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The Energy to Keep Going

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, David Norse Thomas is curating a series featuring reflections on the 2019 National Gathering, which we held March 11-13 in Seattle. We’ll share the stories and insights of people who attended the Gathering in person and virtually (via our live stream), and experienced new life and a deeper sense of hope for the people of God we call the Church. What piece of the National Gathering has stuck with you? Where are you finding hope? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by David Norse Thomas

“This all sounds great, but I have to ask: how much were you working each week to make this happen?” This honest question, asked in the workshop I was co-leading on intergenerational ministry, was one that I wasn’t quite ready for.

As a church revitalizer of a small, older congregation in suburban Baltimore, I’ll be honest: I work long weeks. There are months where I’m focused on how to keep a sixty-year-old church building going, looking at how to save money so we can reduce our deficit, and rearranging our pews so our handful of children have enough space to play, while also being accessible to our deaf folks and our ASL interpreter, and folks adjusting to reduced mobility and walkers. It’s the important work of hospitality and leading a small congregation, and while it can be life-giving, there are moments that make my soul sing: visiting with folks in their nineties as they ponder what they want their legacy to be to the next generation of progressive Christians; meeting with someone who hasn’t been in church in decades, but who encountered Jesus anew in worship and wants to get involved; training leaders in community organizing so that we can partner with the Holy Spirit as they move the world from how it is to a little closer to how it should be. The two kinds of long days are interconnected, interwoven; the one not possible without the other.

When I arrived at Maryland Presbyterian Church, I knew that I was going to need practices that empower and energize me. Each week, I set time aside to meet with folks, both within and outside of our congregation, for relational meetings; 30-45 minutes where I ask about what keeps folks up at night, and what gets them out of bed the next morning to do something about it. I also share what kindles the embers within me, to keep going. This has set all of what I do, even the seemingly mundane, aflame with the holy fire that set the galaxy’s spinning.

I worked a lot the first year in my call, knowing that I had to lay the groundwork. Now though, I’m at a place where I take Tuesdays and Saturdays off to hike and practice Sabbath. But I also make time to do the work that gives me the energy to keep going.

The NEXT Church National Gathering is part of what keeps me going. I work a lot, but I also try to work on what gives me, and my congregation, life. I never thought that life was a fourty-hour-a-week gig. Instead of thinking of work-life balance, I think about being centered on being a disciple. That weaves me into a story, and an energy, that gets me through plumbing problems and deficits. I hope that this month’s blog ignites similar fires within you as well.


Rev. David Norse Thomas (he/him/his) is the pastor of Maryland Presbyterian Church in Towson, MD. Known as “the little Church in the woods,” and “the Church full of badass, progressive Grandmas, and everyone’s favorite Aunt and Uncle,” MPC is a dream congregation for Rev. Norse Thomas to explore what radical hospitality and community organizing can unleash in the hands of loving followers of Jesus.

Living Generously Begins With Trust

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 Marcia Shetler

The Ecumenical Stewardship Center produces resources to help congregations encourage faithful generosity. Our Giving: Growing Joyful Stewards in Your Congregation magazine and complementary materials focus on a different biblical theme each year. In 2017, that theme is “Live Generously” with a focus on scripture texts of 1 Timothy 6:18-19 and 2 Corinthians 8:9.

When we define faithful generosity—or stewardship—we often think in terms of time, talent, and treasure. But when I look at the logo for the Live Generously theme, another important “T” word comes to mind: trust. It is difficult to be generous without it.

Trust seems to be a tough concept for many North Americans to master. It’s ironic since we have so much. But our culture tells us to put our trust in the goods, systems, and financial reserves that we have created. We tend to ignore the fact that all of these can fail us. We forget that as Christian disciples, we are called to a counter-cultural way of living.

Trusting in God is part of our responsibility as followers of Jesus. It allows us to joyfully and generously let go of what we think is ours and release it for God’s use. Those acts of generosity are our witness to the world, sharing God’s abundance as channels of God’s love.

We can find many examples of trust in the Bible. Elijah asked the widow of Zarephath to be generous by sharing her last meal and trust that she and her son would not go hungry. In another account, a small boy gave his lunch of five loaves and two fish, and more than 5,000 people were fed. Moses’ mother trusted God with her son’s life. Twice. The first time she placed his life in God’s hands when she put him in a basket in a river, Moses was returned to her and she was able to raise and love her son while he was young. Later, she gave him up again, and Moses ultimately fulfilled God’s call as leader of the Hebrews.

“The Widows Mite” by James Christensen

One of the most well-used stewardship sermon scripture texts is the story of the widow’s mite, and there have been numerous interpretations of this incident. But perhaps what was most important was not only the widow’s ability to give to God totally, but to trust God completely. Maybe that is the lesson Jesus was trying to teach his disciples, and what we should learn from the widow’s example.

The hymn “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” was written in the late 1800s by Louisa M. Stead. She understood well the need for trust. Her husband drowned while trying to save a boy from drowning as she and her young daughter watched. The hymn was inspired by this tragedy. Louisa continued to trust God and followed God’s leading to Africa, where she remarried and served as a missionary for many years. The continent became her home and she died there in 1917.

So when I look at the Live Generously logo, I see the open hands that we must have to be generous. But I also envision the hands as God’s hands. There’s even a hint of an arrow pointing to the center of those hands. That’s where I need to be if I’m truly going to be generous: in the center of God’s hands, trusting in God’s care.


 

Marcia Shetler is executive director/CEO of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center. She holds an MA in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, a BS in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan University, and a Bible certificate from Eastern Mennonite University. She formerly served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren, and as director of communications and public relations for Bethany Theological Seminary in Richmond, Indiana, an administrative faculty position. Marcia’s vocational, spiritual, and family experiences have shaped her vision and passion for faithful stewardship ministry that recognizes and celebrates the diversity of Christ’s church and the common call to all disciples to the sacred practice of stewardship. She enjoys connecting, inspiring, and equipping Christian steward leaders to transform church communities.