Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
As with the air we breathe and the ground beneath our feet, we sometimes take for granted the faith communities that we count on to be there for us when we need them. So in this season when the leaders of your local church ask you to consider your financial pledge to support its ministry, l invite you to consider the many ways you are blessed by your church, even if you haven’t been inside its doors for a long time.
Let’s begin with your clergy, who are quick to respond when you call, reach out when you’re hurting, are always glad to see you, and work every day to create sacred spaces in which you can draw closer to God. They do all these things because they care. Who else in your life spends hours each week preparing to speak about the most important things–such as faith, doubt, suffering, joy, courage, forgiveness, grief, and love–and encourages you to orient your life toward Jesus.
Now consider the community itself–the people who show up early to prepare a place for you, who practice the songs, tend to the altar, and clean up after you’ve gone home. Think of those who inspire you by their selflessness and who provide all manner of opportunities for you to help make this world a better place; those who are the first to knock at your door with a casserole or flowers when you’ve lost someone; who ask how you are doing, and genuinely want to know. Let’s not forget the person who drives you crazy, and yet who helps you practice patience and acceptance–the very patience and acceptance that you need, too.
If you are raising children, consider the priceless gift of doing so with other families who, like you, want their children to have, as we pray the Baptism liturgy, “inquiring and discerning hearts, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and love God, and the give of joy and wonder in all God’s works.” In church, your children are surrounded by surrogate grandparents, aunties and uncles, and really cool teenagers for your kids to look up to, until, low and behold, they are cool teenagers teaching a rising generation how to hold the candles and cross.
While caring for the building itself is a big responsibility and costs a lot of money, think of what it means to have such a place, a home away from home where people like you have gone to pray for generations. The walls of your church are soaked with prayer. If they could talk, they would tell of tears and laughter, moments of unspeakable sorrow and wondrous joy; of forgiveness sought and received; of the word spoken that changed a person’s life, of an injustice done and then, by grace, acknowledged, and restitution made–all in that sacred space.
Finally, consider all those who have never been and perhaps will never be part of your church but who nonetheless receive blessing through its ministry–those whose sobriety depends on the A.A. meeting in the basement, or who are experiencing homelessness and your church is the one place they are treated with dignity; the children who are nurtured in the daycare or receive the backpacks your church donates at the beginning of the school year; the refugee family given a home and support in a new land.
Now it may be that your church doesn’t do all of the things I’ve mentioned, or that it’s struggling to regain its footing, or is in a leadership transition. No church is perfect, and if you’re looking for reasons to be disappointed, you will probably find them. But don’t forget the ways you have experienced God through the ministry of your church, despite or perhaps through its imperfections. Think of the times you’ve felt Jesus’ mercy when you needed it, the joy of singing a favorite hymn alongside others, and the gift of belonging to a community of faith, not so much because you get everything you want there, but rather because you know that it’s your spiritual home. Your presence and your gifts make a difference, including the gifts you didn’t realize that you had. You may have a big part to play in your church’s future, and maybe what’s coming next is something you don’t want to miss.
Finances are challenging for many of these days, and that’s true for your local church, too. If this is a hard time for you, know that your church understands if you need to reduce your pledge. But if you are blessed with a financial cushion to weather rising inflation and the fluctuations of the stock market, consider being more generous in the coming year. Let your clergy know that you’re grateful for them. Help your volunteer lay leaders rest easier as they work on ministry goals and budgets. Do your part. You’ll be glad you did. And others will be blessed in ways you may never know.