Often I awake at dawn, no matter what time I have gone to bed. Listening to birds and rustling leaves and feisty raccoons and wind on the water is worth leaving the shades up and the windows open for dawn and its breezes, or so I choose.
Tuesday’s early morning light caught my attention, though. It was slowly emerging, filtering through the branches of the enormous pine tree outside my window. It highlighted a familiar, fragile clay angel crafted in Guatemala with her toe sticking out from her robe, holding a dove with both hands, her widespread wings safely reglued into place, and she is smiling at the dove’s uplifted gaze. But behind her is a crisp black shadow of her image, amazingly centered in a diffused circle of pink sunrise light on my wall.
Why did I notice that? She lightly glowed. She was pale clay, her dark shadow was precise. She has been unnoticed in that same spot for many months, but this time she appeared in that natural spot light. She reminds me of so many family blessings she has been overseeing for 25 years. She has graceful curves and a contemplative smile. She holds a symbol of peace and forgiveness and reconciliation. The dawn light was low but the shadow was stark.
Sometimes murky situations get us to notice new things, like sharp shadows. Our resale shop is in the process of reorganization and preparations to reopen after more than a year of difficult conversations and the need to reclaim it as a ministry of First Presbyterian Church. What had formerly operated collectively as a ministry of the church became entangled in the notion that the shop stood alone. It evolved from a congregational “ours” for decades to a few volunteers who claimed it was “mine.” The sharp shadow I see here is what is “mine” and what is “ours” when it comes to money and the church.
In the church when we give, we let go, from “mine” to “ours.” Gifts become collectively “money of the church” which we as community use as stewards to make-real the mission of the church in the world – to love God and love one another. That’s what we have done with operating fund pledges for years, and what we intend with The Sharing Table Project. We are trusting that together as Church we will identify ways to put our collective funds toward priorities that we decide together through our elected leadership. Together we will support our current ministries and grow new ones yet to emerge from our visions and collective intentions.
There is story after story, Old Testament and New, that tells of giving to the temple, to the emerging New Testament church, and the difference between moneychangers who were in business in the temple for themselves – and you know what Jesus did with their tables – and those who use donations/money to minster to people who are hungry, who need shelter, who need healing, repair of the temple and the like. So when we give to support our church as the Body of Christ, the Congregational Life team doesn’t claim their allocation in the budget “belongs to them” but they use those funds to host congregational life, build congregational relationships, whether through meals or play or partnering with a team with other ideas like Faith Formation. Money generated from freely given donations of used clothing or kitchen equipment or toys, for example, and processed by volunteers as a church ministry for sale or gifting to those in need is mission outreach together as a church, is no longer “mine” as a donor or worker. The Comfort Stitchers sit together in community while individually working on their stitches, but when a shawl is given to a newly baptized baby, it given a token of love from all of us as the church. On occasion, some give specific gifts for specific purposes such as our new chancel furniture. But those who gave gifts to enrich our congregational worship space make no claim that that furniture is “mine” because they gave gifts for its purchase. It belongs to the Body of Christ in this place, our congregation who worships together, old and new members alike.
So the stark reality highlighted these past few months is to affirm we are unified in Christ. We are one church community, welcoming others, investing our time in shared work, giving our gifts with generosity to support God’s work that we perceive emerging before us, paying attention to our personal relationships with our Lord, and living with the reality of differing gifts and so many other differences, but remembering as a faith community we are one. I’m praying that we keep returning to our shared faith and action, our chosen identity as First Presbyterian Church in Valparaiso that unites us in this community.