In our holy Orthodox Faith, we often speak about Christian Stewardship. In our parish of St. John the Baptist, we have had the special opportunity to practice Christian Stewardship out of necessity. This has been a great blessing and has been largely due to the fact that we started our parish with only six families. In such a small parish community, each person is needed and this need, historically, was easy to recognize. As the parish has grown, two things have happened: the work-load has increased with a larger facility and larger gatherings; and the ability of parishioners to recognize their importance and that they are needed within the reality of a larger community has lessened.
It is vital at each stage of a parish’s development that the members do not forget that they are valued and necessary parts of the Body of Christ. The Apostle Paul, in the twelfth chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians, speaks at length about the importance of each member of the Body of Christ. Each of us should take some time to read this entire chapter. St. Paul teaches us that we cannot say that the hand is better than the foot any more than we can say that one parishioner is more important than another. God has made each of us unique, important and needed. God has called each of us to Him and to His Church. We are all uniquely and especially invited to be a part of the Body of Christ, and therefore we all have an important and necessary role, ministry and job to do. Only if we recognize how important and needed we are and rolling up our sleeves to answer that need will our parish, as a living organism, function in a healthy and sustainable manner.
This offering of ourselves in Christian Stewardship can manifest itself in ministry. God wants to help us recognize our gifts and talents and use them for our own Christian growth and also for the edification and building up of the Body of Christ. Using our talents strengthens them and puts us in a situation where we need to depend more upon Christ. It forces us in a healthy and positive way out of our comfort zone. We learn more about ourselves and others when we are active in a ministry that serves Christ and others. At St. John, there are plenty of ministerial opportunities. For your own sake and for the sake of others, consider joining a ministry that matches your God-given gifts. The degree of your involvement and participation will vary based on your personal life situation.
Another very important way to offer ourselves in the context of community within the Body of Christ is by volunteering to take care of the physical facilities of our church campus. Just as we recognize our spiritual and physical realities by taking care of both components of our humanity, we need to be involved equally in both the spiritual and physical components of our church community. At the end of the Divine Liturgy, the Celebrant stands before the icon of Christ and prayers a prayer. In that prayer, he says, “Sanctify those who love the beauty of Your house.” The “beauty of God’s house” encompasses many things. The more obvious things that come to mind might be things like the orderliness and appropriateness of the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church or the architecture and church decorations. But equally important are the cleanliness of the building, the state of the bathrooms, the attention paid to the outside landscape, the spirit of cleanup after coffee hour, potlucks or other parish events. Even how we dress for church is connected to our inner spiritual state and our love for God. All of these things are included in “loving the beauty of God’s house,” and maintaining this beauty is a tremendous opportunity for us to offer ourselves and express our Christian Stewardship.
In the above discussion, a connection has been made between recognizing our importance in the community, the offering of our time and talents and the building up of the Body of Christ. Another benefit of our involvement in ministry and parish maintenance is the degree that we feel and experience connectedness and belonging. These are such basic human needs, because they are so connected with the human need for love. It is an undeniable truth that we are created to be loved and to love. The degree to which we involve ourselves in ministry and also in the everyday, mundane maintenance of the physical church campus determines our sense of belonging and connection with our fellow brothers and sisters. Working side by side with others in a close, small group with greater degrees of intimacy is essential to our Orthodox understanding of the Church.
Remembering just how basic, important and vital the offering of our time and talents is to the life of our parish, we should feel blessed and grateful for the opportunities we have to serve. Our perspective should be positive when we are invited to be a part of a ministry or to volunteer to pull weeds, clean a bathroom, or vacuum the carpet. In one of Fr. Timothy’s sermons, he challenged us to change our perspective toward life from “having to do things” to “getting to do things.” Whether it’s a ministry of the Church or an opportunity to roll up our sleeves and volunteer to work, it is an opportunity and a blessing to “freely” grow, connect and belong. It is something we “get to do” rather than “have to do!”