When I was a chef, and a cafe owner, there were some breakfasts, lunches and dinners when we had few customers. As owner of that business I lost sleep at night, at times, wondering how we were going to keep going. Fortunately, God gave me a better idea. I received nudge after nudge encouraging me to go to seminary, to become a worship designer instead of a cake designer; to become a pastoral caregiver rather than a mentor to those wanting to know how to run a kitchen, a restaurant, a staff. Three years after I left, the cafe closed. I was sad when I heard about it, but once I’d left for seminary, I never looked back.
The funniest thing about being the former owner of a cafe and catering business is that every so often, even thirteen years later, someone will say something like, “I really miss Foxgrape.” Or “What a loss it is for Oberlin that Foxgrape is gone.” I like hearing these comments. They make me feel happy for having had the cafe for those 8 years. I most often hear these comments from people who were devoted regular customers, the ones who pretty much kept the business afloat. But I also hear these comments from people who seldom if ever came to the restaurant. And in those cases, I can’t help but think to myself, “Well, having your financial support might have made a difference.” Worry about money is simply draining, isn’t it?
When I left the cafe for ministry I gleefully thought to myself, “Things will be different now. This is what I’m being called to do. It’s going to be easier.” Does it surprise you to know that many people come to our churches and provide no financial support to them? Ask them why not and the response is, “I can’t afford it.” Sometimes, these are even the folks who make the most demands. These are often the folks who wonder why the church struggles to pay the bills. These are often the folks most opposed to searching out innovative ways to revitalize the church or want nothing to do with starting new ministries that involve helping the community outside of the church building. Why should this be so confounding to me?
When I first returned to church in the 1980s after years away, I didn’t give a penny to the church on Sundays. I also didn’t realize that this was one of my responsibilities as a Christian, to support the ministries of the church. In retrospect I realize I was foisting my responsibility onto all the people sitting around me in the pews.
If you had asked me I would have said, “I can’t afford it.” I didn’t understand that we all have a responsibility to do, not just a little bit, but the best we can do for the church, for God.
In our lives our first and most important obligation is to support the ministries of our churches. An Interim Minister was the one who talked about giving, enough to finally get through to me. She was very convincing. I filled out my first pledge card the year she was at the church. I finally made a promise to do my part to support the church and the ministries of the church.
I’ve learned to talk about money in the churches I serve. I can’t say that the people in my congregations love those talks. I never thought I would use the expression, “You know pennies don’t fall from heaven” as often as I do. I say that a lot. And some people have heard me and try to give more to support the church’s ministries. Many people have commented that their giving makes them feel very happy. But some people just roll their eyes. Others threaten to leave the church. Sometimes these are the people who have been raised in our churches. Their parents and grandparents were founders. But, unfortunately, their parents and grandparents were not so good at teaching how to properly care for the church. We in the church call this care “stewardship” of the church.
I have to laugh at myself now. When I left Foxgrape to go into ministry I naively thought my days of managing funds, making careful financial changes, and losing sleep over money had ended. Boy, was I wrong! Perhaps this is the main reason I’ve been called to the churches I serve. I know what you’re saying to yourself. You’re saying, “Maybe you need to just turn this over to God.” And that is what I do, continually. But what I hear from God again and again is, “Pennies don’t fall from heaven, you know.”