Harrowing Of Hell
October 27, 2019

Annual Giving Homily

Miles Ewing, lay preacher

To listen to the sermon click here.

Good morning.  For those of you who I have not met, my name is Miles Ewing.  I have been attending Epiphany with my family, my wife Katie, and children Aidan, Liam, and Katelynn, for a little over four years.  I am a lifelong Episcopalian and a preacher’s kid.  I am up here today to talk about money – the dreaded stewardship sermon.  For those of you who are not looking forward to it, I assure you I feel the same.  I have seen my father give this sermon as well as many other priests and a few lay people – hats off to Zach who did a great job last year.  However . . . when Doyt asked me to do it this year, I agreed.  So. . . Here goes. 

I am going to begin with a little about why I give, then hope to connect to why you might give, and come back around to our shared mission here at Epiphany as something greater than ourselves.

My father, as a young the priest worked with Tom Foster (who many of you know as our former music director) in the early 1970’s in Jacksonville.  The Episcopal Church really is a small world.  My father had a passion for “turn-around projects.”  First it was as the Vicar of a small mission in Louisville, then as the Priest at a struggling old parish in Buffalo, and finally as the Dean at a struggling seminary in New York City.  Turning around these institutions was about energy, community, and raising money. 

The earliest fundraising campaign I remember was for $35,000 to buy land and build a new church building for the mission in Louisville.  I remember a set of 35 construction paper stairs running up the wall from the basement to the first floor with numbers on them.  Week after week, paper figures where added climbing the stairs until the mission raised its goal.  This experience helped me understand how vital money was to the dreams of the community. 

I remember that my parents always gave to the church regardless of how much my father made.  To that end, I believe most priests I have known gave from their earnings to the church.  I understand the Conn family is in the top 20 pledgers at Epiphany. My uncles, my grandparents, and I believe several of my family’s friends around the country always gave to support the churches dad was rebuilding.  This taught me giving was important and expected in my family. 

When my dad took on the seminary project in the early 2000’s lack of money was a problem.  Underfunded and under endowed, funding strategies were core to the turnaround.  Over the years there were successes and failures.  Ultimately the ‘great recession’ caught them at a vulnerable time.  It became clear to me that institutions in place over 150 years could go into decline if they did not have a mission and support to raise money.

Growing up seeing the importance of money to institutions and with the expectations of my family to be generous, I have always given.  My first memory was a small United Thank Offering or UTO box to collect change for the victims of the 1976 earthquake in Guatemala.  In church, my mother always gave my sisters and me a dollar to put in the plate.  I continue that tradition with our children. To me, being part of a church includes giving.

I made my first pledge after college. I did not have much money. I was on staff for a member of Congress in DC. I was only able to rent a room, not an apartment, I ate an inordinate amount of Lipton instant noodles, my car was so old the right front tire came off while I was driving around the Lincoln monument – that was a halting experience. That first pledge actually went to NPR, specifically WAMU. I was proud of that coffee mug. It connected me to the larger world. It was a personal sign of becoming an adult to be able to give my money, not my mom’s.

Giving is a very important part of Katie’s and my life together. Epiphany receives the single largest gift we give.  Not because we get a mug, or even a tumbler, or even three Chuck’s Hop Shop growlers like we got at the FareStart auction last month, but because it is a place we can come with the family, where I feel close to my extended family, a place in the week to feed our souls, and a community we want to be a part of.  We recognize that we need to invest in that community to help it be vibrant, meaningful, and growing.  We also believe we need a place where unity and inclusion are the goals.  In divided world strong churches like Epiphany are critically important. 

So, that is a little about me and why I give . . . What about you?

Everyone has their own reason why they come to church and why they give.  The cards you were handed when you came in represent some of those reasons, though your card may not be your reason.  Holding someone else’s reason to give is intended to help each of us see how we are in this together.

Some of you are holding an image of hands representing community / support / relationships / friends.  This image reflects those who say I come to Epiphany because this is an important community to me. I am here to support others and they are here for me. My relationships at Epiphany enhance my life, so I will give.

Some of you are holding an image of a cross symbolizing inner development, spiritual practice, pilgrimages, and closeness to God.   This image reflects those who say my life today is busy and stressful. I find peace here. It helps me be a better person. The routine of daily prayer, evensong, Taizé services, and embracing a higher power are the things that help me get by. As Doyt says, Epiphany is a gym for the soul.  This is important to me, so I will give.

Some of you are holding an image of a music staff.  This image reflects those who say I love the music. Our choir is amazing. The concert series, the music academy, Evensong services, and the joy of the organ lift up my soul and refresh me.  This is important to me, so I will give. 

Some of you are holding an image of children. This image reflects those who say, raising children is hard, scary and overwhelming.  It is great to find a group of parents and experienced care givers here at Epiphany. I hope the church will help me raise my children to be the adults I know they can be. Children’s spirits need nourishment too. They get that at Epiphany through Sunday school, acolyting, confirmation, the Well, vacation bible camp, the junior choristers, and many other things.  This is important to me, so I will give. 

Now, I would like you to turn your card over and write down a single word that reflects why you are here.  [count to 15] Now I would like you to shout that word out on the count of three 1, 2, 3!  OK, Doyt warned me we would have to try this a couple of times.  This word expresses why you are here, what Epiphany means to you, let’s shout it out on the count of three – 1, 2, 3!  Much better. 

My ask is that you take this card with you. That you let it remind you of why Epiphany is important to you. And when it comes time to pledge, you make one. Even if you do not feel like your gift is large enough it is important to give, and it does help. Pledging units are an important measure for the health of the church. 

As you reflect on your card and the importance of Epiphany to you, to others in this room, to this community, and to future generations, I want to challenge you a little. Doyt’s out, so I am going to go out on a limb here.  Pledging is a funny thing – for some, it is like tip – the small amount they might leave in appreciation; for others, it is to do their part – this person has a number they feel is fair given their income and other priorities; for others still, it is a deep and generous gift, maybe the most significant gift they will give; finally for some, it is a gift to the glory of God that impacts their life and resources profoundly – it is the tithe; the first fruits of their earnings.  Only you know which category you fall into.  My challenge to you, is to look at the word on your card, think about what Epiphany means to you, recognize the importance of money to the vibrancy of the church, and move yourself up the ladder – If you have never given, leave a tip.  If you traditionally tip, maybe think what it means to do your part.  If you do your part, could you be more generous.  Finally, consider the glory of God in this world.

That’s it.  This is our church.  We support it for many reasons.  Each is important.  I stepped into this dreaded stewardship sermon, well, with dread.  However, effort to think through why I give and what Epiphany means to me was very rewarding.  Please remember that stewardship matters and be generous to our church. 

Thank you.