Preserving the Magic

Stewardship Reflection, Sunday, November 3, 2019

By: Andy and Katie Howlett

We drive 20 minutes and pass four Episcopal churches to come to St. Mary’s on Sundays. When it comes up in conversation, neighbors often give us quizzical looks and comment that it seems like an awful lot of trouble. And with young kids, some Sundays it is. But there’s something about St. Mary’s, an almost magnetic pull that draws us each week. And over the years the list of reasons we keep coming back has grown. But if we’re being honest, it’s her good looks that attracted us at first.

We’d spent years “trying out” churches. The people were nice enough, the sermons were good, the cookies and lemonade standard, but the spaces were often uninspiring. So, when Anne and Jessie McCoy invited us to check out their church, we were expecting much of the same. We both remember the first time we crossed Tuckahoe Creek and felt ourselves let out a collective breath. Any craziness of the week, or the morning, seemed to dissipate. And then, when we pulled into the parking lot for the first time, there was a strong visceral reaction to the campus. The grounds, the architecture, the little parking sign that says, “Thou Shall Not Park Here”, the quintessential Colonial blue trim, the antique rugs, the needlepoint and stunning floral arrangements from the Altar Guild. It’s really what drew us back each week. We wanted to spend time in these spaces, to come to this beautiful place for a few hours each week and we believe these elements led to a deeper, spiritual experience.

Then we came to know the people and the staff and found that the outward beauty of the church was matched only by its inner beauty. We found ourselves wanting to volunteer our time and limited talents to be a part of the magic of this place. And for a long time that was enough. But as we all know, a church like St. Mary’s doesn’t run on time and talent alone. So, we started talking about prioritizing our giving and how St. Mary’s needed to be at the top of that list. That’s not an easy task for a young-ish family. Our purse strings seem to be pulled in so many directions: school fees, family trips, travel sports and activities, camps, birthdays and other non-profit organizations of importance. But as part of the next generation of this church, we feel it’s crucial to preserve the magic.

For us, this year’s Stewardship Campaign theme is so fitting: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. And what a treasure we have in St. Mary’s: the grounds, the buildings, the people, the programs. So, our challenge to you is to consider what you can do, from a financial standpoint, to help keep this place so special. Then we encourage you to try and do a little more. Whether you have 5 minutes or 20 on the way to church on Sundays, take that time to reflect on this treasure and what you can contribute in the coming year.

Thankful to Belong to this Community

Stewardship Reflection, Sunday, October 27, 2019

By: Brantley Holmes

I’m not sure when Byron and I started putting a check in the collection plate every Sunday. We talk about what we pledge, but have never formally discussed how we pay it; weekly, monthly, quarterly. But no matter, that weekly practice has become a ritual that if not done I feel like I’ve forgotten something. And it’s not just me who is used to that ritual, our children. Every Sunday one will ask, “Can I put the check in today?”

I remember my parents pledging and putting their contribution in the collection plate on Sundays. I remember them encouraging me to give, talking with me about the importance of giving back, and taking responsibility for my part.

I’m not sure how God and faith all works. I know that my perspective on life is better and I can handle the stress I experience better because I invest in my relationship with God. I didn’t always know that. I didn’t always go to church or value the blessing of it. I didn’t attend youth group or like Sunday school. Despite taking many wrong turns, I am exactly where I wanted to be since I was a little girl, and I believe there are many reasons why. I have wonderful parents who ensured that I grew up in a church community where I was loved, cared for, and prayed for many times by many people.

When I went back to school to get a Postmaster’s Certificate in Nursing, I had to do a research project. I chose to research what helps prevent risk taking behavior in teenagers. I read fifteen studies and the common theme was communication and community. Children who had a place to belong, where they felt safe and loved, were less likely to engage in risk taking behaviors.

I am so thankful – for my husband and children, my parents, my family, my friends, my work, and my church. I am thankful to belong to a place where I feel renewed each week, to share in that with Byron and our children, and have a place where our children can build friendships and their faith. I am thankful for my relationship with God. My dad will say “People do what is important to them.” I agree. St. Mary’s is important to me. I want to say thank you; to show my gratitude. My pledge helps me do that.

I realize from experience that our children may not truly appreciate the value of all this right now, but they see that Byron and I do, and for that I am thankful as well.

We Found Our Church Home

Stewardship Reflection, Sunday, October 20, 2019

By: Harry Baldwin

Home is a comforting and peaceful place after returning from a trip. There is a deep sense of serenity and solace gained by being among familiar belongings. Home is a place where we can be ourselves, and be loved, respected, and cared for by those who mean the most to us.

My wife, Jeannie, and I returned home to Richmond after being in Alexandria for twelve years. We sought and found a new home to house our cherished items, to get a great night’s sleep, and to share good times with family and friends. We also sought a new church, a new parish home. It was logical to check out St. Mary’s and we soon knew we had found our church home.

