Stewardship and the Young Adult Volunteer

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Deborah Rexrode is curating a blog series called “A New Perspective on Stewardship.” We’ll hear from some stewardship experts across the country on a wide range of what stewardship means for them. What are ways stewardship can be a spiritual practice? How might we come to a new understanding of the role of stewardship in ministry? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Sarah Dianne Jones

Stewardship is a topic I feel I’ve always been familiar with. As a child, I looked forward to the children’s sermons featuring the Stew Bear books that the denomination put out to explain stewardship to children, and I remember saving all of the change I found in various places to put in the special banks we had to bring to church. As I grew older, my perception of stewardship changed as I began to understand tithing, capital campaigns, planned giving, and the ins and outs of church world.

photo by Blake Collins

The thing that never changed was that stewardship was always about money. We talked about giving money, what the money should go toward, or how much money you should give. It was a lot of talk about money for an older elementary aged kid to fully grasp—I didn’t have much money. What could the church do with my money? I wanted to make a difference, but I didn’t know how much difference I could make.

As a youth going to youth conferences, stewardship began to show up differently. Stewardship was being defined as the gifts you offer to your church and the community. For once, it wasn’t all about money! What gifts did I have to offer to the church? How could I best be of service? That reframing of how I thought about stewardship helped me to be able to more strongly connect with what we were talking about during stewardship season.

There came a point, however, that I slipped back into thinking about stewardship in terms of money. Maybe it was when I started working in churches that were desperately feeling the pressure to increase giving or face budget cuts, or felt that they were constantly asking for money to fix a roof, or hire a new position, or update the website. I can’t pinpoint it, but in the last few years, money has been the name of the game.

At least that was true until I began my year with the Young Adult Volunteer program. As a part of the YAV program, the YAV is required to fundraise a minimum of $3,000. This helps to fund the local site where you will be serving, and offers the added benefit of illustrating for the YAV the wideness of their own community. Donors were offered the options of making a one time gift or pledging monthly, and the YAV was informed of each donor so that they were aware of the people who cared enough to give a monetary gift toward their year of service. YAVs would not be able to serve in the program without these generous gifts.

YAVs are expected to commit to “simple living,” or living with intentionality around how they spend the very limited stipend they are given. This season of life in which I’m engaging in simple living has brought me back to my past understanding of stewardship. As a YAV, I’m not able to give as much as I might like to the congregations or organizations that I feel so connected to and supported by. Stewardship has meant living into my role as a YAV in the most authentic way possible, giving whatever gifts I can in order to do good for the wider community in which I am living. This has meant offering myself as a resource whenever possible, showing up for the pieces of mission work that aren’t the fun parts, and trying out things that seem incredibly difficult, not because I’m so great, but because my church and my community deserve the best that I can offer in gratitude for the incredible generosity and support I have been shown.

Sarah-Dianne Jones is a Birmingham, Alabama native who graduated from Maryville College in 2016. She is currently serving as a Young Adult Volunteer in Washington, DC, where she works with NEXT Church and New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.

We Are Still Gathered

by Lori Raible

There was a time when almost 600 educators, elders, and clergy folk filled a church in the middle of Atlanta. We worshipped. We danced. We painted. We preached (man did we preach). From the belly of our souls, we sung. Remember our song?

We asked ourselves some challenging questions.

What is the unintentional impact of our mission work?

If God is so kind, why are we so intent on making enemies?

How do we hear and hold one another’s pain and anger with respect, and courage?

Memories. Wounds. Justice. Healing. Joy. We claimed hope.

_MG_9339 (1)But Allan Boesak asked us point blank: “Do we proclaim the Hope of the Gospel with anger and courage?”

To be specific,

“With courage, with compassion; do we [proclaim the Gospel] with faithfulness to those who suffer? The wrongs we see are not just randomly happening, they are made to happen, and they are happening to the vast majority of God’s children who are walking this earth. They are not happening randomly, they are deeply systemic, deliberately built into systems of oppression, domination, and dehumanization. And we must not be afraid to say it…

We speak a language couched in such caution, such ambiguity, such fear, that it becomes almost meaningless. The truth is carefully camouflaged in our diplomacy… Because the perpetrators of these wrongs are powerful and rich and privileged we are tempted to speak in a language guaranteed not to give offence…”

We stood on our feet and applauded. Then he cut to the chase.

“As…Dietrich Bonheoffer, has taught us: ‘The time for pious words is over… when the deck is loaded, when cowardice heaps praises upon that which was before recognized as despicable, then it is the task of the church to realize that the signs of the church have always been the dove, the lamb, the lion and the fish, but never the chameleon.’”

We want things to change. Don’t we?

Hands in the air, like palms waving all around, we stood on our feet and shouted, ‘Hosanna!’ We threw it down like purple robes on yesterday’s dirt road.  Beating feet and drums.

