When I was invited to add stewardship ministry to the roles I had while on staff in the Diocese of Toronto, I realized I didn’t really know what that meant. Was it about parish fundraising to meet the budget? Was it about living as a faithful disciple? At that point, I thought it was more about the former.
On the wise advice of a leader in the field, I set an intention to adopt a personal practice that could teach me about stewardship and giving. It began as a small step. I resolved to give away all the change in my purse each day to the first person who asked for it.
Soon after I began this daily practice, I had a specific experience that has grounded, shaped, and driven my thinking and actions about giving, generosity, and gratitude ever since.
One warm spring day, a colleague and I were eating lunch in a park near work. As we were talking, we were approached by a very tall African man with a dilapidated bundle buggy filled with his possessions.
He asked, “Do you have any spare change?”
I said yes and dumped the change into my hand. “This is yours, I just need the TTC [Toronto Transit Commission] tokens.”
I put the coins into his outstretched hand, and he said, “Bless you.”
My practice done for that day, I continued my lunch and conversation with my friend. A few minutes later, my friend noticed that the man with the bundle buggy was heading in our direction again. “I guess he thinks you have more to give,” she said. “We’ll see.”
He approached and this time he asked, “Would you please put out your hand?” I did. Into it he carefully placed a small, blue plastic TTC token holder. “You need this more than I do.”
I looked at this gift in my hand, a bit surprised. I hope I said “Thank you.” He went on his way.
And that is the real beginning of my giving journey. This man’s generosity has been the single most important experience that shaped my giving practice to this day. I give thanks to God for him every time I give. (A true regret is that I didn’t speak more to him, especially to discover his name.)
I experienced generosity that day – thoughtful generosity and joyful giving. Important lessons in my faith journey.
From that day, I have been working to match his generosity, to give away from my wealth and possessions the same proportion that he gave me from his: one blue plastic token in the middle of his bundle buggy. I give more freely and easily now, but I am only slightly closer to matching his generosity. My bundle buggy is very large, and it contains many things: comfortable housing, a summer cottage, furniture, clothes, savings for retirement… I have a long way to go. Nevertheless, I try to give with the same ease with which he shared one of his few possessions with me.
I remain grateful to my nameless mentor for his lesson in spontaneous generosity. His example is a gift from God that endures and a reminder that I always have more to give.
Susan Graham Walker leads the Congregational Giving and Stewardship area for the United Church of Canada and is “loaned” part-time to the Anglican Church of Canada. Her Anglican projects include Giving Our Thanks & Praise, the I Intend discipleship project, and the Inspire! Invite! Thank! Facebook group.