"Take care of him, and if there is any expense over and above, l will repay you on my way back" (Lk 10:35).
These familiar words of the Good Samaritan capture the true spirit of Stewardship ‑ our responsible caring for the Church.
Taking care of our Lord in the person of our sisters and brothers is at the heart of what the terms "Church" and "Parish" are all about. Our charity truly does begin at home. And then, in the spirit of true Christian love, we are called to responsibility for the rest of our community, especially for the poor.
Yet, there is so much confusion and even embarrassment when it comes to addressing the idea of stewardship, another name for our financial obligation, to our Church and parish. The questions: "How much should I give?... How often?... Why?" are sometimes painful to ask and difficult to answer.
In the Serbian Orthodox Church we have relied in the past on large numbers of people to support our growing parishes, or unpopular fundraisers bingo and catering. We thought the Church could survive on the "leftovers" from our purses and wallets. For fear of criticism, priests refrained from preaching on the "forbidden topic" of money. It is true that fundraising should not have to be a frequent topic of sermons.
Times have changed! With the advent of so many parish ministries, activities and programs, the need for responsible stewardship has increased dramatically in recent years.
The Good Samaritan not only took the beaten man from the side of the road and "poured in oil and wine," but he actually followed through and continued to give! He challenged the innkeeper to take care of the poor beaten man until he returned. He promised to repay the innkeeper!
As members of the parish, the challenge of caring for the Body of Christ, the Church, is the responsibility of each one of us! We are the “Samaritans!,” the stewards, the caretakers of our parish, our faith community.
Many of our people have already realized the urgency of our parish's needs. Their generosity to Christ and the Church makes us deeply grateful. God knows the sacrifices made to "build up the Body of Christ" (Eph 4:12). How can we all help?
Responsible Stewardship is essential for the life of our parish community
In today's active parish, our priests and their pastoral planning committees are continually challenged to respond to various needs. On the one hand the Gospel must be proclaimed, and on the other, the very real spiritual and material needs of the people of God must be addressed. As new and improved ministries and programs are developed, staff ‑ paid and volunteer ‑ must also be expanded to meet these new responsibilities. In addition to the spiritual focus, each parish must be concerned about necessary repairs, improvements, ongoing maintenance and, of course, the ever-rising costs of utilities. The parish is our spiritual home! We need to take care of it and to nurture the spirit of love for that home in the hearts of all of us.
Each parish is a FAMILY. Our Lord calls each of us into this community of Faith and Love. Just as our family at home experiences different stages and particular needs, so does our faith community. We rejoice and struggle through every time and season. In the parish setting, our community gathers to celebrate the living presence of the Lord who is made present through the Divine Liturgy and the Sacraments. We also celebrate through the proclamation of the Word and through one another, especially when we reach out in love for our sisters and brothers.
Since we look to the future, we give special attention to our Children and young people. In a confusing world, we endeavor to give them the example of our own faith and love for Christ. Stewardship for Christ's Body, the Church, says "I love you" to the Lord and to each of the members of our community. That concern extends as well to those who feel themselves "outside" our community. Stewardship is symbolic of our compassion, a way of "pouring oil and wine" upon the sick, the suffering, and those who simply need to hear the Word of God and experience the beauty of Christ's love.
During the Divine Liturgy, we give thanks to the Lord Our God for "it is right to give Him thanks and praise." Responsible Stewardship is our way of saying "thank you" to the Lord, who is the source of all our earthly blessings. We give back to the Lord a portion of all our gifts and material blessings. Sometimes we receive a sudden bonus or raise or an unexpected gift. In the spirit of gratitude, we remember the Lord when we experience these blessings. Our monetary "thank yous" should be sincere offerings given in joy.
Our Gift to the Lord
Responsible Stewardship is understood better when we reflect upon the idea of gift‑giving. Birthdays, anniversaries and the celebration of Christmas are great times of love for family and friends. We express that love through thoughtful gifts. Each Divine Liturgy is a prayer of thanksgiving to the Father, the source of all gifts. At the Offertory, through our generous donation of money, we express our personal love for Christ and help to build up the Community of Faith.
