We invite all our parishioners to become Stewards of our parish, by committing themselves to care for our community. This is easily done by completing the annual Stewardship form.
To help explain the benefits and spiritual basis for stewardship, below are a series of five letters from 2017 detailing all aspects of this beneficial spiritual practice. Note that figures mentioned below are not current. These letters are also available in Russian at this link on our site.
With love in Christ,
Archpriest Daniel Marshall, Rector
St. George Russian Orthodox Church
This letter marks the first of five mailings you will be receiving during the next five weeks. Letters will be sent weekly containing important information about our parish. Every Sunday during these five weeks, a sermon or talk will be given at Liturgy based on these letters. These letters and talks, approved by Fr. Daniel Marshall and our St. George Parish Council, is designed to initiate a stewardship campaign for 2017. It is our hope that everyone who receives these letters will read them carefully, consider the information they present, and, through prayer and reflection, change the manner in which they make their offerings.
This stewardship drive is designed to give us the opportunity to thank God for the blessings He has given to us all. If we profess belief in the Orthodox faith and if we love God, we must demonstrate this through our words and our actions. In Proverbs 3:9-10, we read … “Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”
Stewardship involves giving the first fruits of our time, our talents, and our resources for the glory of God. Everything we do at work, at play, and with our families must find us behaving in ways which glorify God. This is not only our duty as Orthodox Christians, it is the way of life which brings us the greatest joy and fulfillment. Our parish provides us with a place to worship and to receive the holy sacraments of the Orthodox faith. For this we must be eternally thankful. Our parish also sponsors activities and programs which raise funds for worthy projects and provide fellowship for our families. Our help and support of these activities is part of what we mean when we use the word stewardship. The goal of this campaign is to help all parishioners realize that the offering of our time, talents, and resources represent a way for us to show our thanks for the blessings God has bestowed on us and on our families. Truly, everything we have is a gift from God.
What does it mean to offer our “first fruits?” We need to understand this particular passage literally. Before we allocate time to our jobs, we must allocate time to worship God. Before we set aside time for movies, golf, or yard work, we must allocate time to serve God and the needs of His church. Before we agree to commitments for the school, sports, and other interest of our children, we need to make sure that there is time in their lives to learn about God’s love. Before we pay our monthly bills, we must set aside a portion of our resources in thanksgiving to God for His many blessings. God wants us to enjoy full and grace-filled lives, but we are called upon to do this by following the Church’s teachings and practices.
Without this kind of commitment to our faith, we might be in danger of being believers in word, but not in deed. God demands from us, His children, total devotion to His word. Every aspect of our lives must be lived in accordance with His teachings. When it comes to our offerings to the church, in many cases, we need to do more to explore God’s true teaching about giving. As we begin this year-long journey together, we ask you to open your minds and your hearts to the possibility of learning information that can transform the way you give to the church. Acquiring this knowledge of God’s teachings will go a long way towards helping us not only know the joy of giving of “the first fruits,” but also knowing how to follow this practice in practical terms and within the context of our busy and pressure packed lives.
Sincerely in Christ, priest Daniel
“This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” 1 Cor. 4:1-2
In last week’s letter, we talked about good stewardship involving the giving of our time, talents, and resources as actions based on our belief in God. We are taught that our faith must be matched with action. We are blessed at St. George Russian Orthodox Church with many parishioners who give freely and generously of their time to church projects. We are thankful that so many share their talents to further the work of our parish and its various organizations. Teachers, scientists, artists, business owners, carpenters, medical professionals, roofers, financial experts, and so many others find ways to enhance church projects with their special skills. We hope this five-week series of letters will encourage even more of our parishioners to evaluate the availability of their time and their special talents to find ways to give them in support of our parish and to the glory of God.
