In our culture, “Money” is a form of measurement; the time and energy you spend throughout the week is translated into dollars. Dollars are then spent to pay for work; buying the time and energy of others. Time, energy, skill, and money are all resources we must manage to do the things we love and to make the changes we want to see done in the world.
When we invest those things in liberal religion and our congregations, we call that “Stewardship”. Stewardship isn’t, in reality, about money. The money is a tool of stewardship, but real stewardship is the intention. Stewardship is about the desire to change the world.
Yes, money is where a lot of the focus seems to be. That is because we already train and employ people to do a lot of the work. We have community resources, like furniture, a library, and maybe a building. Care, storage, and maintenance of those resources costs money, and few congregations have a plumber, an electrician, and a roofer willing to donate their time, much less an office administrator and a minister. Those things require money, and so the mechanic, the teacher, the doctor, and the banker all pool their money to make this happen. The money is just a measurement of their commitment to the mission of the congregation, though.
That money goes to fund upkeep, but also social programs and the time and labor of others; if we are to feed the hungry, we need food but also people to make the dinners and deliver them and clean the kitchen after. We need the time and energy of people who have those resources to give, whether they give them in addition to or instead of money. Again, the important thing is the commitment. What you give isn’t the real measure of stewardship. Why you give, and how deeply are what matter.
Stewardship is vital to the health of every congregation, but also of our movement. We need to think larger than the congregation if we want to have an impact beyond our own neighborhood. It matters that we organize. We need to be visible, we need to be recognizable, and we need organization. The UUA needs to respond to national events as a representative body. We need regional staff to help troubleshoot congregational issues and bring us training and development opportunities. We need clusters and innovative, entrepreneurial ministries to do those things which are outside the scope of a congregation. Unitarian Universalism doesn’t have a built-in channel for that kind of funding.
So, as someone who values liberal religion as a force for good in the world, thank you. Your participation, whatever it has been, matters. Your commitment, however it is expressed, changes lives. Consider how much Unitarian Universalism means to you, and whether you can offer a little more to make it stronger and more impactful; not just in terms of your pledge (though that matters), but in time and talent and energy. Stewardship is much more than money.