This week following All Saints’ Day, I find myself reflecting with gratitude on those many people who have had a profound and lasting effect on my life. There are no books or icons written about them. Mostly just everyday people who were pragmatically prophetic in how they walked the world and helped form me into a person of faith.
Like my mom. She taught me about stewardship.
For most churches, this is the season for annual appeals, stewardship campaigns and in-gathering Sundays, and combined with All Saints, the foundational lessons from my mother are swirling about in my mind and heart, lessons not related to time or talent, but about giving money.
The earliest lesson happened the first time I brought my own money to the collection plate, as opposed to money my mother gave me put in for her. I had one crisp dollar bill and placed it right on top. Only, I started digging through the plate, searching for loose change in the bottom. Horrified, my mother asked me what I was doing, to which I earnestly replied, “I am making change.” She grabbed the plate and passed it down the pew. Remorsefully and loudly, I exclaimed, “but I did not want to give the whole dollar,” as I watched my dollar being carried away by a sea of hands.
In the car, I continued my lament. My mother complained, “When have you ever seen me get change back?” I retorted, “Plenty of times. The grocery store, bank, drug store and gas station. You give money all the time and get change back.” Realizing that she should have asked a more specific question, my mother sighed. “It doesn’t work that way at church. It does not cost us to go, and we are not buying anything. We just give because we can. That is why we put the whole dollar in the plate, so that we can help other people.”
Those words stuck with me. Clearly at 6 years old, I understood the exchange of currency for things like food, clothes, gas, movies, amusement parks and household necessities, as I frequently went shopping with my mother and saw these transactions. I had no real concept of what she was trying to explain to me, but she reassured me that it was the right thing to do, that my dollar would be used to help other people who needed it more.
During my pre-teen years, I would watch my mother go through her wallet in the parking lot to pull money out for the offering plate before church. I asked her once how much she puts in the plate. Her response surprised: “Whatever is in my wallet.” A barrage of questions ensued:
Me: What if you have nothing in your wallet?
Mom: Then I give nothing.
Me: What if you have a twenty-dollar bill?
Mom: Then that is what I give.
Me: What if you have a hundred-dollar bill.
Mom: No one carries a hundred-dollar bill in their wallet.
She explained that she writes a check every month for a set amount, but every Sunday, she adds whatever is left over from her wallet. It was my first introduction to pledging and giving weekly beyond one’s pledge.
Our conversations about giving were never theological. My mom was very clear on what she did, but rarely expressed the why she was doing it. It is something I wish I could ask her, but she is now one of my beloved saints who is no longer of this earth. Those memories and lessons are foundational touchstones to my spiritual practice of trusting God by giving wholly and abundantly.
Karla Koon is a Worship Leader and Eucharistic Minister at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, in the Greenlake neighborhood of Seattle. When not serving at church or working as the Director of HR Operations and Administration for Catholic Community Services of Western Washington (Catholic Charities), you can find Karla, reading, quilting, golfing, hiking, kayaking, and gathering with friends and family.