Good morning, Christians, Seekers and Friends –
I always liked that greeting which The Rev. Ruth Ann Garcia used for all her sermons. It expands a little on Fr. Doyt’s emphasis on making sure people who encounter Epiphany Parish know that “wherever you are on your spiritual journey, you have a place at Epiphany.” This is indeed a place for Christians, a place for those seeking solid spiritual ground, and for those who just like the general ambiance. And the coffee is good.
I am Steve Faust, for those of you I have not met. I have been a member, off and on, at Epiphany since about 1958. My younger brother was baptized by Father Christie of Christie House fame, and both my younger brother and sister attended Epiphany Day School, as it was called then. After my family moved here from South Dakota, we lived in Leschi. I attended Meany Junior High and Garfield High School. I am a lifetime member of the University of Washington Alumni Association At various times I lived in Edmonds and Tacoma and attended church in those places, but on returning to Seattle, I always came back to Epiphany. I’ve been retired going on 15 years and spent my whole working career in the banking business.
You might be wondering why I’m in the pulpit today instead of Doyt or another of our gifted lay preachers. I won’t keep you in suspense. I’m here to talk about stewardship. Stewardship is about money, of course, but not exclusively about money. We often talk about time and treasure. There is plenty of both in evidence here at Epiphany. Both time and treasure are vital to the life of a Christian congregation.
The two public radio stations I listen to are both conducting on-air pledge drives now. Local politicians, and even those outside of Washington state itself, urgently solicit me for money. They say this is to save the republic from the dire threats posed by the “other guy or gal.” I do not exaggerate when I say my postal carrier brings an average of four requests from non-profits each day. Some of these requests include a nickel or a dime in them with a plea that I return the coin with my donation. This week I received a live, negotiable check for $2.50. I couldn’t bring myself to cash the check so I shredded it. I am keeping the nickels and dimes, though, until I have enough money to buy a martini. It shouldn’t be long now. I regard the coins, the checks, as manipulations. I resist being manipulated. I will strive in this talk to avoid manipulation. Epiphany is upfront about non-manipulation. Your year-end contribution statement plainly states “Unless otherwise noted, the only goods or services provided are intangible religious benefits.
Intangible religious benefits. How bland a phrase. It conceals a depth of meaning. Last week Doyt used the shipping container across the street with its painted message of love as shorthand for L.O.V.E. – Living our Values at Epiphany. Nothing bland about that.
So, what are these some of these intangible religious benefits that represent our values? I can think of many, but I will group them in four categories, which I call the Four “P’s.” They stand for People, Place, Program and Poetry. The word poetry is a stand-in for the word Liturgy, which, unfortunately for my formulation, does not start with the letter P. Each of these categories cannot thrive without both time and treasure.
Let’s start with the first P, which is for People. The Prayer Book says we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses both in Heaven and on earth. I can’t know most of those in Heaven, but I know a great many here on earth, and especially here at Epiphany – people who have been an inspiration and an exemplar of Christian life for me. Some have gone to their eternal reward, like Charlie Bush, Winnie Hopkins, Genelle Phillips, and Alec Poulson. Charlie Bush was a tireless advocate and worker for social justice. He encouraged this parish to get behind Operation Nightwatch, a Christian but non-Episcopal outreach to the homeless. He encouraged us to open our facilities on a regular basis to provide a safe place off the streets for men to sleep, and recruited Epiphany parishioners to sleep alongside them in solidarity. Winnie Hopkins was a Black woman, with hard-won political connections who used those connections to advance the cause of civil rights in Seattle and in Washington state. Genelle Philips was a high school teacher who refused to let her students make excuses for low achievement and who would not abide disrespect of others. Alex Poulson, a proud Marine Corps veteran, reminded the congregation Sunday by Sunday of the debt we owe to veterans and their families. He began a years-long ministry whereby he collected magazines from parishioners, clipped off identifying address labels, and then delivered the magazines to senior living homes and to agencies serving families escaping domestic violence.
Not all my inspiration comes from the dearly departed. Ann Beck, Bob Barnes, Mike Evans, Christina Forbes, and Alice Forman are but five of a couple of dozen current members who come easily to mind. Ann Beck is a familiar Eucharistic minister at 8:45. She is the mainspring behind Epiphany’s participation in an ecumenical ministry called Teen Feed that prepares a hot meal for homeless teens in the University District. She has been doing this for at least 20 years and shows no sign of slowing down. Bob Barnes is a verger and sometime thurifer who gave hours and hours of his expertise to the rehabilitation of the church campus several years ago. Mike Evans adds his confident voice to the Epiphany choir. Christina Forbes organized Epiphany’s first Have a Heart event as a teenager. Have a Heart now raises tens of thousands of dollars every year to make grants to projects suggested by members of this congregation and to causes vetted by the Service and Outreach Ministry. Causes such as the Haiti Project and the Diocese of Jerusalem. Alice Foreman turns unorganized fresh flowers into beautiful altar flower arrangements and then deconstructs her work, and the work of other flower arrangers, into bouquets for shut-in and ailing members and then delivers them to their homes. I hope she is keeping track of her mileage, because it could come in handy at tax time. These folks are giving time in abundance, but the treasure that makes it possible comes from the church budget and targeted contributions.
