You might be expecting me to try to persuade you to give to Saint Mark’s because of all the good that our church will do with your gifts. Allow me to disappoint or relieve you on that score. While it’s true that Saint Mark’s has many wonderful uses for your donations, that isn’t the main reason why you should give. What we can accomplish together, as worthy as it may be, is secondary. The act of giving transforms the giver, and becomes a greater blessing than any other good that it does. Like every aspect of life, its true purpose — if we can only see it — is to draw us closer to God and to each other. We miss the best part of our giving if it is only about putting money where it can do some good. Saint Francis gave a coin to a leper, but when he kissed the leper’s hand he became transformed. We, too, must surrender part of that which we have carefully guarded if we are to experience the liberation of loving others.
It’s all too easy to kill the joy of giving and make it sterile and lifeless. We have to be careful in regular giving that it doesn’t become a legalistic pat on our own backs, nor a source of resentment, nor a vapid stand-in for being truly present in our presents. Nevertheless, our church relies on regular giving for its budget. So what I like to do is to make my pledge moderate, then give more as the Spirit leads. That way, I can embrace the spontaneous opportunities to give when they arise instead of having to beg off because I’m already tapped out. “God loves a cheerful giver.”
Being present to the act of giving is so important that it almost argues against institutional giving altogether. But there is a fine way to do both: get involved in the activities you are funding. That way, you aren’t just handing off a check and absolving yourself — instead, your money becomes just the first step in a continuous act of giving. Hotel de Zink comes to my mind as a great example. Part of our gifts to the church pay for a place for those less fortunate to sleep, but we can go so much further: we can make food for them, hand it to them, share it with them, look them in the eye and get to know them as fellow human beings. We can kiss the leper’s hand — and be transformed.