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The Gift of the Tithe

Cilla Raughley (the District Executive for Pacific Central District for the past 6 years) and her husband Andrew Johnson (a management consultant and university professor) aren’t impulsive souls. Yes, they are responsive to what the world presents to them. But they are very thoughtful and deliberate in how they react to what sparks their deeper thinking.

Take their decision to tithe—to “give away” 10% of their income—about 10 years ago. This idea didn’t come to them out of thin air. It was sparked by various converging influences; and they thought it through.

The path to their becoming “tithers” began around 1991, when they were newish Unitarian Universalists (UUs)—at least as a couple. Cilla was brought up as a Unitarian Universalist. And she was feeling that the time was right to rejoin her church and faith. It was important to Cilla that they do this as a couple. Andrew was open to the idea.

They checked out the churches in their area of California, and landed in a mid-size UU church in the greater San Francisco Bay area.

Not long thereafter, someone from the church called them, asking them if they would consider pledging. The canvasser came to their house to discuss with them what pledging meant. They listened with care, and Cilla said, quite unabashedly, “I think we could give $100 a month.” The man was stunned. This gift of $1200 a year put Cilla and Andrew in the top giving range of their church. And they were newcomers!

Cilla and Andrew were equally astonished—$100 a month was considered a generous pledge!? It wasn’t that they were wealthy. Quite the opposite. Compared to many others in their network of acquaintances, Cilla and Andrew considered themselves people of relatively modest means.

Thus they began their journey into the world of generosity.

Several years later, a sermon they heard about White Privilege got them to thinking: Yes, they worked hard to get where they were in life. And yes, they had some amount of financial comfort to show for their efforts. But they also realized that what they had was not just because they worked hard. Many people worked hard. Many even harder than Andrew and Cilla—farm workers and people in the service industry for instance. And these folks don’t receive from their wok the material rewards that the Johnson/Raughley household does from theirs. It then struck Cilla and Andrew that the monetary rewards they had were not theirs. Theirs to keep, that is. Their money was theirs to share.

That’s when they started thinking about what it means contribute back to the world. They decided then and there it would be the right thing for them to give away 10% of their income.

They already knew they were considered generous. At their church, after all, they were among the top donors! They went home after the sermon on White Privilege and added up what their charitable giving totaled. They were floored that it was only 3% of their annual income.

Did they have what it took to tithe?

They decided to try. The first year, they committed to increasing their charitable giving by 1½ %, while also wondering how they possibly do that. They live in California after all—in the Silicon Valley no less. But at year’s end, they realized that it was not that hard to do—to cut out some self-focused giving and to distribute funds back to the world.

The next year, they increased their charitable giving by a bit more. And within 3-4 years, they were, in fact, at the 10% mark. Yes, they had to change their habits. And doing so has changed their lives for the better.

So for the past decade, Andrew and Cilla have tithed. Hands down, Unitarian Universalism is the most frequent recipient of their largesse. But many other justice and social causes about which they care deeply are folded into that 10 %.

Why do they do this?

As Andrew puts it, “For two reasons. Because we can. And because it brings us such joy that we can be philanthropists. We know that our efforts help the world.”

And Cilla adds, with a smile in her voice: “For us, tithing hasn’t just been about opening our wallets. It has also opened our hearts.”

These aren’t impulsive folks. Rather, they are deeply devoted UUs who discovered the inextricable link between, as they put it, “gratitude as a spiritual practice and incarnating that appreciation in acts of generosity.” Though Cilla and Andrew didn’t really have role models for doing this—they figured it out for themselves, along the way—they are certainly role models for the rest of us.

We thank them for being such an inspiration.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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