You can hear the hills the minute she opens her mouth. The distinct notes of Kentucky, burnished to an easy softness by thirteen years in Manhattan, give Terry Parson’s the sort of voice that makes Canadian Anglicans wish they had gone to Sunday school in Lee, Clay or Jackson Counties. You just know Ms Parsons’ class always had the most fun.
The laughter Saturday morning at the 110th Synod of the Diocese of New Westminster proved that Terry Parsons is indeed a gifted story-teller. Especially when you consider that her message was all about something that many Anglicans consider no laughing matter – money.
Parsons, who describes her eleven years as Head of Stewardship for the Episcopal Church in the USA as “the best job in the world, travelling around the world, speaking of God and money” is the person you’ve always wanted on your committee –focused, on point and self-deprecatingly humorous.
To explain her family’s denominational provenance she cited being Baptist as saving them from hell and then being Episcopalian as saving them from the Baptists.
Her first definition of stewardship did not mention money.
“Using the gifts God has given us to do the work God is calling us to do.”
Another definition, still no mention of money: “Stewardship is not asking God for stuff you haven’t got yet.”
And then she offered this call to action: “It is assumed we are all in some way, shape or form - stewards. God has given us every breath we take, everything we have, every penny. As stewards we are not owners.”
Terry then went on to reveal the Seven Secrets of Amazing Stewardship.
PRAY about your stewardship. Pray as a congregation, pray as individuals. And do not be afraid of improvised, extemporaneous prayer.
ENGAGE THE GOSPELS. What is Jesus calling us to do? As a congregation and as individuals
REBUKE SCARCITY (citing scarcity can make you feel smart –and safe ....but) and...
CLAIM ABUNDANCE. Do not “give in” to those who claim scarcity (“we’ll never make the budget!”). Ask ourselves and each other what we value about our church and what we can contribute. To illustrate, Terry asked us to consider the Biblical story of the loaves and fishes (Mark 6:30-44). Here the disciples “behaved like church leaders” by saying that there was not enough. They claimed scarcity, the safe approach of doing nothing. But Jesus asked the abundance question – “What DO we have?” This can be a scary question and yet, as Mark’s Gospel tells us, what the disciples thought was scarcity, turned out to be abundance – more than enough for all! (Remember secret #2 – engage the Gospels.)
BETTER TO NURTURE HOLY HABITS THAN GO FRETTIN' ABOUT THE BUDGET. (AND FILTER THAT BUDGET THROUGH MISSION) Well, what “holy habits” are we talking about here? Two that Terry mentioned were Sabbath keeping and tithing. In the creation story God rested on the seventh day. So why do you think you can go 24/7? Tithing is one of the most ancient of instructions, going back in the Bible to the story of Jacob who offered 10% of his wealth to God. (The “modern” tithe recommends 5% of gross income be offered to our church under the assumption that the second 5% can be used for the many other charities needing support in our world.) If we work to effectively make these “holy habits” a part of our life, then we would have no stewardship problems.
THANK EVERYBODY, ESPECIALLY GOD. Say thanks for the support that everyone is giving to the church. And remember to thank God for what he is doing in our lives.
NEVER EVER, EVER, FORGET THAT YOU CAN’T SELL SOAP IF YOU DON’T TAKE BATHS. And that you can have enough to do God’s work in the world.
Terry Parsons will be back in the D of NW at St. Dunstan’s, Aldergrove, September 24th, 2011 at an event entitled “Its What We Do Here,” a Road to 2018 diocesan sponsored workshop offered to promote year-round stewardship and the development of generous faith communities. More details will be available about this event during the next few weeks.