Our Covenant with God - Understanding Stewardship
Non-Vestry Coordinator for Stewardship
The long summer season of Pentecost can be a period of stock taking, recreation, and regeneration for all of us as we step back from the hurly-burly of the academic year and the seemingly incessant clamor of the world around us. Doug Prince's request for an article for the July-August Grace Notes led me to reflect on what stewardship means to me in the context of my relationship with God and to God's church.
In May 2003, I had the opportunity to work with the vestry of a church from Richmond during their annual retreat. As a member of the diocesan stewardship committee I was to help them develop a vestry stewardship commitment statement. However, the day before I was to join them in Blackstone, their new rector asked that I focus on the Baptismal Covenant. That request led me to experience, as never before, the strength of the Baptismal Covenant as a testimony of our faith and of our commitment to God and to one another as Christians.
"Where should I start?" I said to myself, "First, define the term." I opened my trusty Webster's: "Covenant" (Old French convenir to agree) – a formal, solemn, and binding agreement (between two parties) for the performance of some action; "to covenant" – to promise: pledge – a transitive verb requiring action; "covenantor" – the party to a covenant bound to perform the obligation expressed in it. Note, I thought, it takes two to make a covenant and each party takes on the obligation to respond.
This was my starting point for the discussion with the vestry: in the context of the definition – obligation and response – answer the questions “What does the Baptismal Covenant say to us and what are we going to do about it?" We used the oral or African bible study method, reading the Covenant aloud slowly, and then responding to the questions after a period of reflection.
For the second reading, I paraphrased the Covenant on a piece of butcher paper:
I believe in God – Father and Creator
I believe in Jesus Christ – Son, Sacrifice, Risen, Redeemer
I believe in – Holy Ghost, Holy Catholic Church, Communion of Saints, Forgiveness of Sins, Resurrection, Life Everlasting
Will you? – Worship, teach, pray, and celebrate the Eucharist - In community
Will you? – Resist evil, repent and return to God if you fail
Will you? – Proclaim the Good News of Christ
Will you? – Seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself
Will you? – Strive for justice and peace, respecting dignity of every human being
For their response I asked each member of the group to write two post-it notes on what he or she believed that God was saying to him or her as an individual and as a vestry. Then, after another period of silence, one member of the group began spontaneously to quietly read the Covenant, and as we again came to the question at the end, first one, then another joined in the response, "I will!"
As the vestry focused on the Baptismal Covenant for an extended period of time, I really felt God give His Unifying Spirit to them and to me. That afternoon, after I left, they discussed their covenant with their parish and the stewardship of the gifts God has given to them, and then commissioned a subcommittee to begin preparation of their stewardship commitment statement. I left with a profound experience of the grace of God that works among us after we say, "I believe," and of His call to serve Him and one another.