Tithing - UCC Style
A reflection on tithing by the Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson, Rector and Senior Pastor of Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Dallas, Texas:
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse...and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing. Malachi 3.10
A Word of Hope
Through the course of my ministry I have attended many spiritual retreats, participated in many Bibles studies, and have been a part of countless church meetings. One of the questions often asked, as a “get to know you” activity, is an invitation to share one's favorite passages of scripture. That is a very hard thing for me because there are so many Bible verses that I love. However, if I were to share the one passage of scripture that has changed my life the most it may well be this passage from the book of the prophet Malachi.
I remember the first time I consciously heard this passage. It was shortly after I arrived at the Cathedral of Hope. I was participating in a New Member Class and Bill Eure was teaching the class about stewardship. He quoted the scripture from Malachi and then explained how he had begun practicing tithing and what an impact it had made in his life. The lesson was so genuine, so heart-felt, that I decided to do what Bill had done, to practice tithing.
It is now six years later and I have never regretted that decision. This one passage of scripture, and the practice of it in my daily life, has changed how I feel about money. Now, if I am honest, I often wish I had more money. I frequently have to limit the things I buy. Sometimes I have to postpone the plans to do something for my home or yard. I have to carefully plan for major purchases. Those are the realities of our living, but since beginning the discipline of tithing, I have consciously given away more of my resources than ever before in my life, much more than just ten percent. What I have discovered is that God is true to God’s promises.
I am happier now than I have ever been and while there are many reasons for my happiness, I believe that one of the most important reasons is that I now spend my days in gratitude. I have shifted from being fearful of what I do not have to being grateful for what I do have. I am learning, day by day, week by week to be a generous person. I am learning the deep and profound joy of giving. In short, I have been set free. Money no longer owns me and I am grateful to God for that.
So, why not try it? What do you have to lose? After all, it is God who says, “Test me in this!” Why not try bringing God the full tithe, a full ten percent of your resources, and see what God does. I am convinced that God will do exactly as God promised and will open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings upon you.
Holy One, you are so very generous to me. Let me be wholly yours so that I might be a blessing just as you have blessed me. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson
Rector & Senior Pastor
Rev. Kate HUey
About eighteen months ago, I joined a woman’s exercise club, one of those reasonably-priced, three-day-a-week, thirty-minute-workout women’s exercise clubs that presented a golden opportunity to get in better shape so I would feel better and improve my health. What a great idea! There was only one catch, of course – I would actually have to show up and do the workout, because paying my monthly fee, carrying the ID card, and saying that I belonged to an exercise club wouldn’t take a single ounce off my weight or improve my endurance one bit.
What I did notice, however, when I set a rhythm to my life that included regular trips to the exercise club, was a definite “lift” to the way I felt, not just physically but mentally, too. Clearly, as we all know, exercise is good for us. It may not be easy, and it may take discipline, but it’s definitely good for us.
During the past two years, I’ve been making a similar discovery about generosity, and specifically about tithing. We live in a world that offers many “helps” to get our lives in order, to find a sense of proportion and balance and health, from exercise clubs and weight-loss plans to closet organizers and electronic calendars, from self-help books and Dr. Phil to financial advisors and “lifestyle coaches.” But I am convinced that these supports fall far short of the power of the gospel to transform our lives.
I’ve experienced this firsthand. As a member of the Stewardship and Church Finances Ministry Team of the United Church of Christ, I serve the region of the church that stretches from Virginia to Texas. Two summers ago, on a beautiful June morning, I was about to lead a workshop on stewardship at a meeting in a church in Lanett, Alabama. We were sitting on those little folding chairs in one of the church school classrooms, waiting to begin, and just visiting and getting to know one another. When I asked the folks for their own thoughts about giving, two women, one on either side of me, told me that they had tithed – that they had given a tenth of their income to God – all of their lives, and that they both had found it to be a blessing in their lives. One said, “When we bought a house, we thought we’d better back off from tithing for awhile to make sure we could afford it, but then we thought, ‘No, we’ll just keep tithing,’ and we’ve never missed a house payment.”
So there I was, the “expert on stewardship from Cleveland,” about to teach them about generosity and faithfulness. I don’t think so. The day I returned home from that trip, I stood by my kitchen counter (I can still see it now), and I opened my pay envelope. I looked at my pay stub. I thought about all the blessings in my life, and I felt so profoundly grateful. I thought, what was I waiting for? Until I could “afford” to tithe? Until I wouldn’t feel it if I did? I took out my checkbook and wrote a check to Pilgrim Church (my home congregation) for one-tenth of my paycheck. And it was the best feeling I’ve ever had when I wrote a check. I’ve been doing that ever since, each time I receive my paycheck, stopping to think about my blessings and give thanks, writing a check of the “first fruits,” and then living on the rest. Along with the other money I give to the special mission offerings (Neighbors in Need, One Great Hour of Sharing, Strengthen the Church, and the Christmas Fund) and to other ministries of the wider church, and to charities I support, and the money I give to my children…all of those are the happiest checks I write.
But then I discovered two more things. First, I feel calmer about money in general. I have a better sense of priorities in my life; things feel like they’re in better order. For me, the gift of tithing is like the gift of the Sabbath – both of them establish a kind of balance and proportion in our lives – they are, quite simply, good for us. Didn’t Jesus say, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath”? (Mark 2:27)
Second, I discovered something that can best be related with a story about my two-year-old granddaughter, Allyson. Last spring, Ally stayed with us for eight days. Of course, I’ve loved playing grandma, giving her lots of affection and attention, and enjoying how cute and loveable she is. But for those eight days, I had to be aware of her at all times, to provide everything she needed, to think about where she was and whether she was safe, feed her, bathe her, clothe her…I had to invest a lot of my time and my self in her. When the time came to hand her back to her parents, though, I thought my heart would break. I had bonded with her in a very special and powerful way.
That was what I discovered when I decided to increase my giving dramatically, all at once, to the church. I found that I love my church even more. I know I loved it before, but the more I give, the more I care about Pilgrim Church. And, mysteriously, at the same time, the more I trust that the leadership of the church will use my gifts well. Generosity, I have come to understand, is a discipline to be practiced and yet, mysteriously, at the same time, it frees our spirit. This experience, which transformed my life – this movement into a spiritual, everyday practice – would not have happened if two women of faith had not quietly trusted that group with their own stories of giving that summer morning over a year ago. They showed me by their example and their calm faith what it means not just to say “I believe” but to really follow Jesus, not just on Sunday morning, but seven days a week.
In your life, how have you thought of the tithe?
How are rules and laws rather than freedom often connected with tithing, and how would exercising the tithe in freedom be a new and liberating “discipline” in your life?
What steps might you take to increase your giving, a little bit at a time, to reach a tithe in the future?
When have you experienced freedom and a “lift” because you exercised generosity?
Is generosity – like health – something that happens without effort on our part?