We wrap special gifts and carefully choose a card to fit the person we love. In the same way, our parish envelope is an external sign that this gift is a holy sacrifice freely given to our Lord. That envelope signifies a commitment that enables the parish to budget for the future and the envelope serves as a reminder of our responsible Stewardship. Even when we are away from the parish for a particular weekend, sending our envelope insures that the parish can continue to serve the needs of the community. Consistent use of the parish envelopes by all the parishioners is a tremendous testimony to our caring. Envelope use is essential to the success of our stewardship program. It lends dignity to our offering during Divine Liturgy. In most parishes, about three quarters of the Sunday offerings are given through the envelopes.
How much should I give?
For many years, the average Serbian Orthodox attending Divine Liturgy would reach for the "leftovers" and place a handful of change or a dollar bill into the collection plate (tas), without too much thought. Responsible Stewardship means planning ahead and giving a proportionate amount of our gross earnings back to God. The Bible states the norm of 10% ‑ 10 cents out of every dollar earned. We find references as early as Genesis when "Abram gave him (Melchizedek) a tenth of everything" (Gn 14:20). It sounds like a lot, but in practice, 5% can be given to the parish and 5% can be given to "the least of your sisters or brothers" ‑ the poor, the needy, missionaries, special collections for charity and even as tuition for education of our children.
Stewardship or tithing isn't something new. We can find dozens of scripture references in both the Old and New Testaments. The message is always to give a gift in gratitude, trust and in thanksgiving to the Lord, the source of all our blessings.
St. Paul reminded the early Christians that "He who sows sparingly will reap sparingly and he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully...God loves a cheerful giver" (2 Cor 9:6‑7).
Pledging ‑ Why do we need a stewardship form? Well, the use of a stewardship forms serves three very practical purposes:
- It enables each parishioner to plan ahead exactly how much will be given to the parish and to charitable works.
- It enables our Church to budget parish funds so that all our pastoral needs can be addressed efficiently.
- It serves as a reminder of our responsible Stewardship so that our gift will be proportionate to our income and, therefore, a sacrificial gift to the Lord.
The Characteristics of Parish Stewardship
Our parish gathers in prayerful gratitude at the Sunday Liturgy. Throughout the Liturgy we "lift up our hearts to the Lord ... Let us give thanks to the Lord our God ... lt is right to give Him thanks and praise." monetary gifts at the time of the collection symbolize our self‑donation. We prayerfully offer ourselves through Jesus to the Father.
We need to decide through careful reflection how much our responsible donation should be. This should be done as part of our family budget.
Stewardship requires that "the first fruits" (Lv 23:10) be given to the Lord. This means that the Lord is taken care of first then the other obligations can be satisfied. If there are emergencies, a sudden illness or unemployment, adjustments can be made accordingly.
A sacrifice involves giving from our substance rather than from our abundance. Remember Jesus’ observation of the widow's mite (Lk 21. I‑4). It means giving from what we think we need for ourselves. We are changed spiritually when this sacrifice is offered for the sake of Christ. It identifies us with the sacrifice of Jesus and helps us to be “poor in spirit" (Mt 5:3).
I hope that these few words will reach the hearts and minds of our brothers and sisters and that they will have better understanding of the meaning, the necessity, and the reasons for Christian Orthodox Stewardship, which was for centuries a major characteristic of our Serbian People. There are plenty of examples from Holy Nemanjic’s to our days, and the witnesses are numerous Churches and Monasteries throughout our ancestral homeland. I believe that our generations are influenced enough with sacrificial love for neighbors that are in need and our beloved Church. Therefore, I as your spiritual father am calling upon all of you to get together around our mother Church and support her, so that we can transfer our living faith to our children and future generations.
With blessing yours,
Prota Slobodan Jovic