Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House
It used to be the case that four-yearly cycle of ‘Stewardship Campaigns’ was a regular feature of Anglican parochial life. They seem, in many dioceses, to have been replaced by the `funding programme,’ with a single focus on raising money. Travelling one generation back in time, the `Stewardship Campaign’ was often titled `Stewardship Mission’ and had a strong preaching, praying and teaching element in it. In many cases individuals made a huge step forward in their spiritual journey in coming to a thoughtful, prayerful response to the invitation to give of their time, talents and money.
Christian spirituality is nothing other than the practice of Stewardship. Stewardship is responding to the call of Christ in the present moment, offering to his service all our gifts and abilities. It is the desire to make this loving response to God that is the well-spring of our all Christian ministry.
Consider these two profound prayers; first this prayer from the Methodist Covenant Service: ‘I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; let me full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.’ The second is from the final stage of the ‘Spiritual Exercises’ of St Ignatius: ‘Take, Lord and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou Nast given all to me. To thee, 0 Lord, I return it. All is thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will.’
Both these prayers express the deep desire to make a loving and sacrificial response to God’s love for us which is experienced by each person in the totality of their life. `All is thine,’ prays Ignatius. In response John Wesley declares `I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure.’ It is this deep awareness of God’s goodness and that life is grace or gift that transforms and transfigures the individual will to generous self- giving. This is the only place to begin any prayer and reflection on one’s own response to God in the giving of our time, talents and money.
Since Jacob vowed at Bethel to give one tenth of all he had to the Lord, tithing has been recognized as a faithful response to God’s goodness. I have always thought that one tenth is a little mean considering that all things come from you and of your own do we give you.’ The sad reality is that a very small proportion of Christians tithe. This is the fact behind the rather feeble spiritual life and half-hearted mission of the Church in many contemporary contexts. To tithe is both to recognize the goodness of God and to trust in his faithfulness. To try and work out what to give in any other way is an exercise in balancing the books with God without recognising the truth that it all belongs to God anyway. Two questions: what is your giving like; are you being generous to God? If you aren’t, what is stopping you?