How we give is how we worship
I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. (Phil 4:18)
You may recall from the last Vicar’s article that a small mission team from St. Mary’s with Holy Apostles was heading to Kenya. Children from St. Martin’s and Hackness Church of England Schools had raised a significant amount of money so that the Anglican Church of Kenya could afford a larger plot of land for the school of St Stephen’s, Mikiyuni (see map). We went to oversee the land purchase so that those primary school children would have the space to learn, play and take part in sports and thereby fulfil the requirements of the Kenyan national curriculum. I am pleased to report that a 2-acre plot of land has now been purchased; that two schools received a full year of curriculum materials; and that our links with the Diocese of Bungoma were greatly strengthened creating opportunities to work together into the future. What stays with me from this mission was the generosity of Kenyan Christians so evident during our visit. When we were invited to a household we were always greeted by a great spread of food: ground nuts, kale stew, Ugali (a maize mash), the ubiquitous chicken, mandazi (a kind dough-nut) and bowls of rice and chapattis. The Kenyans took real joy in giving us so much despite their poverty. In fact, at the farewell service during the worship, our Kenyan Sisters accompanied by great song and dancing proceeded to dress us in traditional handmade garments made especially for each one of us. The theme of giving characterised our whole mission from beginning to end and that this attitude of giving was intrinsically linked with the worship that we all shared together. This link between giving and worship is confirmed by the verse above. St. Paul has received a gift from the Philippian Church, which Paul recognises was an example of them sharing in his distress (Phil 4:14). What is noteworthy is that Paul connects this gift with the Old Testament language of offering, sacrifice and worship. Giving is a form of worship! This introduces the next aspect in our series on worship.
The English word “Worship” has its origins, not in the Greek or Hebrew languages of the scriptures, but comes to us from an Anglo-Saxon word: weorpscipe, which the dictionary tells me means ‘worthiness, or acknowledgement of worth. ’ When we worship God, we give back to him his worth. Indeed, Revelations chapter 5, records the worship in heaven with phrases like “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” Worship as “giving God his worth” may feel a rather static response to the character of God, however, St. Paul suggests we can recognise God’s worth through giving “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” Physical giving then is an aspect of giving worth to God and saying he is worthy of our generosity to others, not to earn his favour, but to give because we have first received.
St. Paul’s language draws on the imagery of the Old Testament sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving instituted in the Levitical laws:
“… you shall offer with the thank offering unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of choice flour well soaked in oil … as a gift to the Lord.” (Lev 7:12,14).
This leads me to my choice of title for this article, because there is an implication from this that How we give is how we worship. Over the years, St Mary’s with Holy Apostles has been renowned for its generosity in giving. Members have had the vision, commitment and drive to set up what is now the Rainbow Centre. Many have selflessly supported our partners on foreign mission fields. Others have committed their time and effort to maintain our historic church, ensuring our worshipping space is fit for future generations. We have led the way in supporting the Diocese in its vision as Generous Churches, making and nurturing disciples. These things are wonderful, but they are not laurels upon which we should rest. If worshipping in this way remains static, it stagnates to a duty rather than a gift. Our journey of faith always demands new steps.
We have an opportunity to make a new step very soon. Over the last 18 months our income has fallen dramatically. This is because a large segment of our church income comes from a small number of people. Sadly, we have lost some of these people recently and as a consequence our income has been dramatically reduced. Naturally, as a leadership team we have tried to cut our costs, but the age and nature of our buildings limits the scope of this. Saying that we have located and repaired a historic water leak in the path at St. Marys and engaged cost-effective energy suppliers across both sites. However, we are still forecasting a huge overspend at the end of 2018. This is not sustainable and what little reserves we have will be exhausted in 2019. As a result, the leadership team, with the blessing of the PCC, has decided to call a day of prayer and pledge on Sunday 23 September. We will write to the whole church in more detail before this, but we have calculated that if each of our 150 church members increased their weekly giving by £3, this would go a long way to solving the deficit. We fully appreciate that for some members an extra £3 will be too much, but others may be in a position to give more. Even a one-off gift would be very welcome! Over the next few weeks would you please pray about your giving to St Mary’s with Holy Apostles and consider increasing this to whatever is possible for you and see it as “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” Why not move to giving by Standing Order, which helps the church budget more accurately and gives your bank the responsibility of making the transaction. Either way, your generosity now is an act of giving that will ensure the worship of future generations of Christians in this place.
Our visit to Kenya reminded me that giving is intrinsic to worship. The team was treated with astounding generosity and humility. The Kenyans gave to us because they thought the Lord Jesus Christ was worthy of the gift. Can we affirm that attitude with our giving? Look out for our Kenyan evening when we hope to bring our story for the whole church to hear and in the meanwhile I hope that this story helps to renew our giving to God.
With blessings from Richard.