion – for God loves a cheerful giver! (2 Corinthians 9:6-7) And so we struggled, but eventually we decided to step out in somewhat shaky faith and see what happened. I did the calculations, and we wrote our first tithe check – it was the biggest donation that we had ever made! We made it through the first couple of months, but as the year’s end approached, we knew that we would not be able to pay all of our bills. Then, to my astonishment, Mobil Oil announced that they would be giving me an unprecedented year-end bonus! I was stunned – this meant that we would be able to keep tithing and still cover all of our expenses! Since that year we have never looked back. Nor have we had any more bonuses, but we have continued to tithe, and we have never lacked for God’s provision.
Perhaps the greatest blessing is that our own children and grandchildren have witnessed God’s faithfulness through all this, and it has shaped their own discipleship. We have many family stories about God’s provision – some of them are very small and some enormous! During our time at seminary, money was very tight, but after a summer of Clinical Pastoral Education at the Washington Children’s Hospital I decided that we needed a break, so Angela and I, with our four children ages five to ten, spent a weekend at Virginia Beach. We had budgeted very carefully, but on the final night disaster struck – the waitress misunderstood and our meal cost too much, leaving us only $4.00 for all of the next day’s meals and our trip home! We made it through breakfast and lunch on leftovers but sitting on the beach I felt very sorry for myself. It got worse when our seven-year-old daughter said she was very, very hungry.
It was not long after this that I got into a conversation with a woman I had noticed earlier reading her Bible on the beach. She told me that she had become a Christian two months earlier and it had changed her life. After a brief time of sharing, we resumed our separate activities. About an hour later, Angela and I started to collect our things to leave when the woman came over to say goodbye. She announced very simply that the Lord had impressed upon her that she should give us something for our journey home – I was stunned and humbled when she presented me with $15.00! How could she know that we were desperate? We all drove home praising the Lord for His faithfulness.
Another time we were feeling desperate because I had accepted a call to be the Rector of All Angels’ Church in New York City and quickly discovered that finding a school for our daughter Rachel was almost impossible. The public schools warned us that they would not be able to guarantee her physical safety and a nearby church school told us that they had no provision for children with special needs. We prayed fervently and were introduced to the Cooke Foundation at Sacred Heart School on the lower West Side – an area sometimes called “Hell’s Kitchen”! We discovered that it was exactly the kind of program where Rachel would thrive ... but it would cost $12,000 annually – money that we simply didn’t have. Then long-time friends of ours, who had heard of our dilemma, called and told us that they had been praying and agreed that they would cover the next three years’ tuition! It was an enormous blessing to realize that Hell’s Kitchen had become the place where we witnessed Heaven’s Gift.
And so, it continues ... we know that we possess nothing, that all that we have is a gift; we are God’s stewards of everything. And this doesn’t just apply to our finances but to every aspect of our lives, including creation itself! We have come to see that tithes and offerings are an act of worship through which we remind ourselves of this vital truth. One of my early mentors told us that we cannot out-give God,and we know that is true.
Whatever you do, work heartily,as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.You are serving the Lord Christ.(Colossians 3:23,24)
Your brother in Christ,