We also pray that this series of letters will result in our parishioners giving new thought to decisions they make about the resources they give to St. George in thanksgiving for all of God’s blessings. Holy Scripture teaches that it is the sacred obligation of all believers to make sacrificial and proportional offerings to God in thanksgiving for God’s many blessings to us. We know many tithe to the church. The ten percent of their income they offer is seen as their obligation to God and their offering to Him in recognition of His love for us. While we pray for God to strengthen us in our ability to give with this much faith, we often need facts and figures to guide decisions about how much to pledge and to give to the church on a weekly, monthly, and an annual basis. Our ultimate goal, however, is to reach the point where the kind of statistics listed below, while important and useful to share with all parishioners, will not be major factors in determining our level of giving. The only factors that should influence how much we give are our faith in God and our desire to give in direct proportion to how much He has given to us.
Our annual parish budget of projected operating expenses totals $171,000.
Our annual budget projects the following income from fundraisers and from non-pledge receipts:
General/Plate – $ 40,000
Dues – $ 10,000
Candles/Prosphora – $ 33,000
Fundraisers – $ 46,000
Charity Collections – $ 8,000
Total – $137,000
Our annual parish budget of projected receipts from member pledges totals $34,000. We have 100 pledging units (one unit is one family or one individual) in our parish. Our average pledge is $28/mo.
An average pledge of $142.50 per month per pledge unit (family or individual) would enable our parish to cover our parish budget, leaving receipts from fundraisers and other non-pledge receipts for special projects and for parish charities.
Stewards are those who assume their responsibilities with joy and with a sense of obligation. Stewards take their service seriously and they know that they must meet these obligations first, before attending to other needs. Our priority daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly is to serve the Lord and His Church by living a life that reflects His teachings. Giving generously, cheerfully, and before anything else – “our first fruits” – is the discipline we must develop in order to truly be Orthodox Christian stewards in the manner intended by God.
Sincerely in Christ, priest Daniel
In the third of our five-week series of letters, we will be very specific. We have shared that our relationship with God is the foundation for all we do in the Church. If we truly believe that everything we have is a gift from God, then the giving of our time, talents, and resources to Him is as natural an act as breathing and as necessary an act as paying our bills. Reading the Bible daily, attending church services regularly, and working on, supporting, and participating in church activities and programs are actions and deeds which reflect this love. So too is offering a proper percentage of our resources to represent the love we feel in our hearts for God.
The point is this: “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:6-8
With a cheerful spirit and a loving heart, consider the possibility of changing the method you use to determine how much to give to the church. First of all, consider your pledge to be an offering in thanksgiving for God’s love. Give knowing that this is what God wants and what God needs to know that we truly love and appreciate the faith He has placed in us, His children.
Second, consider changing the method you and your family uses to determine how much to give. Is the amount you gave this year simply a repeat of the amount you gave last year? Is the amount of your offering a reflection of what the parish says is the “fair share” expected from each pledging unit? Is your gift based on the fact that your family has always given this amount per week, and you continue this practice without much consideration of change? Third, think about the last ten times you spent money. Were any of these purchases for items you could have done without? With a little planning, could you have spent less for a particular item? This kind of analysis reveals to us that we could give more to the church without neglecting the needs of our families and ourselves.
Finally, consider a formula for giving that would result in raising the level of our offering to a point more in line with church teachings. At your job, are you paid by the hour? If so, consider making your weekly offering to the church the equivalent of one hour’s pay. If you are paid a weekly or monthly salary, divide this amount by the number of hours you typically work. Make this hourly calculation your weekly offering. Another approach might be to take your monthly income and pledge to give a percentage as your offering. Initially, this could be one, two, or three percent, if starting with a strict tithe of ten percent is not realistic.
The point is to consider changing how you determine the amount of your offering so that is becomes more reflective of scriptural guidelines. God loves a cheerful giver. Recall the joy you feel when you give someone you love a birthday or Christmas gift. Know that feeling every Sunday when you make your offering, in thanksgiving to God for all of His blessings.
Sincerely in Christ, priest Daniel
We have arrived at week four in our five-week series of letters about stewardship at St. George Russian Orthodox Church. God has blessed us with many gifts. Stewardship means acknowledging this by using our time, talents, and resources in ways which glorify God and His teachings. The passages from Holy Scripture used in this series of letters have reminded us that our gifts to God should be offered cheerfully and in direct proportion to the level of our awareness of the bountiful gifts God has bestowed upon us and upon our families. In the gospel of Matthew, we find further guidance about how we should give to the church.
“Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” Matthew 6:1-4
This passage leads us to ask you to continue a prayerful reflection on this subject of how much of your time, talents, and resources you should offer to the church in thanksgiving for God’s love. We know how much God loves us. How much do we love Him? Are we living every minute of our lives in a manner that reflects His teachings and our appreciation for His blessings? Consider these points as our parish begins this journey toward changing our patterns of giving.
- The amount you pledge is between you and God. Through prayer each of us must reflect on the words in Proverbs 3:9, “Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce …”
- Completing and returning a pledge form is a way for you and your family to show your love for God and for the work being done at St. George Russian Orthodox Church to glorify His name in this community.
- It is the policy and practice of our parish to not publicize the amounts pledged by our parishioners. We will keep our members informed of all church business, including regular financial updates, but we hope to begin moving toward a time when this information will be used to simply keep members rightly informed about parish operations. This information should not become the basis upon which we decide how much “to give to the church.” This decision must come from our individual and prayerful reflection about the many gifts God has given us.
- Publicizing the average pledge needed to cover parish operating expenses is useful information to provide and it can help individual parishioners evaluate their level of giving, but we always remember that our gifts from God come in many different forms. Some will give more and some will give less, but this should always be the result of decisions based upon prayer and reflection of God’s gifts and blessings.
Developing the spirit of humility suggested in Matthew 6 will go a long way towards helping us change our patterns of giving. Change is not easy, but believing the word of God requires that we challenge ourselves to live lives that reflect what we profess to believe. God will give us the strength if we will only trust in His teachings and in His love.
Sincerely in Christ, priest Daniel
For the past five weeks, we have started a journey that will last a year. Next fiscal year, we will be asking all of our parishioners to complete the pledge form enclosed with this letter. Why are we sending it to you 11 months early? We realize that fundamental change takes time. For the next 11 months we hope you will join your fellow parishioners in opening your minds and your hearts to all of the wisdom of God’s message to His children. For each of the next 11 months, we will print in our church bulletin and our email newsletter a scriptural passage that speaks to the manner in which God expects us to give. By reading and thinking about these passages, we hope all of us will become convinced that we not only need to give more of our time, talents, and resources to the church, but that we need to make these offerings with a new spirit.
Can two apparently contradictory ideas both be true? Sometimes this can be the case. On the one hand, it is true that the church of God flourishes when its members are giving generously and cheerfully of their time, talents, and resources. In this sense, the church needs what we have to offer. It is equally true that we need to offer these gifts to God in thanksgiving for the many blessings He has bestowed upon us. The church does not need our offering as much as we need to make this offering as part of the cycle of our spiritual lives. Just as we attend liturgy, say our prayers regularly, and participate in the sacraments of the church, we need to give in a manner consistent with God’s teachings.
Does tithing to the church help the church? Our parish has 100 pledging units. If we figure that the average annual income of each of these families or individuals is, conservatively, $40,000, what would the total pledge revenue for the church be if they all gave ten percent? An annual total approaching $400,000. What good work could the church and our Diocese undertake with these kinds of financial resources? God only knows!
A passage from Luke 8:14-15 gives us one more scriptural message to consider as we prepare to embark on this year-long journey.
“Now the [seeds] that fell among thorns are those people who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and the pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the [seeds] that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.”
Together we can continue to do God’s work here at St. George Russian Orthodox Church and to raise our efforts to levels we never imagined. Putting our faith in God must be accompanied by a desire to know God’s teachings and then, to be committed to follow and practice those guidelines. So we come back to “the first fruits” and to the fact that when seeds fall on good ground, God’s mission is fulfilled. For the next forty-seven weeks, remember these questions as you read each week’s passage:
“What does this message from God require from me, His loyal and obedient servant?”
“What must I change in my life to be able to follow this teaching in both word and in deed?”
May God bless you as we look forward to taking this journey together. May God be with us all!
Sincerely in Christ, priest Daniel