This is a letter addressed to St. Matthew's Episcopal Church on the occasion of the Parish's 2017 Stewardship Campaign. You can find the St. Matthew's Spiritual Life Pledge here.
The Last Sunday After Pentecost: Christ the King
November 20, 2016
My Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Traditionally, Episcopal churches like St. Matthew’s spend time in October or November talking about financial stewardship as they prepare their budgets for the following year. This is an important exercise in parish life because we do need money to accomplish many of our ministry goals each year.
Stewardship campaigns can become a bit stale, however. This is especially true when they focus exclusively on money or, God forbid, maintaining the non-essential expenses of the parish. We do not want to raise money simply to uphold the parish institution, pay salaries, and maintain the status quo.
Aware of this temptation, The Stewardship Committee and I worked together to re-imagine our parish’s 2017 pledge campaign. The key for us is that everything St. Matthew’s does must fit into the mission and ministry of God’s Holy Church. Money on its own is too narrow of a focus. We must begin with the deeper truths of our faith.
We believe that God established the Church to share the Good News that Jesus is our Heavenly King. Jesus welcomed the outcast, loved the unlovable, and forgave the unforgivable. He tore down the divisions between people and called us to joy, gratitude, and reconciliation. Jesus is loving, liberating, and life-giving. If Jesus is the perfect image of the Father, then God is very good. That is Good News!
With that mission in mind, the question before the Stewardship Committee was this: How can St. Matthew’s Church become a community that helps each individual and family learn to follow King Jesus more closely?
The truth is that the possibilities are endless, but one way we can start is to take a good hard look at ourselves. In our pledge campaign this year, we are providing the people of St. Matthew’s with the opportunity to take some extra responsibility for our spiritual lives. We are offering a chance to look at ourselves in the mirror and examine what we see in the light of Christ.
We are calling it a “Spiritual Life Pledge” because we invite you to re-imagine your spiritual lives as more than simply time in prayer and worship. And we want the parish to re-imagine its finances and time commitments as fundamentally spiritual acts. We want you to look at your whole life, not just your finances, as you consider the ways you can grow and commit to God in 2017.
The Pledge begins with remembering our baptism. In baptism, we die to sin and rise to freedom and new life in Christ. We turn to Jesus Christ as our Rock and Foundation. Baptism is our blessed assurance of God’s promise to us. In it we commit to receiving Christian teaching, enjoying the fellowship and sacraments of the Church, and praying for our community, the Church, and the world. Those are the obvious “spiritual” parts of life. But moreover, God calls us to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 305), to love our neighbors as our ourselves, and to strive for justice and peace among all people. These are very active spiritual practices!
Then we move toward finances, because as King Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). We ask you to put money toward the mission and ministry of St. Matthew’s and the whole Episcopal Church because we want to have hearts for mission and ministry. We want to align ourselves with the Jesus Movement that has been building for 2000 years. And we want to pour our resources toward that work as far as we are able.
The “Financial Commitment” section contains a few categories for donation that I would like to explain. General Operations is simply that—all the standard expenses we use for day-to-day parish life. This ranges from power bills and staff salaries to liturgical items and our Diocesan tithe. The Seminarian’s Fund is our annual commitment to support Gerald DeWayne Cope in his studies at Virginia Theological Seminary. We have promised to send $5000.00 each school year until his graduation in Spring 2018, and cash offerings on 5th Sundays automatically go toward this fund. The Priest’s Discretionary Fund is used to care for the needs of the poor, and cash offerings on 1st Sundays automatically contribute to this fund. Finally, the Capital Building Campaign is intended to help us maintain, repair, and upgrade part of our facilities that have been neglected in the past.
In total, we encourage every family or individual to try to give at least a tithe (10%) of their income to this church or other charitable organizations. It is up to you to prayerfully discern how you will spread that giving.
Finally, the pledge asks you to think about how you spend your time in this parish. There is a list of most of the ministries that are currently available to you at St. Matthew’s. We ask you to recommit to what you have done and to commit anew to what you would like to do. Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list of ministry opportunities. There are plenty of other ways to serve the Lord and love our neighbor inside and outside these walls. And if you want to write those down on the pledge too, please do so.
This is all about building our spiritual lives. We want to be a community of vibrant, excited, mature disciples. If there is any way that I or a member of the Vestry can support you in this assessment and re-commitment, please feel free to contact us.
Please bring your completed pledges to church on December 11, 2016, the Second Sunday of Advent. We will invite the congregation to bring their pledges up to the altar as a special offering of commitment to God. If you cannot attend in person on December 11, please mail the pledges to the church by that date. We will make copies of your completed pledge and return it to you so that you can have a reminder of the things you are striving for in your relationship with God and the Church this year.
Our hope is that at the end of this exercise, you will learn something about what you are already doing in your spiritual life and feel encouraged to grow and try new things. It’s an exciting chance for us all to see where we are and set goals for the new Church year. May this spiritual life pledge be the beginning of a renewed sense of commitment to Christ and the Church. May it inspire in you a new zeal for God and a desire to follow Jesus with your whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.
The Peace of Christ Be with You Always,
Father Guillermo Arboleda+