God’s Nickels

Stewardship Reflection, Friday, November 13

By: Robin Lind

Throughout St. Mary’s kitchen, in the Café, behind the large gas stove, and above the sinks are a series of hand-painted tiles. Some are exquisite, some simple, some rough: flowers, icons, sacred vessels, animals, flags, hand-prints. All are the artistic expressions of parishioners assembled one Saturday, about a quarter century ago, to decorate individual tiles for the “new” kitchen expansion.

Among the least of these, on the back wall, nearly hidden by the mighty steam dishwasher, is a rather dull representation of two sides of the common nickel: a crude representation of Thomas Jefferson for the obverse, Monticello on the reverse. Among the more colorful and attractive tiles, this ugly duckling tells a story about stewardship.

When I think about annual pledging over the past four decades, my memory goes back to what used to be called, in a smaller congregation, “the Every Member Canvass.” I may be wrong, but I think it may have been commonly known as the “Every Member of the Vestry” calling each of us with a personal appeal.

There were lots of different approaches. Most were relational and comparisonal. Some asked us to consider how much we spent on our club memberships. Some asked how much we paid to have our house cleaned each week. I remember former Parson Holt Souder at an annual Council meeting, referring to an appeal “to give ‘til it hurts” — saying it ought to be “give until it feels good.”

I recall a story about a favorite uncle calling a distinguished lawyer, who was later to become a Supreme Court Justice, asking him pointedly how much he paid for a bottle of whiskey, and whether he couldn’t forego just one bottle of whiskey a week to help his church.

Once, a very sympathetic caller, aware of our family’s immediate financial reversals, emphasized the importance of “tithing in treasure, time, or talent.” But, back to the kitchen tile.

The senior warden at that time, probably also Every Member Canvass Chair, told a story from her childhood. She was a PK — Priest’s Kid. Every Sunday she was given two nickels. One was to be contributed to the Offering Plate at the service; the other was to be spent on their way home, at the local Ice Cream Parlor, for the cone of her choice.

One Sunday morning, while her parents were parking in front of the church, the nickels hot in her palm, she stepped down from the car and a nickel sprang forth, rolled across the pavement, and fell into the storm sewer grate. Gone.

“Was that God’s nickel, or mine?” she wailed. That question has lain upon my heart for these many decades. They are all God’s nickels.

That rough, awkward rendering of the Jefferson nickel, hidden on the back wall of the kitchen, behind the dishwasher? That was my tile.