Albert Lovejoy was a member of my Internship Committee in Prescott, Arizona. The committee was talking about some of the personal preferences that people expressed when it came to worship services. He said, "Well, when I come to church, I always hope there are elements that don't really speak to me, because I figure they are likely to speak to someone not like me and that is the point!"
Early in my time as parish minister in Ventura, California, we found that a young Religious Education Assistant had been stealing on-site. Because our board had known there were thefts, I began a conversation with them about next steps. One of them said, "What would we want to have happen if she was our daughter?"
Years later, I let our board president, Tom Berg, know that some stranger I helped with our Inreach/Outreach Fund turned out to be spinning a false story to congregations all over town. He replied, "I would rather you take the chance of helping someone like that as opposed to not helping someone you should help because you are overly suspicious."
Before his death, Tom spoke to me about leaving a large bequest to the endowment fund. But he didn't want money to be tucked away when the immediate mission called us to great things. When he died, we created a Legacy Fund to be used "to grow the generosity of the congregation and/or the capacity of the congregation to live out its mission."
A few years ago, in my capacity as Congregational Life Staff, I was working in a congregation in which the board and minister were in conflict. The board president, reflecting back on her role, said, "I keep wondering what I could have done differently."
These stories are all about generosity. Generosity can be giving people the benefit of the doubt, setting aside personal preferences for the common good, looking for the best in people and situations or giving freely of the gifts given to us. Research tells us that generosity in its various forms is tied to a sense of joy and meaning in life.
What would your congregation look like if it practiced "Generosity In All Things?" What would be different? What new and creative ways can you think of to nurture generosity in your midst?
But becoming more generous is something that is available to each of us in every moment. Our hymn "I Wish I Knew How" has the line, "I wish I could give all I'm longing to give." May we all become as generous as we are longing to be.
Rev. Jan Christian
Pacific Western Region, Congregational Life Staff