Yes, we did that. It felt good to be together. Even though we knew the cross was coming, we shouted anyway. We gathered at the table. We prayed. We listened. We were challenged. We tried to understand. Lent is like that.

alison-harrington-audienceNEXT Church is founded on the conviction that God is active in the world, and together we are invited into that activity. For this reason, the NEXT Church National Gathering in Atlanta was organized with our deepening relationships in mind. Seminarians gathered to consider the church they will inherit sooner than later. Nine Scottish pastors joined our conference to share stories of tenacity and creativity through a changing culture and church. Almost 50 workshops engaged us in honest conversations that impact our communities. The Church is God’s people in relationship with a purpose, a vocation, a particular call; a call to move from applause and inspiration to courage and risk.

We can’t simply talk about change; we must do what we say we believe.

Last year, NEXT Church leaned in to this truth. We walked beside leaders in a variety of contexts for the purpose of change. NEXT Church seeks to equip and connect the newly ordained to community, resources, and mentors. Last week, 80 pastors and educators gathered with 15 coaches and mentors for the Trent@Montreat conference for the newly ordained. Along with Montreat Conference Center, Macedonian Ministries, Union Presbyterian Seminary, and Second Presbyterian Roanoke, VA, NEXT Church sponsored a week of practical equipping and connecting with peers and coaches.

For the purpose of connecting and equipping our leaders with the tools they need to thrive, The PC(USA) Board of Pensions and NEXT Church has created an online resource center for those in their early years of ministry,

Several regional conferences were hosted with the intent of creating highly relational experiences, particular to the needs of the communities who organized and participated in them.

Looking ahead, NEXT Church held a vast and swift listening campaign with the intent of hearing and unifying our voices for change within our denomination. We heard from nearly 500 Presbyterians across the country in 50 gatherings. Our question: What is the Church’s mission in the world?

It is Easter… we are active in the world aren’t we?

White sheets still dance in the wind holding onto the neck of our firmly planted, wooden crosses as traffic races by. Budgets, members, hospitals, sermons, pre-schools, committees, elections, violence, borders, jails, schools, them and us. Life is so busy, reconciliation is so costly, and here we are right back where we started. Which way do we go?

Remember Easter?  Hosanna turned Alleluia, an empty cross, and Christ loose in the world.

Our vision. Our goal. Our standard. Our hope: NEXT Church will reflect the beauty and creativity of God’s Kingdom in a way that celebrates the best parts of our diverse Church. Courage. Anger. Risk. Reconciliation. Are we really in relationship?

Currently racial diversity amidst our strategy and advisory teams is 20%. A goal of 50%  leadership by people of color by 2017 hinges on our ability to build organic relationships of depth and purpose. Is claiming a measurable goal some sort of manufactured solution? No. Does it express a commitment to examine and change unintentional patterns of privilege and discrimination? Yes. The leadership team will intentionally seek relationships with colleagues in ministry who are different than they assume themselves to be, and we invite you to join us in this endeavor.

As Rev. Jeff Krehbiel, a board member of the More Light Presbyterians Group, and Rev. Don Meeks, an active participant of The Fellowship Community, shared in Atlanta, knowing and loving one another in the name of Christ can transcends any barrier we humans have created.

We are a network of thousands of hopeful and faithful PCUSA leaders, and as long as our denomination is in transition, there is work for NEXT Church to do.

How can we nourish our roots in the best parts of our history and reformed faith, while the withering branches of power and hierarchy are pruned for change?

How do you motivate change within your community? We can’t stand by our crosses idly and watch the traffic. It can’t be them and us.

What could our churches be doing if we weren’t so busy hanging on?

What needs to change? What is possible if it does?

In exchange for sparing you the Gandhi quote that just popped into your head, consider this: last year, we raised $118,000. This small budget supports our dedicated and gifted director, Rev. Jessica Tate, and Linda Kurtz, NEXT Church’s part-time communication specialist as she continues to improve the way we connect with one another through our updated website. We also supported a Young Adult Volunteer, and a few initiatives such Trent@Montreat. That money came from only 30 congregations and 50 individuals.

Pennies, dollars, and very large checks… we need you to invest. We need you to explain NEXT Church to your sessions and colleagues. Simply ask them to support NEXT Church as we seek to build the body of Christ through connecting and equipping leaders across our denomination.

We are still gathered. You won’t find us paralyzed by the empty cross or huddled in dark and isolated rooms. Let’s remember we are Christ’s body at work in the world together.

Perhaps we too are zipping right past the cross. I suspect God is okay with that as long as we have an idea of where we are going. Jesus isn’t on the cross, and Pentecost is around the corner anyway.

I lean on you, each of you, as if my vocation depends on it.  There are times when I am leaning on your hope, leaning your faith, leaning on your voice… to sing the song, from the depths of your soul, when mine feels empty, and the words won’t come. I am leaning….

Remember our song. I’m humming it now, and there is plenty of room in the car….  

In addition to supporting NEXT Church with a donation made online, you can also send your gift via check to Village Presbyterian Church, earmarked NEXT Church:

Village Presbyterian Church
6641 Mission Road
Prairie Village, KS 66208

Lori RaibleLori Raible is a pastor at Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a co-chair of the NEXT Church strategy team.