Consecrating generosity

How would your stewardship team feel if they had sent out hundreds of letters, filled their newsletters and bulletins with encouragements, solicited many testimonies, and then catered lunch for 150 to 200 people? Tired, yes… but also delighted by the generosity of their fellow parishioners! St. Paul’s and St. John’s, both in Oakland, were two of the many DioCal congregations that have used the “New Consecration Sunday” stewardship program to both transform the conversation about giving, and also to dramatically increase their results. In their second year of the program, St. John’s has seen a 9% increase in pledge amounts (following a first-year increase of 10%). St. Paul’s, using the program for the first time this year, saw an estimated 18% increased in pledges.

Why the dramatic changes? New Consecration Sunday (the program and the book by of the same name by Herb Miller) invites people to reflect on their pledges as a spiritual discipline, not as a means to a budgetary end. “For St. John’s, Oakland,” reflected senior warden Susan Pierpoint, “it’s been a meaningful way to engage with challenging questions about the role money has in our lives and how we choose to be stewards of what we have.”  All of the parochial communications during the pledge drive emphasize the joyful possibilities of generosity. Then, as symbols of common life within a generous community, the program liturgically celebrates the ingathering of “estimate of giving cards,” and invites everyone present on Consecration Sunday to enjoy a bountiful meal while they tabulate and celebrate the results. 

Guest leaders — a vital element of the New Consecration Sunday program — serve as coaches, teachers and preachers during the roughly two-month pledge season. “An outside speaker always brings a fresh perspective and challenge, making it less about the church budget and more about being spiritually alive,” said St. John’s rector Scott Denman. Stephanie Muller, a graduate and leader at Delancey Street, served as consultant to St. John’s, preaching a Consecration Sunday sermon entitled “Sometimes a leap of faith is the only available means of transportation” based on life lessons from her rehabilitation from drug abuse. “Stephanie taught us that we too, could let go… pray and trust that we will have what we need,” said one St. John’s member, “And we will.”

At St. Paul’s, DioCal Ministry Development Officer Julia McCray-Goldsmith served as guest leader. She introduced stewardship leader Sharon Pilmer to the program, worked through the details with rector Mauricio Wilson and the stewardship team, addressed the leadership dinner, and preached the Consecration Sunday sermon. In the process of engaging this robust community-wide conversation about Christian stewardship, many parish members stepped forward not only to pledge more generously, but also to share their stories more honestly and vulnerably.

“You would think music is the main reason I give to St. Paul’s, but it’s not,” volunteered one dedicated member of the choir. “I needed a place to experience God in my own unique way, and St. Paul’s was there. I wanted to be a part of a community with people that came from different backgrounds than I did, cared about each other and the needs of the world around us, and St. Paul’s was there. My sister came down with life threatening cancer at a young age, and St. Paul’s was there. Our house burned down in the Oakland Fire, and St. Paul’s was there. I became afflicted with serious health challenges, and St. Paul’s was there. I give money to St. Paul’s so it can be there for me, for my family, for our congregation, for the good works we do and have done, for the casual attendee, for the neighborhood. And for the people who we may not know, and may not know us, but at some point in the future, will need what St. Paul’s has to offer.”

Photos courtesy St. John’s, Oakland.