Karen’s Stewardship Moment

The following is the text of Karen Weisgerber’s statement from the service on Sunday March 3, 2015 about what stewardship and giving to the church means to her.

It’s Stewardship season here at UCW and today is Stewardship Sunday – the day we ask that parishioners hand in cards with their pledge to the life and ministry of this Faith community.

During the campaign we have a few folks stand up to share about the importance of the UCW to them, or the impact of our mission, or the power of the dollars you give, or the growing needs we have, hence the growing need for pledges.

I’d like to share two points in my own stewardship journey:
The first is my introduction to stewardship. I first came to the Union Church motivated by fear. My daughters were then 2 and 3, and we had not yet had them baptized. Concerned they were at risk of going to hell if something happened to one of them, I sought out a church. We met with Wayne (the then minister), who politely told me that in the theology of this church, no one was at risk of hell – that baptism was an invitation, not a threat – and we were invited to explore baptizing our daughters here. We began to attend, I joined the mission committee, the girls were baptized, and we became members.
Then came my introduction to stewardship.

Let me preface it by saying that the UCW was a very special place then – but understand it by contrast:
At that time, the Sunday school perhaps 20 kids, a number of whom shared the last name Hadley; there was no confirmation class that year, maybe not even the next; Mission was an enthused committee working on special collections and education – Dorchester was a place one navigated through on the way to the Cape and Nicaragua a country somewhere in central America. There was no elevator or ramp to the Vestry, no thanksgiving dinners; Waban health place largely ignored by our community except the time when Angier 2nd graders reluctantly visited once during the ‘know your neighbors’ curriculum. I could go on – but you get the picture. And yet, the Union place was special.

After becoming members, Wayne invited us into his office once again, this time politely handing us a chart of gifts, outlining how one might pledge to the church. This was my first introduction to stewardship. I was floored. The numbers I saw were not hundreds, but thousands. I suppose we had thought of giving to the church, but not THAT much. I suppose I thought prayer or perhaps some act of God kept lights on – I really never wondered about it, and somehow didn’t think I needed to be a part of it. Well, turns out that wasn’t how it worked. Being a part meant being a part of the whole thing – understanding how the church worked and what it needed and how we could participate. We were asked to wonder, asked to act – and we did. I didn’t expect much to come of it – which, spoiler alert, was the real surprise.

I could perhaps calculate impact of this church, its mission and ministry, on lives of others – the hundreds of individuals in Nicaragua with fresh water and no fear of water borne disease, elderly of Waban health whose only visit might be our church members breaking bread and sharing prayer with them each month, for the community members who gather to be served a warm Thanksgiving meal, to the Aids orphans being schooled, or to homeless fed a meal at Common Cathedral, or Russell students enriched in math, music or computer science and their parents who partner with us.

I could perhaps calculate that – the tremendous and transformative impact the presence of this church and power your dollars have on so many lives – but I will jump to another stewardship moment

This past week I was on a plane from Boston to California. It’s a long flight, so I scanned the movies available. The first that caught my eye was Selma, and my reflexive reaction was that didn’t want to watch it. I didn’t want to be reminded of those terrible years, didn’t want to feel saddened by what our country has been, or might still be. I preferred being entertained by the action thriller Gone Girl.

While I was in California, Baltimore happened. As the news unfolded, I watched. And on the pane ride home, I watched Selma. I don’t know if many of you have seen it, but you certainly know what it is about. It is painful, powerful, disturbing – to see how we have treated each other and how ignorance and hate brews into violence and death. It was heartening to see people come together – black and white, from the north and south, traveling great distances and divides to walk together– and to see how vital members of faith communities were at that time.

And then I thought of the Union Church in Waban. I thought, what if the Union Church were not here, what if it were not a part of my or my family’s life?

The Union Church is perhaps the one place in our lives where we are consistently invited into relationship with our neighbors – at Waban Health or Dorchester or Common Cathedral or Nicaragua – invited to places that might be uncomfortable or unfamiliar at first, and we are invited into the places within ourselves that might have preferred not to know.

I think of myself as an open, liberal minded person – yet at the Union Church, I have learned so much. There are nooks and crannies, dark places of which I was unaware, where naivety, ignorance or fear have lurked – awaiting illumination.

Some years ago the church engaged in a process of discerning whether we would make a unified statement about inclusivity – a process we called Welcoming and Affirming, the result of which now appears as our Covenant in the bulletin each Sunday. I began the process a bit smug – I have family members, dear friends and clients who are gay. I wasn’t one of those who might need to discern. Yet in the conversations, at times I felt a nag, a twitch, a flashing yet nascent thought – and I realized I was confronting my own internalized homophobia, which I didn’t know I carried.

Our confirmation class might more accurately be called a provocation class, where the youth are asked to question and wonder, not simply to confirm. They visit a Hindu temple, share Shabbat dinner at a Jewish Synagogue, (in fact, I am saying this as our Minister, Stacy is in Israel on an interfaith journey) and my husband Alex and I joined them for their visit to a Muslim mosque. There once again, though open to all faiths and knowing members of each, I had to confront my own wonderings and passive assumptions of a faith that has been stereotyped and linked to violence perpetrated by radicals. I left that mosque a little surprised, and bit different than when I walked in.

My earliest work in the mental health field was with homeless, a population I felt a strong advocacy for – yet I am aware of my own hesitation at times when we are at Common Cathedral, aware of the associations I might make in my mind. I have been humbled by a church member reaching out to a homeless visitor here, reaching out when I hesitated. I have had the parental pride of seeing my daughter feed someone in need, with a smile of innocence and love.

This place, the Union Church in Waban, brings us to an intersection of human experience. How else would my family been working side by side with the people of Nicaragua, my children welcomed into homes where the only furniture a few scattered wooden chairs, table and mattress – and we were the ones offered food. Or how else would we really know of the needs in Dorchester, or how many right here in Waban need food? How else would I, in my comfortable life, preferring not to know, be opened and invited into deeper awareness?

I might be able to calculate the impact of our dollars on those we have served, places we have helped – but I am not sure I can calculate the impact on us. My children have been opened to experiences they might never have had, people they never would have known, places they might have passed by. I have been brought to the edge of my comfort to know darker places within, places that needed illumination. Yes, the Union Church has impacted many lives, and our dollars have transformed into water, education and health care. Perhaps as powerfully and a bit more surprising, it has and continues to transform us.

It is uncomfortable asking for money, perhaps uncomfortable giving it. It is, however, truly an invitation. The Union Church – the little church that could – makes a powerful difference. I cannot imagine, and do not want to imagine our lives without it.

The church is growing and its needs are growing – and as such the need for money grows too. With the confirmation of Chris Hadley, the last of that generation of Hadleys will have gone through our youth Christian Education. The confirmation class is now 16, the Sunday school numbers in the 80’s. We are growing and being stretched – what an amazing grace that is.

And what a wonder that we have a place to bring our children and us into relationship with our neighbors of the world, to invite us to look deeply within ourselves, to grow from our discomfort into relationship and action –to know needs and be able to respond. We are asked to give, invited to grow. We give to keep the lights on, but more importantly, to keep them shining into so many places beyond and within us. There is no question in my mind that the world is a different place because of the Union Church, and no doubt that our family, that I, have been profoundly blessed by being a part of it.

So, give consideration to your pledge, and let this light shine.