A Generosity Project Reflection: Generosity is…Hard to Define, Easy to See

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A Generosity Project Reflection: Generosity is…Hard to Define, Easy to See

The Generosity Project is a collaborative effort between ABCUSA, regions, and local congregations.  The Generosity Project aims to help pastors re-frame the conversation around stewardship and generosity in their congregations. Bi-monthly blogs help support new growth and understanding as we deepen our ministry and discipleship. The reflection below was provided by Rev. Jill Harvey.

I love words.  I love the dictionary and the thesaurus.  I love playing with words and defining words.  Naturally, when asked to complete the sentence “Generosity is…” I went straight to the dictionary to get warmed up.

Generosity is: (1) the quality of being kind and generous; (2) the quality or fact of being plentiful or large (www.languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/).

I find these definitions to be problematic.  The first uses the word to define itself, a definite no-no when I was being schooled in the English language.  And the second makes it sound like you can only experience generosity if you have large amounts to share.  Let’s try this again.

Dictionary.com defines generosity as: “readiness or liberality in giving.”  OK, now we’re getting somewhere.  We can all be ready to give, no matter our starting point.  And “liberality” just means to do so freely, without restraint.  So, generosity is being ready to give and doing so freely.  Now let’s see what comes up when I hit the thesaurus button on my computer…

Synonyms for “generosity include: kindness, big-heartedness, open-handedness, liberality, bounty, munificence and charity.  I’m seeing a common thread here.  Most of these words don’t refer to the amount of a gift; they refer to the spirit in which it is given.  So…

Generosity is… a spirit of being ready to share whatever we have.  Yup, that definition definitely works for me.  In fact, I am privileged to see this “spirit of being ready to share” every time my church undertakes a special offering.  So, allow me to brag a little…

We collect food items for picnic baskets each summer.  To make sure that we get the right number of the various items (because who needs 12 bottles of mustard?), we ask people to take tickets for specific items.  The biggest complaint we get about this project is that “some people are hogging the tickets and I didn’t get to buy anything!”  Nothing worse than being ready to give and missing out on the opportunity.

Some years ago, we collected gently worn shoes for a project at our ABCCONN Camp Wightman.  I had one parishioner who had virtually no income.  She showed up for church one morning with 2 big garbage bags full of shoes, cheerfully announcing: “I don’t have any money, but I do have lots of friends, and they had lots of shoes!”  Definitely, a big-hearted approach.

I once challenged my congregation to fill up a huge moving box with underwear and diapers for a local family shelter.  I gave them a month to do it.  One week into the collection, the box was not only full, but someone had placed an entire pallet of diapers next to it.  Liberality in giving?  You bet!

“Generosity” can be defined in many different ways, and we might not be able to agree on the exact definition, but we all know generosity when we see it.  What does generosity look like?  It looks like shoes and diapers and folks complaining that they didn’t get to give as much as they wanted.  And those things look, to me, like a little bit of the Kingdom of God, right here on earth.

The Rev. Jill Harvey is the pastor of the Niantic Baptist Church in Niantic, CT and a cohort facilitator for The Generosity Project.