This is my third “Stewardship Testimony” I’ve given here at St. Stephens. My grandfather was a Southern Baptist Minister, and my grandmother’s done a lot of church work at a lot of churches in her lifetime. One time she sat me down and said, “Erika, if you say ‘yes’ to something at a church, they’re going to keep on asking you to do it until you finally say ‘no’. Remember your Church-Yes isn’t just for that one time, it’s for all time until you say so.” I must say, I’ve found that advice to be very true! So…YES I will do another Stewardship Testimony.
Usually when I approach this Stewardship time, I get rather John F. Kennedy about it – “Ask not what your Church can do for you, but rather ask what you can do for your Church”, right? I truly feel we are called to create The Church together, and to keep *this* church together specifically – we give our Time, our Talent, our Treasure because we honor and glorify God.
But. This time happens to coincide with something so amazing in my life, in my journey with God, and it all happened because of the volunteer time, the hard work, the financial contributions of the people of St. Stephens. It’s AMAZING. So, even though it’s not my natural tendency, I am going to tell you what this church has done for me, and how God has used this church and the people in it to answer my prayer.
My eldest son, Isaac, has lower functioning autism. I adore this kid – he is genuine and snuggly and loves his loves so completely and passionately, from his devotion to me to his obsession with Peppa Pig and Opera. He has profound disabilities and delays in speech and in social awareness and communication, though, which means while we can watch Opera on PBS together, he can’t tell me what he loves about it or what he’s hearing or seeing in it. His nervous system is miswired and raw, causing his processing of the world around him and the input we all take in to be overwhelming and often painful. We cannot take him to places with lots of people, loud noises, strange textures or distinct smells, or ceiling fans. He falls apart in a room with a ceiling fan. While he is physically healthy, he is a 12-year old walking around with less skills to function in the world than a preschooler.
But I knew none of this when he was born. He was my miracle, my surprise baby that delighted me every day. When he was 6 months old, we had him baptized at the church where I grew up in Ohio, and when I promised God and those around me that I would raise my son in the love of God, teaching him how to follow Jesus, I thought my heart would burst with joy and pride.
And as he grew, and it became clear that he simply was not going to be able to attend church – the people, the music, the flowers, the organ, the behavioral expectations being beyond his ability to handle – every time I heard the words “Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?” at a baptism, and I heard the parents and Godparents say “we will” my heart would break a little. I had promised this too, and I had no idea how to do it when I couldn’t bring my Isaac to church – no church school, no Worship.
I prayed. I prayed and prayed. I prayed that God would show me what to do, how to keep this vow. And for a decade, I’ve been waiting for an answer. Since I began praying this prayer to now, I decided to give myself permission to be patient, to wait, to remove the urgency I felt from the equation and to trust that God created Isaac and God sent him to me and God has a plan for him. I attended church. I followed Jesus as best I could. I prayed out loud at home, and one day I heard Isaac say the Lord’s Prayer along with me in another room, and that was good. I sing a psalm each night to start early evening prayer, and Isaac sometimes sings it with me, and that is good. I say, “thank you God for…” and he fills in the blank with what he’s thankful for – usually it’s Pizza. I thought that if this was all we could do, it was pretty good.
But there was one more thing I desperately wanted that I could not do at home, alone. I wanted Isaac to receive communion. So I continued to pray. And I prayed and I prayed, with truly no idea how this could happen. This seemed impossible. But NOTHING is impossible to God.
Here’s the end of the story – we had our first Grace 2 Go service yesterday, a worship service designed for families with children with special needs. Isaac was excited for it from the moment I told him about it. He’d point to Saturday the 14th on the calendar and say “church school!” We arrived, and in the room was a tent set up in the semi-circle, open on one side facing the Worship leader and he went straight to it, playing with toys and when something sparked his interest, kind of perking his ears up, tilting his head. Next was an activity that he had zero interest in doing, but that was okay, he was allowed to wander and be who he is, and I didn’t have to worry about it. And when we all started gathering to do a procession from North Hall to the Church, he suddenly saw how it was all coming together and said “it’s a parade!” and I sad, “yes it is!”. And we came over to the church, and he said the Lord’s Prayer under his breath with me, and then we lined up for Communion, and it didn’t matter that he couldn’t keep his body still or his mouth from making noise. Mother Whitney said “take, eat” and he took, and he ate, and it happened! Isaac had communion. My prayers were answered, and I had nothing to do with it. God is so good.
But let’s back this answer to my prayer up. It took the Stewardship of everyone to make this happen. This Grace 2 Go costs money. It’s run by volunteers, it’s an efficient and well-organized program, but it costs money for supplies, to maintain North Hall where it’s held – to keep it clean and heated and the lights on. It costs money to pay the water bill to make the coffee and tea for the parents. It costs money to put out the diocesan magazine where Claire Simard first read about Grace 2 Go to bring it here to St. Stephens. Our money, yours and mine, creates the space for God’s work to happen. God’s work doesn’t have to happen in the context of a church, but it surely DOES happen here, and we create it together, and it takes our time, our talent, and yes, our treasure to do it. You tithed money, and my prayers were answered. My Isaac received Christ’s body and blood, and Worshiped God in a community, because of you. It was beyond my ability to do, but not beyond God’s, and God used you to do it.
So I guess I *am* asking “What can you do for your Church?”. I am asking you to give. But I want you to remember that you’re being asked this for the Church to do something for You, for Me, for the Catalyst to create the space for the Holy Spirit to work within us and through us and for us and for others.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your past gifts, and for those of the generations before us at St. Stephens that created this church, this campus, that created the opportunity and space for Grace 2 Go. And I can’t wait to see what God will do with what we give NOW, for us right now, and for generations after us, for the Holy Spirit to work in and for and through them.
Please, say Yes, and keep saying Yes, because we’re going to keep asking you. It’s how churches work, literally. They can’t work without it.