Don’t make New Year’s resolutions! They never work! Every gym is bracing itself and profiting from the onslaught of January gym newbies. By February, most will be long gone, even as they pay their membership. Resolutions don’t work. Habits always win. But can we make new habits? P
sychologists tell us a
habit is made up of a trigger or prompt, a routine and a reward. Once we have a habit, it is likely ours for life. We can alter a habit from a bad habit to a good one, by changing the routine and reward or changing the prompt, but it takes the right kind of effort. Simple willpower, simple resolutions, never work.
This year we are doing our stewardship campaign for pledges of annual support in January. I have been preaching about stewardship all fall, but now is the time to make our commitments of support.
Pledge campaigns occur in the Fall
in the Episcopal Church. However, St. Paul’s has its own rhythm. January is when we can reach more of our community. So we have moved our campaign to the new year, in this new decade. This is a new prompt for us in our good habit of giving.
This promises to be a momentous year for St. Paul’s. The search committee has been trained. They will be commissioned soon. The search for the new rector is underway. Of necessity, much of this work is confidential. However, the congregation can do much to support the search. We can give feedback on the profile, can share with the members of the search committee hopes for new leadership, can forward the profile throughout the Episcopal Church and encourage good clergy to submit their names, and can pray for discernment and wisdom for all involved.
But there is one action each household in our congregation can take that will make a material difference in attracting and calling a new rector. That is to pledge and increase your financial support of St. Paul’s. Any good candidate will want to see our financial records. A good candidate will not be put off by our recent struggles, as long as she or he also sees a generous, faithful response to the need.
People have already been generous. We have a strong finish to 2019. Our reserves, which were significantly depleted, have begun to be replenished. However, to make a strong call, St. Paul’s needs to convert people from giving to pledging support, forming a new habit of giving. Pledging is a commitment of support for the year. It allows the vestry to make financial decisions with a firmer foundation of support. This year in particular, it will help a new rector to be called. Your pledge will help a new rector see the passion and commitment our congregation has for its future. Your pledge will also help the vestry make the financial commitments necessary to support a new rector.
As part of its financial stewardship, the vestry is committed to transparent, regular information sharing with the congregation about our finances. You will read in this month’s
about the detailed financial information being made available in advance of the Annual Parish Meeting.
Your part is the commitment. St. Paul’s, according to our parish study, the CAT, has many who give but do not pledge, and our pledges are below the national average. If St. Paul’s were to pledge and to give even at an average level, we would be on a much firmer footing financially. I think we can do even better than that. St. Paul’s members have always been generous for special needs, let’s match that with generosity for the ongoing life of our congregation.
So let’s start a new or renew an established habit--a new prompt, a new routine, a new outcome. This year instead of just sending a letter out in the Fall and hoping for the best, we are doing our campaign in January and February. We are going to actually be talking about it together. The vestry is committed to it. Co-chairs, David Eyer, Kim Colligan and Tiffany Hendry, will be coordinating this effort. Expect to hear from them soon.
Start thinking about a new routine of support for St. Paul’s. I have heard many positive signs of care and support for our congregation in this transition. I know the love and concern shared by all. How can you be prompted into a new routine, a new response?
Some love their envelopes. They are available to you, if physically filling out a check is a routine that helps you with your commitment. You might also consider prayers for St. Paul’s as part of your stewardship response. Do you pray over your pledge card, over your check each week, each month? How might this changed routine, help giving be transformed, from a task to be accomplished into an act of generous stewardship.
Some give electronically. This is how Jen and I give, automatically out of our account at the beginning of each month. What would it mean for the first expenditure each month to be the support of your church? I like how this is a habit that is automatic. It is not a decision each month. It is an annual commitment that we make. I love that I don’t even think about it thereafter. We can then direct our attention to how our prayers, our service, and our talents can be used. This is a practice called first fruits. In the old days, the first fruits were giving the first harvest
, not waiting until the last. It is an act of faithfulness to give to God upfront, not after all the receipts are in. Our faith commitment comes first.
However you give, have you considered taking a tally of what percentage of your income you are giving? Have you considered how your giving compares with the biblical standard of the tithe? Compare what you give to the church with what you spend elsewhere. It can be eye opening. Does this reflect your priorities, your commitment, your values? What might it be like to let your giving better reflect those values. It might mean a sacrifice. Sacrifices can be good. A strong reminder of what matters most to you. How might you make a sacrifice to increase your support of St. Paul’s?
Finally, for any habit, there is the outcome, the result, the “payoff.” The obvious outcome for St. Paul’s is a firmer financial footing and a stronger call of the next rector. However, what about the outcome for you personally? Living a life of gratitude is correlated with well being of every type--physical, emotional, and spiritual well being. When we are grateful and generous, when gratitude and generosity become a habit, there is a new outcome, a new mindset that takes root. In place of scarcity and fear about needs and wants, we can cultivate a sense of abundance and blessing. A sense of abundance does not come by accumulating but by giving. When we give, we say that God has given us enough: we give thanks by generously giving to others.
For stewardship and the pledge campaign this year, we are doing something new. What will your response be? Will you join in forming or reforming your habit of support for St. Paul’s? You are being prompted. How do you want to respond? What might this mean for you spiritually. We will have time to consider this over the next couple of months.
Don’t decide now.
Pray. Discern. Consider. See how God leads you. Let us not make empty resolutions but consider new commitments, new habits in this new season at St. Paul’s.
May God’s blessings be full and abundant in our lives in 2020.
May God, our own God, give us his blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him
Happy New Year!