‘Effective giving, and spiritual growth.’ That is the theme I am given for the Anglican Men’s Fellowship annual retreat. I am asked to lead it several months ago, then things are postponed, and November 1st is the last possible date I can do it. So we do.
We meet at a meditation center of the Passionist Fathers, on the outskirts of Gaborone, at a place called Forest Hill. This Catholic order has been in Botswana since 1952, and they’ve transformed their property into a lovely spot… noisy, but lovely. Nearby is a cement factory, and two trains come through, whistles blaring, during our quiet time.
I find my topic a challenge. Usually we don’t associate stewardship and spirituality. But I begin to play around with Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, and his plans for a collection for the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. During my first reflection, I speak of Paul’s emphasis upon generosity in giving (8:8-15), not so much in terms of the amount they are to give, but in terms of ’the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.’ What Paul is doing, I say to the group, is suggesting that our generosity can never compare with what Jesus generously did for all human kind, but it remains the spirit in which the gift is given that reveals generosity. Effectiveness – remember the title, effective giving – happens not by raising all the money our church wants or needs, I say, but is rather when generosity also opens the door to our deepening our faith, and drawing us all closer to God.
I cannot resist talking about the Alabama Plan, which decades ago takes much the same direction. I am in a companion link between the Dioceses of Alabama and Namibian during the Alabama Plan's heyday, and we are invited to take it on the road, t a workshop in Windhoek.
I give my Batswana brothers some questions to ponder, and we have some quiet time – well, relatively quiet – around the grounds of Forest Hill. How do I decide what my gifts to God through God’s Church will be? Is it how much is in my pocket on a given Sunday? Do I make my decisions about giving prayerfully? How connected is my giving to my faith? Do I seek Scripture to guide me in my decision? What is the place of the Bible in my decision about giving? Am I truly a generous giver? Who knows how any of us uses quiet time during retreats, but the group of 12 seems to take it all seriously. The discussion that follows suggests they have.
Then it’s time for the second reflection, on spiritual growth. I stick with 2 Corinthians, this time drawing upon what Paul says happens when those to whom he is appealing give generously (9:11-15). ‘You will be enriched,’ he says, and I think he means spiritually, not in material prosperity! He speaks of ‘the surpassing grace of God that he has given you.’ And Paul ends this passage with: ‘Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!’ I like this. I suspect he is placing stewardship in intimate relationship with spiritual growth.
Nothing brilliant here, but it is a, well, spiritual moment for all of us. There is a lively discussion, and finally, we end with a general thanksgiving that I love, from the American Book of Common Prayer (1979).
Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.
We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.
We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.
We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.
Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom.
Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things.