St. Mary’s meets precisely our needs – to be ourselves among fellow parishioners, to be loved, respected and cared for by clergy and lay members. We come to be fed weekly at God’s table with divine nourishment, to be forgiven as only God can do, and to be with family. We are very comfortable and at peace in our St. Mary’s home.

The campus and church buildings are beautiful and meet the needs of young and old alike. What really makes St. Mary’s the wonderful, peaceful, and comforting home is the living presence of the Holy Spirit. God is exceptionally good to me, to Jeannie, to each of us. Everything I have, possess, and need is provided by God. I owe all to him.

Stewardship time is an opportunity to reflect and respond to God’s generosity and kindness. This opportunity affords us the specific time to evaluate what time, talents, and treasures can be returned to God. Like every other home, there are expenses of brick and mortar as well as personal needs. Clergy and staff must be compensated for their compassionate work. Most importantly, we want – not need – to show God our sincere gratitude for everything he has given to us. I personally receive far more from God in my parish home than I could ever give.

The biblical guidance for our stewardship effort this year is “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” I ask you to consider how much our St. Mary’s church home means to you and to share your time, talents, and financial gifts for God’s work in this place. I urge you to increase your pledge or to give for the first time. To continue to invest in St. Mary’s will enhance the place where we are loved, respected, and cared for by God, fellow parishioners and staff. May the Holy Spirit continue to grace and bless our St. Mary’s home.

A Growing Appreciation of my Blessings

Stewardship Reflection, Sunday, October 13, 2019

By: Danny Williams

As our stewardship campaign gets underway, the focus falls on the needs of the church, for they are many and growing. But perhaps an even more important element in this exercise is our need to give. I see stewardship as one of the very most important missions of the church; a lesson, that if learned, will contribute more to peace of mind· than just about anything. An end to feeling guilty about spending on other things; an end to feelings of resentment at requests for donations; a joy at pleasing the asker and being able to do your part for whatever the enterprise might be. All within the framework of a stewardship standard that you have decided is right for you. We all know successful people who are generous. I have come to believe that they are successful because they are generous, not the other way around.

In 1981 when I turned 44, I decided that I would try to give away ten percent of my income. I included all giving in my objective. Not just church, but schools, hospitals, museums, the United Way, and the guy at the stoplight. This might fall short of the biblical tithe of returning to God a tenth of what he gives you. I suppose a strict interpretation would call for the whole ten percent going to the church. But it was a standard that seemed achievable for Georga and me and it made room for plenty of new giving. Now at age 81, I look back on this decision as a primary reason for the wonderful easy life that I am so grateful for. A good theme for living, if not for a stewardship campaign might be Ecclesiasties 11:1- “Cast your bread upon the waters for after many days you will find it again.” That’s exactly how it has played out for me. I found that with the rearrangement of my priorities, many of my other hopes and aspirations no longer seemed so important. A growing appreciation of my existing blessings took their place.

So as you consider your support for St. Mary’s in 2020, please also consider the broader benefits that stewardship brings. I believe you will be glad you did.

Evolving in Beautiful Ways

Stewardship Reflection, Sunday, October 6, 2019

By: Patsy Simril

Friends, when you pledge to St. Mary’s, you will receive a thank you card featuring a lovely photograph of David baptizing a baby. The Stewardship Committee chose that picture because that is where all of this church stuff begins.

Recently, I had to prepare a reflection for my Education For Ministry Class which I was dreading. Fortunately, I found a funny birthday card that made me laugh and then think. It features a butterfly driving a flashy sportscar who was stopped by a policeman, and she is showing him her driver’s license. The license shows a picture of a caterpillar, and she says to him, “That’s an old photo.” Inside, the card reads, “I love the way you are evolving.” That sums up pretty well my feelings about you, us, and St. Mary’s. We are all evolving in so many beautiful ways.

When we are baptized, we start our journey with people who love us, making promises and pledges to God on our behalf. We slowly evolve into people who question, search, and strive to be the best we can be. There are three components of strengthening our faith: prayer, study, and fellowship. Each is equally important, and I believe God loves to see us use our time, gifts, and talents to explore each one. That sounds like a lot of commitment, but when you attend St. Mary’s, you can get all three at a time. The more you visit, the more you receive, the more you evolve into that butterfly.

As a member of the Stewardship Committee, I ask that you consider increasing your participation in our church life and generously sharing your time, talents, and gifts with our church. I am happy and proud of the way our church is evolving, and I believe God feels the same way. How else can we explain the many gifts we have here–from our beautiful church and grounds to the welcoming and talented staff and clergy? Let’s keep our evolution and momentum going!