By Jim Singletary
Many years ago, as a twentysomething transplant from the Twin Cities to Boston, I started attending church in Cambridge, MA. Unlike most of my peers, I hadn’t abandoned church-going entirely during my early adult years, but like most of my peers I was still pretty commitment-phobic, at least when it came to organized religion. I kept church at arm’s length and my attendance could be described as sporadic at best.
That said, I liked the church in Cambridge and quickly developed a friendship with the pastor. After about a year, I invited him to the shared home I was living in to have dinner with my roommates and me. Upon his arrival, he asked rather apologetically if he could possibly use the telephone to make time-sensitive long-distance call that he was unable to make before leaving his house. Those old enough to remember the days before cell phones were commonplace will remember that out-of-state “toll calls” could add a few dollars to the monthly phone bill, thus his embarrassment about having to ask. As he was dialing he joked that I could always deduct the cost from my church pledge.
The mention of a “pledge” caught me by surprise. Since my commitment to the church was tenuous, and being only recently out of graduate school and living in a notoriously expensive city on a lowly arts administrator’s stipend, I didn’t feel flush enough to contribute more than an occasional “widow’s mite” to the offering plate. Besides, pledging was, to me, something older people did, like my parents. It was for the folks who had a real stake in and commitment to the well-being of their congregations. You know: grown-ups.
A few years later I found myself joining a different church as part of a couple, with my now husband, Jim. Having recently left full-time ministry for a different career path, pledging seemed perfectly natural for him, and soon enough it did for me too. I guess I became a grown-up.
Ironically, I probably enjoyed less disposal income as a part of a couple than I had enjoyed as a single guy because despite having two salaries in the household there were now new expenses such as car payments and child support. Nevertheless, the amount we pledged never really seemed burdensome to me. And it was only in retrospect that I realized that by not contributing to my previous church I had more than anything deprived myself of a fuller experience of faith. I had rationalized that what little I would have been able to contribute wouldn’t have made much of a difference to the church. But as Darren Hochstedler reminded us in his sermon, God doesn’t really need our money, and that’s not really the point of giving, at least from a faith perspective. No, I hadn’t deprived the church community of my resources so much as I had deprived myself of a deeper connection to that community. I’ve since come to realize that of the many barriers to giving, the most pernicious are probably those of our own making, or perhaps I should say of our own imagining. And any barrier to giving is, sadly, a barrier to the joy of giving.
I know that some people derive enjoyment from giving without feeling a need to pledge, and I respect that when it’s a well-considered principle. But for me the appeal to pledging is that it makes the spiritual discipline of giving easier by reducing the number of decisions I need to make (when/where/how much) and freeing the act of giving from the mood of the moment.
This year, our stewardship emphasis is on inclusion. That is, rather than asking our most dedicated and stalwart contributors to increase what they can commit to giving, we want to encourage everyone to be a part of the Stewardship process, whatever their means. So if you are a part of the SFBC community, and have not pledged before, we hope you will take this opportunity to consider doing so as an exercise of your belief in, and commitment to, the great work of Seattle First Baptist—in our congregation, in our city, and in our world. Consider it not just for the ways it helps us in carrying out our mission, but what it can do for you in your faith journey.
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist