Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Stewardship witness: a reminder that I trust in God

My name is Bella. I arrived at St. Paul’s in 2010 by the grace of God and the gift of Google search. I attended a 10:30 mass and between trying to do what I would later know as “Episcopal calisthenics” I savored the perfumed smoke of incense, the heavenly sounds of choir and organ, and the words of God’s love that were spoken from this pulpit. As luck and fate would have it, a Newcomer’s Brunch was to be held after the service that day. I still recall meeting Chris Harris and Allisyn Thomas in the Guild Room. I had no doubt that I would return the next Sunday. For the first time in my life I had a church home: St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Since then, stewardship has become an essential part of my spiritual practice. But it wasn’t always that way. The process has been a spiritual journey for me and one that’s closely interwoven to my relationship with God and my desire to always know and love Him.

As a St. Paul’s newbie, I gave happily and readily but I’ll admit, without much understanding of WHY I gave except for a hazy concept that giving was just something you did when you belonged to a church. I knew that during service announcements we were lovingly reminded that we were all full members, but I already had my free coffee mug and now I really wanted to be IN at this wonderful place!

After giving like that for a while, I went to a 9am forum on stewardship. Doughnut in hand, I settled in for the presentation which included a silly video about tithing. Actors portrayed common and somewhat misguided reasons for giving. One person reasoned, “Hmm, the seats here ARE pretty comfy. And the coffee is free! ” Another thought, “When they see my huge check – placed face up, of course – they’re going to be so grateful – to ME!”

I looked around the Great Hall that morning and felt guilty. I didn’t want anyone to know that I saw parts of myself in the video’s caricatures. While a bit goofy, it did a really good job of illustrating some of the external reasons for giving that I recognized and think are easy enough to adopt. Transactional things like giving to feel like we’re members or to confirm that we’re generous or to feel like we’re helping to support St. Paul’s programs. That day, Chris encouraged us to instead view stewardship as a spiritual practice. It was critical advice.

But how would I even begin to make giving a spiritual practice?! That concept was so completely foreign to me yet I tried to make sense of it. After a period of prayer and reflection, I started to realize that I did have spiritual reasons for giving. Reasons that focused on God and my faith, not membership or being charitable.

I was at that point with giving when life changed a lot. I experienced several losses in a very short span of time. My wonderful Dad became ill and in 2011, I lost him to cancer. In 2012 my dog died and a relationship ended. Earlier this year the hospice I loved working for went under; I lost approximately 999 coworkers and…my job.

Earlier in my life, my Dad’s death alone would have thrown me into deep despair. I think that’s pretty understandable and nobody would have blamed me for losing my marbles a bit. Yet during the past few years of loss, I can honestly say that I’ve felt an overwhelming sense of faith, grace, love, strength and JOY.

I’ve thought about why, during difficult times, I felt joy in my heart. My conclusion is that my outlook on life has been drastically altered because of two blessings.

The first blessing is my home at St. Paul’s. As my church family, you’ve seen me through a sea of changes. During the hardest times, you cared about me, listened to me and even fed me.

The second blessing, of all things, turned out to be my efforts to grasp stewardship as spiritual practice, following that 9am stewardship forum and its silly video.
  •  I’d been welcoming loss into my life in a proactive way by learning to perceive letting go as a positive experience and not a negative one. 
  •  I’d been letting go of money without experiencing feelings of attachment to it, which strengthened my belief that this material world is not the kingdom and what money can buy isn’t the treasure. 
  •  I’d been developing a clear understanding of my trust in God. Giving money away without worry had let me to live into the truth that God provides what we really need in abundance: solace, comfort, friendship and love. I live in perpetual gratitude for the presence of these things in my life. 
Without realizing it, my giving had become a true reflection of my belief that God would always take care of me. Going forward, stewardship will continue to serve as a reminder that I trust in God and therefore, I live in joy and fear not.

To close, I want to say thank you for figuratively and literally holding me when I was grieving death and navigating change. Your beautiful expression of God’s love both safeguarded and fortified my heart. You helped me see the joy, not the sadness and feel the comfort instead of the pain. You’re my friends and my family. I love you and am grateful for you.

Bella Suavengco

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