Rector's Rhetoric - October 2014
I read with great interest an article from David Daniel, Senior Pastor at First Methodist Church in Ada, about an experience with a Broken Arrow congregation that he’d been assigned to several years ago. Essentially, he’d been sent there to close its doors. A number of economic issues had led to the decline of this church to the point that local merchants would only deal with the church on a cash basis. Their situation was dire and a miracle was definitely in order. With a budget of only $58,000, they calculated that to become a valid ministry they needed somewhere around $17,000 to get caught up on their bills and pay their expected apportionment to the larger church. In a decision that I would attribute to much prayer and spiritual discernment, David saw within this congregation the potential for really faithful giving and challenged the members to raise $25,000. He began this process by addressing their Administrative Council (something like our Vestry) through the words of the prophet Malachi, and I think it’s important to quote Malachi here:
For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished. Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’
Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you! Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an over- flowing blessing. I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will count you happy, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts. Malachi 3:6-12
When David asked the Council if they were tithing (giving 10% of their income to the ministry of the church) the room got terribly quiet. But that night they made a decision to begin giving to God what was God’s. They repented, which means that they chose to move in a different direction, one that would lead to abundant living with God through their tithes and offerings. They also chose to step out in faith by eliminating fundraisers to supplement their offerings. Long story short, a miracle did occur in that small congregation. Not only did they reach their goal of raising $25,000 in two and a half months, that year they received over $89,000 in offerings and never looked back, except with gratitude for what had hap- pened in this once beleaguered and now vital little congregation. Miracles do happen.
I tell you this story, not because I see our parish in the same situation as this Heritage United Methodist Church. We are not there. Not yet, anyway. We are not behind in our bills. We pay our Mutual Ministry Offering to the Diocese every month which is terribly important for supporting everything from Summer Camps to Native American mission work. We can be proud of what we do in Oklahoma and beyond. Locally, the list is long and varied in what we have given to the Ada community over the years. We continue to open our church for the outreach that is necessary to fund a ministry that gives away $25,000 in food annually, about sixty tons worth, and in twelve plus years have given in excess of a million pounds. And, as always, we are in the process of looking for new outreach ministries that meet the needs of those who seek assistance. We keep our church building in excellent repair, inside and out, and in my estimation, there isn’t a more beautiful and inviting place to worship anywhere. Anywhere! We have a faithful membership of givers who continue to thank God for abundant blessings.
With that said, budget concerns continue to hamper us each year with rising expenses. Significant deaths over the last few years of very generous givers goes without saying, and this may be one of those years when we feel the impact of that loss more keenly than others. We’ve done fund-raising for quite some time, but that has turned from designating those offerings for local outreach concerns to placing them in our own general fund to make our deficit more manageable. Over the years we’ve been fortunate to have endowment income to do some things that would have otherwise gone neglected. Thank God for those who continue to minister even after their departure! So you see that there are some cracks forming in the armor.
Through the prophet Malachi, God is calling for an individual and collective change of heart in the people who are to be a blessing to the nations. If you believe that the Scriptures are divinely inspired, a part of what we mean by that is that God’s call to Israel in a particular place and time is also a call issued for all time to every community that places its faith and trust in the Lord. God is continually calling us to consider a new direction in everything that we are, in everything that we do, in everything that we have, waiting patiently for our willingness to respond.
In a couple of weeks you’ll receive stewardship packets, as you always do, emphasizing the need that we all have to be more generous givers in every way possible. When I mentioned in our Sunday School class that October and November are the designated months for stewardship and that our Sunday readings always center on that theme, one of our members said, “Well, we have other months and times designated as seasons of the church year, why wouldn’t we have one for stewardship too?!” That’s pretty insightful, because church seasons, from Advent to Pentecost, are always intended to transform us, turning us toward God as an act of repentance, praise and thanksgiving. Let this season of Stewardship be a transforming one for you as we think and pray about how to respond to the abundant lives in which we live and move and have our being. As we plan to celebrate 100 years of ministry in Ada, maybe this will be your year for a miracle.