When Gift-Giving Isn’t Generous Giving

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When Gift-Giving Isn’t Generous Giving

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.

Some people feel that a large gift is automatically a generous gift.  Others feel that a gift is generous only if it’s large.  My feeling is that any gift has the potential to be generous; it all depends on the spirit in which the gift is given.  That said, are there times when giving a gift isn’t really about generosity?

One church had very basic light fixtures in the sanctuary.  The family that had generously paid for the sanctuary to be re-wired and updated decades prior hadn’t installed a chandelier.  One prominent church member often criticized the fixtures, saying that they looked “cheap.”  When her mother died, she gave a large sum of money as a “memorial fund.”  She then ordered a very beautiful (and expensive) chandelier and directed that her mother’s fund – which just happened to hold the exact amount needed to cover the cost – be used to purchase it and install it.  From the point of view of dollars and cents, this was a very generous gift.  But, in spirit, it was the antithesis of generosity.  Why? Because the gift was given to “correct” someone else’s gift, and the donor was quite outspoken about that “correction.”

In another church, one family noticed that the communion table cloth was quite worn.  They thought it would be nice to buy a new tablecloth in honor of their father, who had served as a deacon for many years.  But, when the idea was presented to the board, one member announced, “They can’t do that.  My family buys things for the communion table.”  Sure enough, the cross, the candlesticks, the communion plates, even the offering plates were all inscribed with that family’s name.  He insisted that he would purchase the new tablecloth.  Was that a generous gift?  I’d have to say it was not.  In terms of cost, it wasn’t a very large purchase, but that’s not why it wasn’t generous.  The board member didn’t really want to give a gift; he wanted to protect his family’s “territory.”  On a side note, when it was pointed out that the tablecloth couldn’t be “inscribed” in the same way as the brass items had been, he decided to “allow” the other family to purchase it.

Then there was the church with a parishioner who wanted to help her church get caught up on some of its deferred maintenance.  She had very specific ideas of what she’d like to see done, so she floated her ideas to the church’s trustees.  When they voted to do some of the projects but not others, she quietly donated half the projected cost of the approved projects, asking only that her donation be kept confidential.  She made no demands as to how or by whom the approved projects should be carried out, and she accepted the trustees’ decision about the projects they declined.  Was she generous?  Definitely!  She gave her gift freely, refrained from “marking her territory,” and did not demand that things be done “her way” with “her money.”

Matthew 6:2-4 reminds us that our giving should never be about our being honored by others.  Rather, we should give “in secret” so that our “left hand doesn’t know what our right hand is doing.”  And when we learn to give quietly, without seeking recognition for our gift, that is when we are practicing true generosity.

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

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