by: Emily Meeks
During this season of stewardship campaigns, I have been reflecting on pledging and the reasons for which I choose to give a portion of my income to the church. I haven’t always seen pledging as a spiritual practice, and it certainly hasn’t been something that I have looked forward to with joy and anticipation.
Still, a backpacking trip earlier this summer has become my visual image of the journey of stewardship; it has changed my approach to giving.
The forecast was 100 percent rain on the Olympic Peninsula. Half of the group had not backpacked before. And, I had never led a group backpacking. When I woke up that particular Friday morning to hear thunder and see flashes of lightning, I asked God, “What have I said yes to?”
What followed was not catastrophic moments of deluge but moments of our discovering God in one other and in the rugged coastline. We climbed rock stacks amidst the words of St. Patrick’s Breastplate, hearing the “the deep salt sea around the old eternal rocks.” We discovered micro-worlds of sea creatures in tide pools. We ate instant oatmeal wearing every bit of rain gear available. We set dish stations on logs that someone said felt like liturgy of the table.
For Sunday morning prayer we gathered on the beach. We read the words of Acts 2 and contemplated the image of fire as the waters of the Pacific surrounded us on Pentecost.
Fire and water. Both elements shape, refine, engulf, mark. And, we asked the question — “Where in your life do you desire this shaping and refining by the Holy?” —with the invitation to find a piece of driftwood and either place in the fire pit or the water at ocean’s edge.
All twelve of us went to the water. One of our members stepped farther, going into the water without hesitancy of staying dry as the water splashed around her. The next thing I knew, I and others followed, some even recasting their wood into deeper water.
That moment has struck me as an image of faith lived in community. Those extra steps into the ocean also remind me of the invitation we have during this season of stewardship. Can we go deeper into our commitment to God and to one another, together?
When I first arrived at Saint Mark’s, I stayed on the edge, quite literally. I tried to be the last one in and first one out but inwardly starved for spiritual nourishment.
As to pledging, I pledged nothing because I couldn’t give perfectly. Yet, I probably spent more money on running shoes and marathon entry fees than I donated to Saint Mark’s. St. Mark’s parishioners gave to me regardless, without demand of return. Their kindnesses felt like little lanterns along a dark path, helping me find my way back again and again.
At some point I heard a sermon that began to change how I viewed my relationship with pledging. In the sermon, the priest acknowledged that at times, especially starting out, it wasn’t easy to give. That really resonated with me as I recalled the constant uncertainty of finances when my husband and I moved to Seattle with no jobs, newly married and rent much higher than Atlanta. That sermon was one of the first times I had heard a priest acknowledge that it can be challenging to give of your income. Then he shared wisdom that I couldn’t quite figure out how to ignore: Just do what you can. See what happens. Invitation not rule.
As I tiptoed from the edge, I began to feel something greater than the fear of imperfection — a deepening desire to be and feel part of a community engaged in tangible ways of restoring justice, caring for creation, and building relationships of all ages. And I began to experience a shift with how I wanted to spend my time, too. I used to guard it so tightly.
Being in community has helped soften rigid rules and create space for new ways of living, moving and being. Ways that are honoring to God and life giving to others. Ways that help me show up to experience the nourishment of the table without measure of performance.
I am forever grateful for the ways in which the generosity of community has beckoned me from the edges, to come to the water, to take a next step, to go deeper and to even enjoy splashing around.
Emily Meeks loves finding adventure and connection outside, especially while running, biking, hiking and kayaking. She attends and serves at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle.