By Rev. Matthew Kieswetter
I have a vague childhood memory of my mom instructing me to collect and arrange some old plastic food containers. We always had lots on hand, I think from my grandmother, who was always eating some sort of liquidy cheese that we purchased at the farmers’ market; I suspect it was a Mennonite thing. (If you happen to know the name, please remind me.) The sight of this molasses-consistency cheese repulsed me, so I’m sure we washed the containers thoroughly.
What started out as a fun crafting activity ended up revealing itself to be an exercise in money management. The idea was that these differently-labelled containers would help me to divide up my allowance between short, medium, and long-term savings, as well as charitable givings. And the allocation of the money was to occur before I had the chance to spend most of it on candy at the corner store!
Looking back on this, I can see it as a really worthwhile strategy. Unfortunately, I think impulsiveness won out, and I didn’t stick with this for very long, especially after I fell in love with comic books and music. My wife Leslie was taught to follow a similar system, though she stuck with it better than I did. This explains why, to this day, she’s a saver and I’m a spender.
This memory of mine connects with our practices around faith-based giving. A word that, for many, is even more off-putting than the “s” word (“stewardship”) is the “t” word (“tithing”). Sometimes the 10% figure of the Biblical tithe seems too titanic a number to consider. For others, the idea seems overly formulaic and forced.
For myself, a more helpful approach is to not fixate on a specific figure, but to appreciate the principles and themes underlying the idea of the tithe: namely, thanksgiving to God and intentionality in our giving. “The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me” (Deuteronomy 26:8-10).
Here, and in other places in scripture, we find a concept that is perhaps less intimidating and ultimately more helpful than beginning with a numerical tithe: the idea of offering God not our leftovers, but our first-fruits. This is what my mom was trying to instil in me with all of the repurposed cheese containers: handling money in an intentional, rather than in a haphazard way.
So, might that help reorient our thinking around our support of the Church and other worthwhile organizations and causes? Can we free ourselves from being intimidated by numbers, and instead work on fostering purposeful, generous hearts? Can a proportion-based figure be approached as a symbol of our intentional discipleship, rather than as an intimidating or guilt-inducing goal? Are we mindful of how our congregational and diocesan ministries (impossible without our support) are touching and changing lives, both for people within and beyond our Church? And are we being changed as we seek to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, offering our lives as a living sacrifice to our Creator?
“Gracious God, with this bread and wine we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus, and we offer ourselves to you in him” (Eucharistic Prayer 5, BAS p. 205).
Rev. Matthew Kieswetter is a member of the diocesan Stewardship Committee.