Monday, October 19, 2015

Stewardship Witness: Saying "Yes"

When Terri asked me to do this, I said NO.

 Over the years I have been touched and brought to tears by stewardship narratives of transformation from many of you, my friends. With brave hearts you have stood in front of us spilling the most personal spiritual biographies. And I don’t have anything like that. And so I said NO. And then I started to think about the rich Christian heritage that I was born into, and it is still growing within me today

Even though I’ve been at St. Paul’s for years, I am an outsider to the Episcopal church as many of you are. In a world where church attendance is an anomaly, I grew up going to church—the Methodist Church- the tradition my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents were all part of. And in a world where religion is increasingly used as a cudgel, that church was kind, welcoming, and stable. Church was so much like a second home, that when we fled our own home, just 5 minutes ahead of the Paseo Grande Fire in 1967, we went straight to the minister’s house and knocked on the door in the middle of the night and were embraced and comforted even though I threw up all night!

I took this love of our church family for granted, of course. No big spiritual awakening. John brought me to St. Paul’s after we met in a folk dance class and again, there was no lightning-bolt moment. Just a lot of kind people, some really nice music, that kind of thing. No big story there. But deep inside I always knew John and I would return to the Methodist church. Right John? Sure!

In 1983 Becky and Kathy, my two step-daughters came to live with us. I knew I was going to need help. I turned to my church friends for support and there they were. Are you seeing a pattern here? How many times was I going to take this for granted?

John and I said “Yes” to facilitating a Kerygma Bible Study series in the early ‘90s. I did it because they needed someone and I was curious. My mind and heart were changed about the essence of Christianity as our church friends looked with new eyes at the traditions that we had taken for granted- sometimes with discomfort.

At work, as a public servant and manager of people, St. Paul’s remarkable commitment to love and justice by each of you gave me many “aha” moments that were a checklist as I reviewed my To Do list on the white board each morning. It changed my life in the marketplace.

In outlining all the reasons my story makes a lousy stewardship witness, I began to understand something new and important about my spiritual journey. Most of us walk a long, slow road toward God and we need help. We don’t get angels or a pillar of fire to guide us. We get each other.

The joy of how St. Paul’s does stewardship is that this is our time to look around and say, Yes. Go ahead, look around you right now and remember the person who opened a door and let you inside when something in your life was roaring after you. Give a nod to the person across the aisle who made life less lonely and more loving. Say yes to the life God is building in you as part of this community of faith. And while you’re at it, say yes to one of the stewardship receptions listed in your bulletin. They’re really fun.

It wasn’t until John and I began bringing the girls to church back when they were teenagers that I became conscious of a deep, prayerful connection with the divine. Up until then, I’d been like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, who didn’t recognize Jesus even when he was walking beside them and teaching them. And like those disciples, it was only in looking back that I was able to recognize how very present Jesus had been all along. And so, in the end, I said YES.

I would like to share with you a prayer that is part of my family heritage that reflects the angst at being forced out of Prussia 150 years ago because of economic failures and recurring wars. It brings to mind the horrors of the Syrian crisis, but the deep richness of Jesus’ love and of God’s hope, if we allow ourselves to help build that hope. We say this as at family gatherings and Thanksgiving.
For the land of golden sunshine and skies of azure blue
For the hand’s warm clasp and friendly smiles
Our God we do thank you
For the right to think and worship as our conscience bids us due
For the freedom from all tyrants
Our God we do thank you
For the privilege of eating together as we are about to do
For the years of life thou has given us all
Our God, we do thank you.
Like you, I love St. Paul’s for the quiet and mysterious reasons as much as for the moments of great revelation. And I choose to be generous—joyfully generous—so that our doors remain open for those who come knocking—in the middle of the night or any time at all.

-Paula Peeling

1 comment:

Vicki Heins-Shaw said...

Paula, beautiful and real! Thank you.