A Mini-Sermon by Barry Finkelstein
UUA Congregational Stewardship Consultant
Emerson UU Church, Marietta, GA
November 14, 2010
I am one of the crazy ones – the people who sign up to do stewardship in our churches. Go around and talk to people about money. Both in my own church and as one of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s congregational stewardship consultants – which is how I come to be among you this weekend.
When I ask myself why I do this, an image pops immediately into my mind. An image of one of my former churches – South Church Unitarian Universalist – in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We’re in the sanctuary – a beautiful historic sanctuary inside a granite monument of a building – and it’s January 1 2008, a Tuesday. On what might have been an ordinary New Year’s Day, the church is filled with people, with energy, with magic. A beautiful, powerful magic that changed the world.
You see, New Hampshire had just enacted a Civil Union Law, the culmination of years of activism and courage, to provide legal recognition to the committed relationships of gay and lesbian couples. South Church conducted about a dozen civil unions that day, and celebrated with a special worship service in a nearly full sanctuary. I was relatively new to New Hampshire so could take no direct credit for the civil union law. But we – all of us UUs are part of a long chain of people — and commitment — and passion — and radical love — that made it possible. And of course, people sitting in our pews that day were among those who really made it happen.
I could not have been more proud.
My minister wife, Roberta, says that the purpose of the church is to save lives and change the world. And on January 1, 2008, we celebrated the fruits of the work that did both of those things. Our long tradition of welcoming gays and lesbians to join our congregations and worship among us in safety and love has surely saved lives. And pushing our society to embrace tolerance and justice and equality for all, changes the world.
I have come to see that our congregations and our movement working together are powerful – a force for good. Too often we convince ourselves otherwise – buying into the notion that we are a tiny minority with few resources and little influence – a scarcity myth. But in my heart I know different. And I believe that you know different too. By working together, believing in our power, exercising that power, we can change the world.
But power requires resources – people, energy, money – what I have come to see as a ministry of stewardship . I thought I should offer you a definition of stewardship. So I headed straight to that ancient source of wisdom — Wikipedia – and found these words – stewardship is “a responsibility to take care of something one does not own.” This brought to mind the words of Ginny Courter, the moderator of our Unitarian Universalist Association, who said that the purpose of the church is to serve those not yet here – those we don’t yet know and can scarcely imagine, both in our own time and as a legacy for future generations – much as visionaries here in Emerson did when buying this property, moving to full-time ministry, and taking other leaps of faith.
Stewardship is the way we marshal our resources to do the life-saving work of the church – here and now, and as an investment in the future — to serve those not yet among us.
And that brings me to my work here with you this weekend. I have spent the past days reading about your congregation and meeting with about 40+ people here in person, and now sharing Sunday worship with you. And I have been impressed. You have so much to be proud of and to build on. You are a strong and vital congregation ready to move to the next level. Stick around for my presentation at 12:30 to hear more.
I know you have great dreams for this congregation – a growing, thriving, liberal religious community that is a force for life and love in Cobb County. And I know that you can achieve these dreams by coming together as a community to do the spiritual work of stewardship. During my presentation, I will offer specific recommendations on the path forward. I hope some of you will be inspired to join me among the crazy ones pursuing a ministry of stewardship.
I leave you with these words by architect and city planner Daniel Burnham. “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir the blood and probably will not be realized. Make big plans. Aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical structure, once erected, will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing. Remember that our children and grandchildren are going to do things that would stagger us. So, make no little plans.” Amen.
These are inspiring words from an energetic and thoughtful consultant. We knew Barry when his wife, Roberta, served a very productive interim ministry with us a few years ago here in Frederick, MD.
I will be sharing his good words with our own leadership as we prepare for another stewardship cycle.