By Dick McConnell
Like others in our parish, I have been asked to share with you my view of stewardship; my practice of stewardship; and how I came to each.
But first, a story. Sometime in the mid-1980s, my brother and I were sharing a laugh because once again, he had received a birthday card from our Aunt Gertrude, complete with a crisp $5.00 bill. Our laughter grew from the memory that she had introduced this then-impressive gift when I was in kindergarten in 1949 . . . and had continued it unchanged through our grammar school, high school, college, Army, and professional careers. Every year it meant less, until her annual gift had become an annual joke. We were set. Married, good jobs, nice homes, the American dream.
Then my world suddenly changed. In the spring of 1988, my business partner made some financial decisions that to my mind were ethically indefensible and I felt compelled to part company, at significant expense. In July, my wife announced that she was in love with someone else and was filing for divorce. As part of the settlement, we had to sell our home. Suddenly I was facing the prospect of having no spouse, no job and no home.
Then the miracle started. A year earlier, at the request of my pastor, I had become treasurer of a small shelter for homeless men, housed in one Episcopal church but funded by the eight Episcopal churches in Alexandria, Virginia. The shelter closed in June 1988, on the arrival of warm weather. In late July, I received a note folded over a check for $7,500, payable to me. The note said that because of construction, the church could not offer shelter space again, but the money was left over from contributions from the other Episcopal churches and they wanted it used to help the homeless.
Two days later, I opened an envelope from Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church. In it was a note folded over a check for $8,500, payable to me. The note said that—again, because of construction–they could not offer space to the homeless, but they had heard that I was organizing a shelter and would I please use this money to that end.
The money was a big surprise, but nothing like the news that I was organizing a shelter! Nonetheless, having no job to fill my time, I started looking into the situation . . . and found that the small problem of homelessness was about to explode into a local disaster. I called some of the people in the churches I had worked with earlier, we organized a committee, and by the end of September, we had opened a shelter for 250 people—men, women, and families—with a commercial kitchen, medical clinic, official school bus stop, job counselling, and incredible support from a wide range of faith groups and from many, many others, including a city that had been ignoring the problem.
The resumes of that now-expanded committee would take your breath away . . . a British woman who had been a combat nurse with the Royal Army’s ski troops . . . a denizen of the war plans room of the Pentagon . . . the cousin of the head of the Army logistics command, who with one phone call got us 250 beds, mattresses and bed linen sets . . . the mayor . . . . The range of talent (and the range of powerful connections!) worked wonders.
But no combination of talent and connections could have accomplished what was accomplished in so short a time, and I knew that even then. This knowledge forced me away from my long-time weekly “$10 in the basket” habit (shades of Aunt Gertrude!) to a commitment to begin giving towards a tithe. In a few years, I was able to meet that goal. On average, I have met it ever since, although there have been years where I did not, and also years when I have surpassed it.
The needs of others, and the response to those needs by the churches—especially the Episcopal churches—of one city made me realize that I had to put my money where my mouth was, and where my heart already lived, if I wanted to see God’s work done on earth.
By Dick McConnell