Stewardship - A Matter of Caste or Kingdom?

Posted on by Howard Pugh

Howard spoke eloquently of his time as a student in Singapore. He shared with us the experience of his host country - one stratified by race, social and economical status, and ancestry. His host thinking this would be strange to an American must have been surprised by Howard's answer - staring at the young man Howard shared, “Ian, I grew up in Richmond, Virginia. We perfected social stratification by race, ethnicity, and class a long time ago. So, no, I do not find it strange, just extremely sad.”
Looking for a church to attend Howard found one. It had all the colonial era trappings. He wondered who would attend. His story continues:
The first person to enter was a late middle-aged woman. The severity of her posture; her high heels, silk dress, perfectly coiffed hair, and an arresting pearl necklace all spoke eloquently to her place in the social order. She advanced down the center aisle, came to her pew, knelt and began to pray. I looked down at my knit shirt, thin cotton pants, and running shoes and decided that if I had breached the preserve of the well-dressed elite, I should leave now, before I embarrassed them and myself. But as I rose to leave, the next person entered: a young Indian man, mid-twenties, who seemed to be wearing a neatly pressed work uniform. As he passed the pew where the woman was kneeling, he paused and addressed her by name: “Good morning, Lady Isabel.” She looked up and warmly acknowledged his greeting. I dropped back into my seat.
As the sanctuary filled, I was surprised, and then confounded. The congregation reflected the city’s diversity. I expected to see the various racial and ethnic groups cluster as they sat. They did not. I witnessed greetings, handshakes, hugs, and even kisses across social barriers I had been led to believe were impermeable. I began to wonder, is it possible? Is it possible that the New Covenant can transcend caste? As the service concluded, the Rector invited everyone to join him at the refreshments table at the foot of the garden—and at the nearby sign-up table. The church was beginning a major outreach effort, and many hands would be needed. Whose hands, I asked myself.
The young Indian man preceded me into the garden. There he joined a woman I presumed to be his wife who was holding a loudly unhappy infant. As they tended the child, they were overtaken by Lady Isabel, heading toward the tea urns. I know the clenched-teeth smile of social condescension, the smile that does not rise to the eyes. This was its opposite; this was pure delight. I watched as she extended her arms, clearly asking to hold the infant, who, in her arms, instantly fell silent. Then a small hand shot up, closed on the pearl necklace, and began to yank. The father was alarmed, the mother horrified; in the distance I held my breath. Lady Isabel could have gently pried the little fingers open. She did not. She reached behind and unclasped the necklace, which the baby began to flail with gleeful abandon. Lady Isabel laughed, turned, and the four of them began a slow progress toward tea and sandwiches.
My attention was diverted by the swelling crowd in front of the sign-up table. The volunteers crossed race, ethnicity, gender, and age. I marveled. My thoughts went to the Apostle Paul writing to the community of believers he had founded in Galatia: “In Christ,” he proclaimed, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) My focus reverted to the improbable family of four who were now passing through the only area in the garden not in full shade.
And that’s when I saw it, fleetingly, but I did see it. In the white heat of the equatorial sun, I saw the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
It is my task as chair of Stewardship, and my privilege as your fellow parishioner, to invite you to renew and, if possible, increase your pledge, remembering, please, that no collection plate has been passed in this church in 19 months. You will receive a pledge card in the mail to be filled out and returned, but I ask you to consider pledging online, which would be more expedient for everyone.
I solicit your financial support, not out of the church’s need but rather our common thankfulness. And we have much to be thankful, do we not. We are thankful for the decade Fr. David cared for this congregation, culminating symbolically and literally in the very roof over our heads. We are thankful for the two exceptional priests Fr. David called to join us, and for the continuing ministry of our curmudgeonly, but much loved, senior priest. We are thankful for our conscientious and capable Vestry who, in time, will call our next Rector, and who, at present, are implementing our Long-Range Plan. We know who we are. With the Plan we know where we are going and how to get there. And we will. We are thankful for our tireless director of lay ministries whose teams, supporting the needy in our city, have kept St. Mark’s open while the church was closed.
And last, my own gratitude—that I do not have to make my way to Richmond International Airport to board a succession of penitential flights to jet half-way around the world to rejoin a congregation that is building the Kingdom of God. That salvific work is being undertaken here, at St. Mark’s. Thanks be to God!   Amen, amen.