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Deuteronomy 26.12-15

Gospel of Thomas 9

Caution:  Stewardship Ahead

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

Well friends, it is that time of year again.  The frost was definitely on the pumpkins earlier this week, Hallowe’en decorations are tucked away for another year, we are beginning to think about who to invite to our Thanksgiving tables, and if Lowe’s is any indication – has any of you been to Lowe’s in the past two weeks?  When you walk in the front door it is lighted and tinseled and bejeweled and bedazzled Christmas trees as far as the eye can see!  If this is any indication, Santa will see his shadow this Tuesday and go back into hibernation for another six weeks, which is fine because Christmas is still fully seven weeks away.  In the most recent church newsletter I wrote about the surfeit of holidays between now and the end of the year, but it wasn’t until the Uniter already went to press that I realized my survey neglected to mention one of the church’s most cherished and hallowed seasons, one which strikes fear and trembling into the hearts of clergy and congregation alike.  Yes, dear people, it is Stewardship Season once again.

Stewardship:  that time of the church’s year in the final weeks before Advent when the clergy – that’s me – seeks to encourage, cajole, persuade, beseech, entreat, and implore the congregation - that’s you – to maintain or preferably to increase our material support for the church’s mission and ministry in such a way that she or he doesn’t come across as some kind of late night television pitchman hawking products that you will use once and then stash in the closet for eternity, all the while a toll-free number scrolls across the bottom of your screen.  Although in the case of the United Church, we would refer you to the green “Donate” button that appears on every single page of our church web site.  Yes, that’s www.uccchester.orgwww.uccchester three ‘c’s, not just two - .org. the bright green donate button right there on the right margin of our web page, which, did I mention, is

The question I often ask myself at this time of year is, “Which of many possible approaches shall I take this Stewardship season?”  For example, do we take the gentle approach, and talk about all the good things the church does for our congregation and our community and of the need to keep up the good work without actually mentioning the dollarswe need to undertake that work?  Do we talk about the cost of gasoline and groceries in the real world and hope the congregation makes the connection entirely on its own that the church also has bills to pay and yes, oh by the way, our church staff also lives in that same  real world and would love to be able to purchase gasoline and groceries and last year’s salaries were good for last year, but next year…  But no.  Who would ever want be so unsubtle as this from the pulpit?

An alternative approach might be the good cop / bad cop gambit, where a member of the congregation rises to paint the budgetary needs of the church in dark hues, listing all the dire consequences of failing to support the church’s work.  Granted, we’d have a difficult time identifying a bad cop in our congregation, but just imagine if we could:  No heat on Sunday mornings, unplowed parking lots, the choir singing the same song week after week because they cannot afford new music, plans to close the kitchen and sell off our historical treasures, volunteers running the church office, printing up the bulletin and fixing the computers and answering the phones, the minister gone moonlighting and forced to work the Sunday morning shift at Cumberland Farms, and then where would we be?  But then along comes another member of the congregation to play the good cop who flips the script to remind us, not of the consequences of non-support but rather the incredible opportunities open to us as a people of faith when we are as generous with our church as God is generous with us.  Think of the membership possibilities alone!  Who wants to join a church with no heat and no lights and the same songs week after week after week?  Although, I would guess that if the same songs are Silent Night and Christ the Lord is Risen Today we could probably do without hymnals as well.  But no, it is by your very generosity that we offer a warm and well-lit sanctuary with the gift of song filling the air as well as our hearts, and we have it entirely within our ability to strengthen the multiple good works that we already undertake and at the same find new ways to leverage our benevolent presence within Chester and beyond.

Then there is the biblical approach, which as you know has been my preferred approach when talking about stewardship.  Think of all the stories and parables of growth and generosity and abundant blessings.  Think of the sower and the seed, and how with faithful care and watering that seed grew to thirty and sixty and a hundred times its original volume.  Think of the mustard seed that grew, in Mark’s gospel anyway, to become the largest shrub in the garden!  Think of the person who was asked for a coat and gave not only the coat but the cloak as well, who gave twice as much as was asked!  Think of the loaves and the fishes, where a simple gesture resulted in more food than the eye could see or the stomach could hold, and what a large quantity can come from the simple act of sharing what you have with others.  Think of Deuteronomy’s admonition to tithe, so that the immigrants the orphans and the widows in our communities will never have to do without.  Although, the Bible is not afraid to take the bad cop approach when necessary. There is the story of the rich man and Lazarus where the stingy person is condemned to the flames and torment of the netherworld and begs the pauper for a single drop of water.  Or the unfaithful steward who goes and buries what he has in the ground where no one can get at it and has it tall taken away from him as a result of his parsimony.  Yes, it is the wise preacher who hides the stewardship sermon deep within the pages of the Bible, because while it is a relatively harmless exercise to go home and say, “All that preacher ever talks about is money,” it is not such a simple matter to go home and say, “That stupid Bible needs a better editor.”

Or we could always, if you’ll pardon the pun, pass the buck.  Our minister could carefully avoid all talk of bills and budgets and inflation and instead invite a member of the congregation to reflect on the meaning of stewardship.  Because after all, the minister gets paid to talk about these things, and has a vested interest in keeping the church doors open.  But when a member rises from the pews – or let’s say, theoretically, from the lofty choir perch – and reminds us, hey, we’re all in this together, and if we don’t do it, no one else is going to it for us - then it makes us think twice and gives us something we can relate to.  But then we would never resort to such a tactic here at the United Church, would we?

So while you are waiting for me to make up my mind about what kind of stewardship sermon I want to preach in this season – if any – don’t forget to check your mailboxes this week for the 2024 letter and pledge card, which will be going out Tuesday.  Though I know you won’t want to fill it out until you actually hear what I have to say next week and then decide if your percentage increase will be in the single or double digits – because I know my sermons have that power.  As well, the proposed budget for 2024 will be available next Sunday to provide the opportunity to read how our resources resource our ministry.  And then we’ll ask you to bring your pledges with you Sunday November 19, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, when we dedicate ourselves and our commitment to our church, and offer you thanks for sustaining and enhancing the ministry that you and I do together.

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United Church of Chester, 29 West Main Street, Chester, CT 06412. (860) 526-2697


From the North: Take CT Route 9 South to Exit 8 (old exit 6) (CT 148). Turn left; we are 1 mile on the right.


From the South: Take CT Route 9 North to Exit 8 (old exit 6) (CT 148). Turn Right; we are .8 miles on the right.

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