Giving to ST. JOHN’S LAFAYETTE
The 2019 Annual Giving Campaign
Stewardship Talk #1
Given by Olynn McInerney
14 October 2018
For those who don’t know me, I am Olynn McInerney and have been at St. John’s since coming to town in 1985. For most of that time I have been part of the choir. We raised our two children Brendan and Allynn in this church. And you might know Bill, my husband who is much more social and ubiquitous around St. John’s.
I am an unlikely speaker for Stewardship. During the committee meeting, Bradley asked us to share how we came to our understanding of stewardship and specifically, what inspired us to pledge. As members were providing their eloquent spiritual insights I was thinking “Oh dear” since mine, while maybe a typical journey, is not one publicly shared. But here I am.
So if you are like me, upon hearing the words “pledge” or “stewardship,” you may have already tuned out. This is my natural reaction and response, deeply ingrained in me. My short ask today is don’t tune me out, just yet anyway. We might share a similar reaction to ”stewardship” or “pledging,” even while caring deeply about St. John’s.
My first real encounter about stewardship and pledging was my freshman year in college, some 40+ years ago, although it is as vivid as if yesterday. At that time a Methodist, I was trying out different churches. One by one, during each different visit, I encountered the same thing. It was stewardship Sunday. Every single time. I had no more walked in the door, and the first thing I am hearing is them asking me for money. It made me bristle. One this issue I realized I had, at the tender age of 18, morphed into my mother. (As an aside, my mother was one of the most amazing people to walk the face of the earth and is turning in her grave or hiding of embarrassment in heaven as I share this.) She was what you might say a religious but not necessarily spiritual woman. That is probably me today too. She attended church, quietly read a Bible at times, didn’t participate in too many other church activities, and had very strong, unusual views about what she considered was ‘taking the Lord’s name in vain.”
But what was ingrained in my soul was her reaction to stewardship season. Her reaction to turn off, tune out, and avoid church like the plague during stewardship season was exactly mine that freshman year (and for many years to come). I didn’t attend church at all my freshman year. I didn’t find a church home. Sleeping in on Sunday was a far better option for me than feeling like the only value I had for a church was how much money I could provide. My sophomore year I was invited to sing at the downtown Episcopal church in Birmingham. I had found my home: amazing liturgy, Anglican Chant, glorious music and ceremony and never, ever a word spoken about money or pledging. And so it is with a bit of chagrin that I am standing before you today in the Episcopal church to speak about financial stewardship and actually pledging.
I met Bill as a fellow choir member at the Episcopal Church of the Advent. We made lifelong friends and married there with the choir in full glory as part of the service. And my love and passion for the Episcopal Church grew. Then, like now, the choir was our extended family and the center of our social life. We were at the church a lot. We believed in that sense of community that I think cannot be matched anywhere else. Along with the intense love of that church, I had moved to the next step on my journey to stewardship. I occasionally would write a check, but still make no commitment. We were young, just starting out in life, didn’t make a ton of money, and pretty much lived pay check to pay check. The church check was what might be left over, sometimes more, sometimes not so much. It is too long ago for me to remember actually ever signing a pledge card while in Birmingham.
Education and careers found us here in Lafayette in the mid 80’s. Where to attend church—stewardship campaigns or not—was an easy choice. It was the only choice. St John’s was THE Episcopal option. There was at least a building, an organ, and a choir. The choir became our new community. That community provided God parents to Brendan and Allynn, holiday celebrations, and 30 years of vacation companions. The St John’s choir community was the focal point of our social and music life. We were always here. We hired sitters for Thursday rehearsal—our adult night! We moved a bit out of our comfort space as Bill was elected to the vestry. We were involved with the renovation that redesigned the upstairs choir and education space and nursery, since our children were toddlers then. That also transformed into a financial commitment with the renovation of the parish hall and kitchen, even though Bill still regrets that we didn’t put in a commercial size sink. At that time, as a family we started making a pledge to the operating budget and that capital campaign. It was the right thing to do. The amount of time we spent at St John’s also helped us understand the importance of the financial commitment, and making that pledge, and ultimately keeping it.
Stewardship has always been about two things to me—giving of time and talents—as well as a financial commitment. The time and talent part has been easy for Bill and me, first and mostly through music. For others that time and talent means other aspects of St John’s. We often speak about St John’s as a happy place. Some of you may attend regularly because it is the right thing to do. But I suspect more of you are committed to St. John’s because it is a joyful place, full of a supporting community. You are able to give of your time and talents in meaningful ways. You also sense the community and the support we receive from this community. We believe in St. John’s. We believe in what St. John’s offers as a worship and faith option in this area. We believe in St. John’s for its outreach, its striving for inclusivity, its witness as to what I personally think the church must be in these difficult times we now live in.
As I mentioned, the time and talent part for us has been the easy part. The financial stewardship journey has not been the easy part. As a household we have used our financial resources mostly for things we believe in. For those that know us well, that does not include cars, furniture, or landscaping. Instead it is education—and liberal arts education, sending Brendan and Allynn to hideously expensive liberal arts schools—music and dance lessons, along with purchasing high quality (and expensive) instruments, supporting arts organizations, and traveling—mostly to watch our kids perform while in college. You make room in your budget for the things you make room for in your heart. The 6th chapter of Matthew’s gospel reminds us, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Somewhere along my journey from cringing at the thought of financial stewardship to making that commitment, St. John’s captured my heart.