Next I come to place. Just look around. This campus is designed to advance Christ’s mission in ways both subtle and obvious. The stained glass connects us to the first Christians, the reredos behind the altar brings our eyes to the cross and surrounds the cross with ancient symbols of the saints. The carving of grape vines reminds us that Christ is the vine and we are the branches. Efficient spaces are provided for education and socializing. Hospitality, I remind you, is a Godly virtue. As the narrowing shape of this room leads the eye toward the cross and altar, the patterns in the ceiling subtly distinguish between nave, chancel, and sanctuary. Specific treatment of the hard surfaces inside this building enhances the vibrancy of the music we enjoy and participate in. State of the art microphones and assisted hearing loops embedded in the floor help those among us who need a little boost in that regard. The Gospel is read to us from a gloriously illustrated Bible placed so all can see its beauty as we come forward. These physical elements of our worship were paid for with treasure, or actual cash if you like, and we can thank the thoughtful generosity of present and former parishioners for them.
A few weeks back, we all received in the mail a Guide to Parish Life. It set out the dates for various feasts and celebrations, and listed activities for children and young people. It listed opportunities for adult formation and education for children. This introduces my third P word, Program. Some programs, like All Threads Together, provide a time and place for stitchers and knitters to fellowship. Other programs have a more serious side. As a denomination, our fundamental source of authority is the Bible. That’s why bible study is always on offer at Epiphany. Many find secondary help in study of what the most trusted thinkers in the Christian tradition have to say. To that end we offer such things as a year-long examination of St. Augustine’s ageless book, The City of God, led by our Rector. Or there is Education for Ministry, a four-year, mentored small group study of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, of church history, and of structured ways to think theologically, all in aid of putting faith into action. If an entire year, or (gasp) four years seems daunting, fear not. There are a half-dozen single-session or short-term ways to stretch your spiritual imagination and muscles. Lest I forget, we also have steady exposure to, and delight in, glorious music. This music does not just happen. It is planned, rehearsed, and performed to inspire and direct our thoughts to a realm beyond our present.
Finally I come to Poetry which as I said earlier is just a gimmicky stand-in for Liturgy. Personally, and perpetually, I am an unapologetic admirer of our various liturgies. I love the words and the rhythms of our Liturgies. I love how the language of the Eucharist succinctly sums up the core of Christ’s work and command. Doyt reminded us in last Sunday’s sermon that in the Greek language, the word Liturgy literally means the work of the people. What is this work? It is worship. Praise and adoration of the three persons of God. I am indebted to our Director of Music Emeritus, Tom Foster, for an insight from Soren Kierkegaard, a 19th century Danish theologian. Kierkegaard compared worship to a performance. The ministers and choir are the prompters, the members of the congregation are the actors actively responding. The audience is God. The audience and reason for the whole enchilada is God. I enjoy the music. I’m OK with incense. I like to sing familiar hymns and carols as the seasons roll by. It is fun to acknowledge friends old and new at the Peace. Sermons regularly inform and challenge me. But all these things are intangible religious benefits, and expressions of our Values.
In worship we have space for joy, gratitude and contrition. Church, in particular Epiphany Parish of Seattle, is a place and an instrument for our worship and spiritual growth, wherever we are on that journey.
Keeping it moving forward requires money. There is no way around this. I can share my process for giving from my abundance. Each year about this time I consider how much money, in total, I can give in the following year. This is the first decision I make. What follows is how this giving is to be apportioned. As Doyt pointed out last week, there are many worthy claims on our generosity, many crying needs to be met. Epiphany is not the only place we can show gratitude for work being done. Another thing I do is pay toward my pledge on a weekly basis. Why weekly and not monthly or quarterly? Probably some vague notion about daily bread. God’s blessing is a steady drip, drip, drip in my life. In my mind honoring God weekly with my alms mirrors that drip, drip, drip.
However you respond to this year’s Annual Appeal, be generous. There is an understandable temptation in grim times to be tentative. But tentative is the opposite of Living Our Values at Epiphany. Now is the time to be expansive, as it was in the time of Charlie Bush, Winnie Hopkins, Genelle Phillips, and Alec Poulson. If you can, increase your pledge. Consider the uniqueness of Epiphany. Fill out that pledge card and turn it in.