Stewardship Stories: We Are The Church
Let me begin by telling a story about church in the time of COVID. This is the part you don’t see or read about in the weekly e-newsletter but I know you’ll
be inspired and moved. It is the story of how we are taking our faith out in to our community while our building is closed. Even though our building is closed, the physical grounds surrounding our church have never looked better! The gardens are gleaming, a new labyrinth has appeared ... and here’s where my story begins: our ministry has taken to the streets.
In June, Cate Lee built and installed a gorgeous Little Free Pantry just outside the Parish Offices on the north side of the building and parishioners eagerly packed it to the gills with food and supplies. The pantry is utilized frequently by parishioners and neighbors as it is filled and emptied literally on a daily basis. Our goal of helping to meet food insecurity needs in our neighborhood is being realized. Not only that, but we are forming relationship with those who come to the pantry. Those of us who spend a lot of time in and around the building have gotten to know our unhoused neighbors by name and we are learning their stories.
The other day, I went outside to visit with someone who was selecting some groceries from the pantry. As we talked, I learned that this person is living in an apartment with three generations and they have been homeless in the past. This person described that while they do have some income, it isn’t nearly enough.
It is a constant struggle to decide which bills to pay each month. There was a past-due utility bill weighing heavily on this person – so heavily that this individual was in a panic. It could be the tipping point that could force them back into living out of their car.
It was a huge blessing for me to have a solution to offer and this is where you come in: Because of your generosity during a very difficult time for so many, the Rector’s Discretionary Fund has enough funds that I was able to say this: “We can pay that utility bill for you.”
This church taking its ministry outside the building combined with your generosity moved us to a new place and I was able to tell someone that we could pay a bill that seemed impossible. Because of your generosity, three generations will remain housed and off the street.
There are so many stories like this one – and it’s because this year has been like no other as we struggle with the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and the pervasive and systemic racial inequities. In the midst of this, church looks completely different than we ever could have imagined one year ago. And while it looks completely different, our core is unchanged. Church is still prayer and worship, classes for study and learning, fellowship and community, and opportunities to provide outreach to our neighbors, just like the story I just shared about our pantry. St. John the Baptist is still doing all of these things and yet could you ever have imagined parking lot church on the radio, drive through prayers, or small groups on zoom?
What I have witnessed in these past months is the body of Christ continuing to be the body of Christ no matter what. And when we move through these experiences in community with one another (even virtually!); praising God, learning, supporting one another in community, and reaching out to others, we are always transformed.
How Giving Makes Church Happen
As we navigate our vision and mission, we know that our ability to minister is tied to the financial strength of St. John’s – and this is where you come in. Let me unpack our current thinking. As we look at the budget for 2021, the vestry is considering three budget scenarios as we plan for a financially uncertain future. The base line budget will continue much the same as our current operating costs in 2020 with most of our expenses going to fund staff positions who provide worship and programming. Other ongoing and fixed costs include utilities and maintenance of the building that cannot be postponed. The second budget is our best-case scenario. In that hoped for reality, we plan for returning to in-person worship early in 2021, a growing congregation, increased giving, and expanded programming. And the third and final budget option is the worst-case scenario. This is our last resort and involves difficult decisions and major expense reduction.
The vestry, finance committee, and rector will work prayerfully and diligently to make wise decisions about which budget to approve as we consider all factors including stewardship, spending of reserve funds, and the long-term financial health of the congregation. We rely on pledges to fund approximately 80% of our budget and expect our 2021 budget to be approximately $359,000 in the base line and best-case scenario budgets.
Supporting our Church: Stewardship
If this whole concept of Stewardship and Pledging is new for you, let me share a little about what it means. Stewardship and giving are a natural outpouring of thanksgiving, a continuation of our spiritual practice as Christians. It is deeply connected to joy and stories like the one I just shared helps all of us understand the tangible way we are connected to caring for each other at St. John’s and for our neighbors.
As a practical matter, our church’s budget is in large part dependent on pledged giving by our
members. But even more important, we view money as a spiritual discipline, a holy habit, and believe that one of the ways we can practice our Christian faith is to be intentional and responsible with our finances. Your leadership here at St. John’s; the vestry, Finance Committee, and staff, work hard to be careful, thoughtful, and prayerful with the money God provides for us and for our families.
A way to step into this prayerful and intentional stewardship of our personal money is to make an annual pledge of some amount to St. John’s.
Pledging to our Church
If you have been pledging to St. John’s for years, thank you, and please prayerfully consider what you have been giving and whether it is time to increase that amount.
Whether pledging is a well-honed habit for you or something you have never considered, I invite you to pray about it. Think about the blessing this community is upon your life and your situation as you fill out this pledge card. To give you some flexibility, we have added the option of making a pledge for six months if that is helpful to you.
You can go ahead and mail it in now or wait for Ingathering Sunday, November 22, in which we will gather our intentions in the parking lot to be blessed at the 9:00 am service, an offering of thanksgiving.
Thank you for being part of this community of faith. I look forward to many more years as your priest, with full faith that we are seeing just the beginning of the big dreams that God has for us.
The Rev. Kate E. Wesch, rector
St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church