A MESSAGE FROM REV. J.C. AUSTIN: STEWARDSHIP DEDICATION SUNDAY PLANS
Presbyterians have not historically done “testimonials” as a common element of our worship tradition. I think that’s partly because we’ve tended to equate them with a sort of spirituality that can tend towards a one-upmanship about who has the most dramatic story of personal faith, and our tradition has tended to stress humility in such things.
But at least as much as that, I think Presbyterians have simply been afraid of it: afraid of the power of personal stories, afraid of the vulnerability of telling them ourselves and listening to those of others. Yet this practice is actually one of the most ancient traditions in Christian worship, going back to stories in the New Testament itself of people telling others about how Jesus has transformed their lives.
Some are dramatic and some are subtle; some are one key moment, others experiences over time. But all are important witnesses of faith, and their variety itself is an important message about the breadth and diversity of ways in which God’s grace moves.
If you’ve been in worship over the last month or so here at First Pres, you’ve heard a number of testimonials about how people have experienced God at work in their lives and through this church. We had a series of such testimonials in Sunday worship, and several as part of the Thanksgiving Eve service. Some have been funny, some have been moving, but all have been powerful in their own way of telling the story of God’s grace in concrete ways through particular people in our congregation, and of the gratitude that the people offering them have felt for how they have seen and felt God at work.
And together, these testimonies have been the foundation of how we have anchored our ministries of stewardship and giving here at First Pres in gratitude and generosity: that we give to support Christ’s mission in and through this congregation not out of a sense of obligation but gratitude for all that God has done for us, and generosity as a sign of that gratitude for God’s generous grace towards us.
Like everything else in 2020, our ministries of stewardship and giving have been a bit disrupted by the dynamics and impact of the pandemic, so we have not yet had our Stewardship Dedication Sunday.
But I am pleased to let you know that you should be receiving your pledge cards in the mail in the next few days, and we are going to do something different to both celebrate and dedicate your generous gifts to support our crucial work as a congregation.
So next Sunday, December 13, the Third Sunday of Advent, we will have a “Gratitude Drive-Through” in front of the church between 3-5 p.m.! If you come by during that time via the circular driveway in front of the church, you will find people waiting for you. You can stay in your car the whole time, and someone will approach your window with a basket (we do ask you to wear a mask for these few moments, as the volunteer will be wearing one, out of an abundance of caution).
You can drop your pledge card in its envelope in a basket that will be offered to you. We also invite you to bring a card or note that offers at least one “testimonial” of gratitude: something, anything, that you consider a gift from God that you have received or seen in your life, the church, or the world (feel free to offer more than one!). These will be collected and displayed in the church building and on Facebook (feel free to sign your name or offer it anonymously, whichever you prefer).
And finally, we’ll ask you to pop your trunk or open your back door so someone (wearing gloves) can place a gift of gratitude there for you, as well: a candle for use on Christmas Eve, whether you come to the in-person service at 5 p.m. or any of the digital services, and a special savory treat prepared personally by me (more on that next week…) as a sign of my own gratitude for you, your generosity, and your ministry as part of First Presbyterian of Bethlehem.
So: I hope to see you driving through on Sunday, December 13* as we celebrate God’s generosity to us and dedicate our gifts of gratitude to God! (And if, for whatever reason, you want to drop off your pledge and receive your gift at another time, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll work it out.) And if you simply want to mail in your pledge instead, you always have that option!
Grace and peace,
*You may want to consider coming to the Gratitude Drive-Through and then staying for our Spiral Advent Walk, offered between 4-6 p.m. on that Sunday, December 13 (and the following Sunday as well). See more information on page 3.