24 February 2009

Stewardship & "Lape"

I want to be a caring steward of the abundance in my life. I spend time thinking about stewardship. This doesn't mean I want to make money. It means I want to earn a living with the blessings and abundance that have been given to me. I want to deploy and employ my God-given gifts and talents. It's been a lifetime learning this.

I like church life. In church life, and with any ministry by a parish member, stewardship is each person doing all they can, with all they have, all the time with their time, talent, and treasure. A "steward" is one who manages anothers' finances, property, or other affairs. Stewardship is caring administration and management.

There are a lot of people living into the life of their ministry and church who want to have deeper knowledge of what stewardship means. I recently attended a stewardship conference presented by The Episcopal Network for Stewardship (TENS) called "Living Our Faith: Stewardship in the 21st Century." It was hosted by the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee and other regional southeastern Episcopal dioceses. Over 170 laity and clerics from across the North American continent attended. Here are some sample workshop topics.
  • Finance: "Asking Without Fear, Clergy & Money," "Stewardship & Giving: Increasing Financial Support of Your Church."
  • Property: "How Many Lightbulbs Does It Take to Change a Christian," "Discerning God's Vision: Readiness for a Capital Campaign."
  • Other Affairs: "Sharing Your Story: A Key to Nurturing Generosity," "Promoting Planned Gifts," "Stewardship of the Body," "Generational Affairs in Stewardship Development."
I spent my conference time attending two workshops each on planned giving, working at the bookstore table and making some photopix for my diocese, and visiting with folks whom I knew or was getting to know for the first time.

The planned giving message is simple, available, and spirit filled. The simple message is it's critical for every person to have a will, a living will, a durable power of attorney, and a medical power of attorney. It you want to do this and don't know how there are easy and accessible materials available to learn how. The available message is there are financial instruments available for you to give to your church in a manner that sustains it long after you've laid your body down and returned to our Creator. You have only to seek them out. The spirit filled message is that it's possible to plan, prepare, and direct an abundant end of life that clears a path for your loved ones to follow. In the end it will fill them with thanksgiving. It just takes your will and planning. These two workshops laid out a road map to do this. It only takes planning ahead.

One of the folks whom I got to know through conversation was Lathrop Peloubet Smith, aka "Lape." Lape is Mentor Emeritus, Stewardship Committee of the Diocese of North Carolina. Lape is a veteran of the Navy and World War II. He is one of "the greatest generation." His memoirs are part of the Veterans History Project of the American Folklife Center of The Library of Congress. He served on the USS Black (DD 666) in the Pacific Ocean.

Lape is an extrovert, so seeking comfort from a conference where four bishops were speaking, he gravitated to us at the book table with his aluminium walker. He loves to talk and he believes what he says is important. He knows you think it's important too. And he told us story upon story I'm certain are in his memoirs in the Veterans History Project. And he talked about what "stewardship" was like in his prime in his day. He lamented it transformation and how my generation has to work so hard learning what "stewardship" is. I suspect he has a point since we are so accustomed to abundance. I can assure you Lape knows what stewardship still is, and he was happy to tell me and Daphne. Well, one story led to another from Lape, so easily prompted and revealed by our interest and listening. At times I could see the hole of sadness in his heart from one experience or another. But as story upon story went on time went on and we parted happy to have been in conversation. I had been amused, enlightened, and tired out by this happy effervescent man.

The conference ended with a Eucharistic service. Lape was the first reader. The text was 2 Kings 5: 1-14, about Naaman, the great and renowned military leader, who suffered from an enlarged ego and leprosy. Before I was aware Lape was reading at the podium up on the raised platform. I will not soon forget the beauty of his voice. A reading knowing, familiar, gentle and deep; a text from thousands of years past, a reading intuitively conveying Naaman's transformation and learning of God. It was as if I was hearing the transformation for the first time. I must've been ready. This cheerful aged warrior had been my teacher. And then I felt the most extraordinary phenomena. Lape finished his reading. He and his walker made their way off and down the platform, not a person helping him, no sir, everyone could see he needed no such help, slowly back to his seat at table, among us, all our eyes and ears and hearts upon him. He had enraptured us, all of us seeing the Transformation, all of us in a perfect transformed silence.

Thanks be to God.