As a UUA Congregational Stewardship Consultant, I am always eager to learn and explore new ways to tap into the deep pools of generosity among my fellow Unitarian Universalists.  At our most recent consultants’ retreat, Mary Gleason introduced us to a powerful exercise that invited us to explore what it means to give and what it means to receive, and how that might relate to stewardship at our congregations.

I have since tried this exercise at several congregations, including my own, with great success.  The exercise is simple and I commend it to you.  Just ask people to take a few quiet moments to think about a time they gave something to someone that was really special – something that really hit home and was the “perfect” gift for that person at that moment.  The gift need not be physical – it could be the perfect word or a hug or a smile.  Ask people to remember what it felt like to give that gift, and to imagine what it must have felt like to be on the receiving end.  Then ask them to do the whole thing in reverse, thinking of a time when they were on the receiving end of the perfect gift.  After a few moments of quiet reflection, I like to ask people to share their stories in pairs and then in the whole group.

Reactions to this exercise have been varied, sometimes surprising, often inspiring.  Some folks have had a hard time remembering giving or receiving any special gifts – they’re just not used to thinking in these terms.  For these people, this exercise stirred up some deep memories and new ways of understanding how they relate to other people.

My most powerful experience with this exercise was with a UU middle school youth group.  Now, middle schoolers are not always easy to reach, and I approached this with some trepidation.  The results were amazing!  The kids shared moving stories of the most personal gifts – a hand-written card, a poem, a drawing, a touch, just the right stuffed animal – and were articulate about the impact of these gifts.  The exercise has worked equally well with people of all ages.   The sharing of giving and receiving stories lets people reach into the depths of their human connections, and after all isn’t that a big part of what we’re about in our UU congregations – and what stewardship is all about?  No matter how much time I allow for these sharing moments, it’s never enough.

As stewards of our congregations, we are called upon to be cheerful givers and grateful receivers.  May we tap into our spirits of generosity by lifting up what it means to do this work with grace and love.

About the Author
Barry Finkelstein


  1. Lena

    I have been running a Tapestry of Faith workshop for young adults the past few weeks. Sharing in pairs and then with the whole group is a common activity and effective for meaningful reflections. Giving and receiving is an important thing to learn how to do gracefully and reflecting on past experiences can make people more aware of future opportunities.

  2. Maria Oropallo

    Barry – this is excellent. Am involved in our own church growth (internal) and your blog was forwarded as a “must read.” And I agree it is.

    Best to you and Roberta,

    Maria Oropallo
    formerly in Manassas VA
    now in Columbia, MO


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