The Exercise of Tender Competence

First part of a message for the opening Sunday of stewardship renewal 

October 6th is the Sunday designated for the launch of our Annual Renewal Program. The first question to address is what is annual renewal? The short answer is, it’s the start of our annual renewal of stewardship awareness. Stewardship is a yearlong process, which focuses our attention, as individuals, on our relationship with God as our creator and our commitment to the creation, which is the world around us.

At the heart of being Christian lies the key realization that God is not solitary but relational and communal. In Genesis: 1, God converses with God-self saying: Let us make humanity in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves and let them be masters all that lives upon the earth. The essence of what it means to be human flows from being formed in the essential image of God. Consequently, we are relational beings made to seek our fulfillment through relationships with one another.  In other words, like God, our identity and fulfillment is to be found in community. Tertullian, the Early Church Father, is reputed to have said: one Christian is no Christian. To be Christian is to be a member of the people of God. We are the Body of Christ because we are all baptized into one body. 

Somewhere in his description of the responsibilities of the cellarer, the person in the monastery entrusted with the management of resources and care of fabric, St Benedict uses the phrase tender competence. Norvene West, a prominent writer on Benedict writes: Stewardship means working with God to tend and care for the world, including tending and caring for our own vocation. 1997 p59 

In creation God has appointed us to be trustees. The job of the trustee is to look after things that don’t strictly belong to us. It is to look out for the interests of others. It involves giving account for actions taken. To be a good steward involves learning, day by day, how to be watchful, and mindfully aware of the responsibility to practice a tender competence in the care for the material world and human relationships. Through tender competence we give thankful account to God for all we have been given in trust to enjoy.

Tender competence is the action of discipleship, an action flowing from the experience of gratitude. Gratitude is the first fruit of spiritual living. To live the spiritual life of discipleship is to live from the experience of gratitude. Disciples never resist, for too long at least, a generous impulse.

Second Part

I begin this cycle of annual renewal by sharing with you my enormous gratitude to this community for the honor and love you extend to me as your priest and pastor. My gratitude to God for leading me to this phase of my life connects me with my desire for all of you to live joyful lives, lives lived outside the box rather than lives created by the limitation of imagination and failure of courage.

The first element of our annual renewal process is to address the thorny issue of money. As we look to 2014, we need to assess our financial strengths and weaknesses in order to be able to plan how we are going to exercise tender competence in the coming year. Gratitude, expressing itself in a generosity made real through tender competence for the world, is God’s call to us.

Since 2009 we have been running a deficit budget. The reason for this lies in the fact that it was only in 2009 that Trinity Cathedral took full responsibility for paying our own clergy. We think of Trinity as an old and well-established community. Yet, financially speaking we are only really four years old. We survived the collapse of the Downtown and the white-flight to the suburbs in the 1970’s and 80’s because the Diocese took financial responsibility for keeping a cathedral presence in the heart of the City. That act of faith bore rich fruit and all of us here this morning are evidence to that.

Once again we are growing year on year. I believe that growth is the strongest evidence that we are meeting needs. Each one of us has a need for a place to journey in the company of others similarly searching. Here, together, we stand in the tension between our received Tradition and the expectations of the Kingdom.

Today, I invite us to renew our intentional conversation around a metaphor of the gap. Anyone who has been to London will have heard the voice-over telling travelers to mind the gap as they move from platform to train and vice versa on the Underground. I invite us to mind the gap in our expectations between what feels safe, and what feels generous.  Let’s mind the gap between what we think we can provide, and what we really can provide. The difference between the two is simply the limitation of expectation and imagination, and the failure of courage. loves live from a notion of scarcity rather than abundance.

We limit our expectations to what most of us can easily afford, which in most cases amounts to an incredibly low percentage of our surpluses of money, time, and skills. Yet, what is needed is a prayerful and courageous generosity of money, time, and talent. Part of the malaise of modern life lies in our experience of futility and helplessness. We accept that we are unable to effect any real change in the world.  At the heart of all our longing is our human need to experience making an impact for good. Through our shared journey of discipleship as a community, Trinity has the power to make animpact in the world and through this we come to experience making a difference in the world.

Last year was the first year that we addressed our annual renewal program in an intentional and planned fashion. I would like to share with you the three most important fruits of that during this past year.

  • Firstly, we increased the number of pledging households by 30%.
  • Secondly, we have faithfully served one another and the world around us through our vibrant ministry programs.
  • Thirdly, we have grown in talent so that this year, as Interim Dean, I do not have to lead our annual renewal. We have in place a highly skilled annual renewal ministry team that represents both established and new elements of our membership. The extent of their commitment to this ministry lies in their willingness to sign-on for three years so that continuity and incremental vision become the bedrock of the way we will address the demands upon us to become more empowered stewards.  

From today until Christ the King Sunday, which is the last Sunday before Advent, or the Sunday before Thanksgiving, selected speakers from the congregation will share with us the importance for them of being part of Trinity’s community. Members of the stewardship ministry team will explain the stages of our renewal process.

It is my life experience that God does not encroach into that part of life which is ours to be accountable for. One of the reasons we so often feel that our prayers go unanswered is because we want God to take all the responsibility for changing our lives and making a better world. God does God’s part, but God is also reliant on us doing ours!

Third Part

Today’s Gospel reading starkly sets the theme for our annual renewal phase of Stewardship. Jesus is saying two things to us:

  • We need only to have an amount of faith the size of a mustard seed for there to be no limit to what we can achieve.  Often our courage and vision fail because we think we need more faith than we have. What we have is enough!
  • As stewards and disciples, there is nothing out of the ordinary in doing only what is our duty and responsibility to do.   

We are God’s stewards. As Christ’s disciples we are called to be accountable for the good use of the resources of money, time and talent entrusted to us.  One result of this accountability is that we give generously from the benefits we enjoy so that this Christian Community can make an impact in the world for good. Another is that we encounter that longed-for deepening sense of purpose, which is the spiritual fruit of an expanding sense of gratitude.

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