First-ever summit focuses on giving, related issues

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

First-ever summit focuses on giving, related issues

Sept. 30, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0746}

An e-Review Feature
By Erik J. Alsgaard**

ORLANDO — “The life of every creature is an amazing gift from God, and that makes all the difference,” said Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, episcopal leader of the Florida Conference.

Whitaker was preaching in the sanctuary of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando Sept. 15 at the opening of the conference’s first annual Stewardship Summit.

Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker opens the first-ever Stewardship Summit Sept. 15 at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Orlando. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #07-0679.

“If we look at life as our possession, then our life becomes one of hording and consuming and using,” he said. “But if we are convinced that life is a gift, we’ll order it around giving our time, talents, gifts and service. Through giving, we discover what life is all about.”

Referencing James 1:17, Whitaker’s sermon set the tone for the day, which revolved around a series of workshops, presentations and a panel discussion, all focused on giving. More than 170 people from throughout the conference participated.

Sponsored by the Florida United Methodist Foundation, the summit was offered because, as the Rev. Tom Marston, president, said, no one else was doing it.

The Florida United Methodist Foundation offers several programs, including “savings, low-interest loans for churches, investment management, fund raising or planned giving … to facilitate giving to churches and related United Methodist agencies and institutions, and to enable those organizations to make the most of their financial resources,” according to its Web site,

In short, the foundation and its programs are all about stewardship.

“We wanted to explore the areas of stewardship because it affects the whole Christian life,” Marston said.

Planning began in 2005, and Marston said organizers had hoped between 50 and 60 people would attend. More than three times that number did. “It’s clear that we’re going to do this again,” he said.

The paradox of giving

The Rev. Dan Dick, research manager at the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville, Tenn., was the keynote speaker. He offered a context for talking about stewardship in a culture that is one of “cognitive dissonance.”

The Rev. Melvin Amerson (right), staff member from the Texas Methodist Foundation in Austin, responds during a question and answer period at the Sept. 15 Stewardship Summit in Orlando. Amerson also led a workshop titled “Creating a Culture of Stewardship in the Local Church." The Rev. Dan Dick, staff member from the General Board of Discipleship and keynote speaker, looks on. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #07-0680.

“We live in a world full of paradox,” he said, offering examples of three paradoxes and how they impact stewardship in the church.

“People seek community while also seeking to preserve individual autonomy,” he said. “People seek significance, but want to do that without making sacrifice, and people seek novelty and innovation while, at the same time, resisting change.”

In the first paradox, Dick noted how the “move from the front porch to the back deck” has been a cultural shift reflected in the church. “You see it in our hymnody,” he said, “because we’ve shifted from singing ‘now thank we all our God’ to praise music, 95 percent of which is written in first-person singular.”

Most people today receive their information from a singular, individual perspective, according to Dick. The most important question people ask — even in the church — is, “What’s in it for me?”

The struggle is how the church honors the individual and creates community at the same time, Dick said. “We’ve got to find opportunities to bring together like-minded individuals who together can do more.”

The second paradox begins with redefining sacrifice. “The things we need — they make sense to us,” Dick said. “And yet, how often do we really talk about what we really need? How much do we really need?”

Dick said stewardship is a spiritual issue that asks: “What holds us? What owns us?”

“If we are burdened with a whole bunch of things, how open are we when something really important comes along?” he asked. “Where is our treasure? What do we value?”

The third paradox revolves around change. In the area of stewardship, this means talking less about giving and more about generosity and getting over the idea that it’s not OK to talk about money.

“If you are a lectionary preacher,” Dick said, referring to the three-year cycle of common Scripture readings many churches use, “you will face the issue of stewardship nine times in Year A, 13 times in Year B, and 17 times in Year C. You would have to get creative to not talk about money. It is our job to talk about money and stewardship and the commitments that we make.”

Beginning the conversation

During a panel discussion over lunch, Whitaker, Dick, Marston and two other workshop leaders, the Rev. Melvin Amerson, staff member from the Texas Methodist Foundation in Austin, and Mickey Wilson, Florida Conference treasurer, answered questions from attendees.

Tom Wilkinson (left), vice president of development for the Florida United Methodist Foundation, speaks with Garland Gould following a workshop on planned giving at the Sept. 15 Stewardship Summit in Orlando. Photo by Erik Alsgaard. Photo #07-0681.

In response to a question on where to begin educating local churches about stewardship, Whitaker said stewardship is one dimension of life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. “How do we enable a life of discipleship?” he asked. “Stewardship is one part.”

“Talk about the vision; talk about the ministry that will be possible because of stewardship,” Dick said. “Don’t talk about giving. It’s not where we should begin or end, because it isn’t the ends. It’s the means to an end.”

Amerson’s workshop on developing a culture of generosity in a local church offered numerous practical tips. Among them was a suggestion for pledge cards for all four areas of stewardship: time, talents, gifts and service.

“Send out the giving pledge cards in January,” Amerson said. “Send out the service pledge cards in April/May, the presence pledge cards in August and prayer pledge cards in December. That way, you keep stewardship in front of the people all year.”

Amerson also suggested celebrating the offering more and asking, “Is the offering at your church just something we have to do again this week, or do we celebrate the offering?”; developing a stewardship statement — similar to church mission and vision statements; having ministry moments during worship that highlight all aspects of stewardship; and inviting people to give electronically.

Marston and Tom Wilkinson, the Florida United Methodist Foundation’s vice president of development, presented information on planned giving and the differences in generations when it comes to giving.

This article relates to Stewardship.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Alsgaard is director of communications for the Florida Conference.

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