October 25, 2018
Francisco-fact: Most of the last two weeks comments on Stewardship have focused on physical things: property, money, programs; can pledging be a spiritual thing and how can it be?
The Episcopal Church is part of the "Catholic" traditions. Catholic has been put in quotations in order to distinguish it from Roman Catholic, a subset of "Catholic" in the world's churches. Included in that grouping are, at least, the Orthodox Churches of several nationalities (e.g. Serbian, Greek, Russian, Hungarian, etc.) all related to and chronologically connected to the Church as it grew in the Roman Empire, the Anglican Communion, and the Roman Catholic Church. All of these churches share in three orders of ministry, Bishop, Priest, and Deacon, recognize the historic episcopacy, subscribe to the Nicene and Apostles Creeds, and in the great sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist.
It is this last part that connects us most securely in the spiritual nature of physical things and financial support of the church. In the Catechism of The Book of Common Prayer (p. 857), we are told that sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace. Therefore, we speak with assurance that when Baptism, with its water; Eucharist; with the bread and wine; Confirmation, Ordination, and Reconciliation, with the laying on of hands; unction (healing oils); and marriage, with the two persons standing before us; the Holy Spirit is present, and the grace of God is active.
But we are not constrained to see this grace in physical symbols of the defined sacraments alone. The Catechism also says, "God does not limit himself to these rites; they are patterns of countless ways by which God uses material things to reach out to us (p. 861). For a long time, I have thought of pledging at Stewardship time as a physical sign of our Spiritual life, not only demonstrating our understanding of God's abundant and joyous creation, but also as a sign of faithfulness to the community in which we worship and share the presence of Christ among us.
That means that the first purpose of pledging for Stewardship is a check-up between God and us, the pledgers, about that relationship. Where are our hearts and can we be faithful? Certainly, our pledges help the leadership of St. Francis plan and make practical choices about ministry. For that faithfulness, the leadership of this church is most heartily thankful. But pledges really are about our relationship with God.
Unfortunately for this columnist's position, stewardship and pledging have not made it to the list of "official sacraments." That may have something to do with the fact that lay men and women can do this act and know the grace without a priest or bishop. But it seems to be that this is a big part of liturgy (trans. "the work of the people'), and the people can do it on their own.