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Stewardship Message: Emily O’Keefe

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November 12, 2017 — Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost

Guest Stewardship Speaker:  Emily O’Keefe

Today’s Readings:

Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25
Psalm 78:1-7
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
Matthew 25:1-13

Stewardship at Christ the King

Stewardship, as the church here defines it is, is the giving of our “time, talent and treasure” to the church. I believe in stewardship – in an active “taking care” – of any and all communities that serve us. It is an opportunity both to embody the fundamental teachings of Christianity in the form of service, and to model that behavior for my young son.

I came to the Episcopal church as a teenager, and I was the first member of my family to join the denomination. (In fact, I am the first of only two – my brother and his wife joined the church three years ago in Wilmington, NC.)

We moved from rural Louisiana to Annapolis, Maryland when I was in the seventh grade. I had heard great things about the local Episcopal church, St. Anne’s, and began attending with a friend.

It was a great parish, I’m sure it still is. It was a beautiful building (that never hurts), it had a thriving youth group, and it had a female priest! Which I had never seen before.

It would be hard to understate how profoundly important it was to me – and of course, still is – to see women celebrated in roles of leadership in the church. How that signaled the church’s belief in the dignity and robust humanity of its women. The church’s recognition that women are fully capable of, and responsible for, emulating Christ and manifesting Christianity’s core teachings of love, compassion, and service.

I was confirmed at St. Anne’s in Annapolis when I was fifteen years old. I served on the altar there, sang in the choir, attended youth group, volunteered in the “soup kitchen”. I saw the church as a meaningful, relevant resource for many of the issues adolescents face. It was a diverse population, and there was high involvement in ministries of social action and social justice. I was proud to be part of that parish, and to be an Episcopalian.

The church has profound value and relevance for me, and I wanted to give my son the opportunity to cultivate a similar relationship with a spiritual practice and community.

My husband Michael and I moved up here in 2013 with our son Aidan, who was one and a half years old at the time. My primary practice had become meditation. I began meditation practice and study at a Shambhala Center in 2002, in the wake of 9/11. I had discovered Zen practice in 2010, and have been a Zen student and practitioner since that time. Buddhism never supplanted my Christianity. One of my favorite authors on the subject of Buddhism and Christianity, Robert Kennedy (he’s also the priest who married my husband and me) reminds his readers in reference to meditation practice that St.

Paul said there are “many gifts, but one spirit.” Still, I hadn’t been a member of a church for many years.

When we discussed coming back to church, it was initially about how it would benefit our son. Where could we be part of a community where our son Aidan would have a good experience? Where Aidan could get an introduction to a life of the spirit, one that focused on kindness, empathy and generosity? A context for his cultural heritage, and its attending stories and myths? So many of the most profound experiences I had as a child in church came from hearing the stories of the Bible. Joseph Campbell had written that these stories “helps you to put your mind in touch with this experience of being alive. It tells you what the experience” of God is, however we may experience that concept. Where could Aidan see a diverse community of people and families that was inclusive of all types of people, and that worked together to take care not only of each other – but also of the world?

One of the jobs I now hold is in the field of diversity and inclusion, coaching women as public speakers, helping organizations build more diverse and inclusive work spaces and employment cultures. One of the most exciting things about working in this field at this time, is that the research shows that inclusion of diverse people, of diverse perspectives, of diverse identities and ideas drives a company’s financial performance – when all are invited in, the organization performs better.  It’s not just a feel-good initiative – it is actually a competitive advantage, it builds company culture, it is on benefit to everyone.

Inclusion is an important value to me. It first drew me to the Episcopal church. And it is one I find vibrantly alive here at Christ the King.

This church is inclusive of all people as equal members of the body of Christ; women, people from all over the world, members of the LGBTQIA community, the ill, refugees, old, young, people of any political persuasion, or religious practice. There is no pre- existing qualification to come here and participate as a fully present, accountable member of this community. All are welcome, as they are.

It is also a community that is profoundly inclusive of the welfare and development of its children. I have been thrilled with the curriculum used for Sunday school here – it works so well to present the stories of the Bible to the children at their own level of understanding. My son loves his time with Ms Beth and Ms Linda, and I know he is in kind, patient hands. The inclusion of children through the service is also so meaningful to me – that they process in, that Mother Alison speaks to them directly, that they come back in for communion. I want him to associate God, and the message of Christ as we understand it, through the community of friends and caretakers who make it accessible, communal and loving. I wish my very early experiences at church had included ones like he’s having here.

(It’s also a signifiant part of his education – spiritual and otherwise – that he sees a church like this, with women at its helm, and a terrific community of men and women supporting their leadership.)

It it inclusive of those of us with non-traditional spiritual practices. I had lunch with Mother Alison as we were entering the church, and told her about my Buddhist practice. I wanted to be sure that in no way in conflict with the community here. And she welcomed me without reservation – in fact, with huge smile – “You’re a Budda-palian!” she exclaimed.

My Zen practice has greatly enriched my experience and understanding of the message of Christianity. As I sit here on Sundays, eager to hear the service or one of the truly terrific sermons given by Alison or Janet, I hear teachings such as “I am the way, the truth, and the life” in ways I never have before. Christ dwells in ME. In all of us. We’re it! That we come together “to receive that which we already are,” as St. Augustine said.

And that the community here grants me the space to plumb the depths of what it Christianity means for me at this point in my life – I am more grateful for that than I have words to say. I may have initially come here for my son, but my own path and faith grow every time I come here as well. This is a very special place. Thank you for your warm welcome here. Thank you for including me… exactly where I currently am on my own spiritual journey.

Aspiring to realize Christ, or manifest our Christ-like nature, is part of the joy of Christianity. Not only accepting the gifts of this very special place – but also looking for places to give back. The model of “time, talent and treasure” is such a useful guide for finding ways to engage with the practice of stewardship.

All types of people are here, and they work to serve all types of people!

This community’s commitment to social action and social justice is a huge part of why I feel so happy to have found this place. Fighting for the dignity, safety, and well-being of others is central to the message of Christianity, as I have come to understand it. Here, it is put into action.

And there are so many ways to participate! Ample opportunity! Whether it’s attending a community rally or march with the church, donating to/volunteering for the Food Pantry, raising money for the Rural Migrant Ministry, collecting toys and donations for the Toy Drive, or food for the Thanksgiving baskets, or water bottles to raise money for Puerto Rico – I can absolutely say this church does more action for good, pound for pound, than any other place I’ve ever been. It’s thrilling!

But I also constantly look for ways to add value to the church itself, or the congregation itself. As a member, who accepts the many gifts of this church, I am also accountable for its health and well-being. This is a responsibility that I take seriously. And while I have to offer isn’t much compared to some, but I trust that “little drops of water…make the mighty ocean.”

There are many opportunities to donate time or services – “talents” – to the church here. The ones I have done, that fit my insane and restrictive schedule, are signing up to help with Sunday school, or donate a professional service – in my case, a small public speaking session – have been such a pleasure, and have been so easy to do.

And once we got organized – which took an embarrassingly long time – we signed up for monthly donations to the church. It is easy, a great system online, and I know that it is now taken care of every month.

The community here has made it easy for me – a working parent of a young child – to interact with each feature of stewardship in ways that are both meaningful and realistic. Christ the King has made stewardship an easy and joyful practice; one that allows me to contribute in the ways I can, and to try and reciprocate the generosity, kindness and goodwill that has always been central in my experience of the Episcopal church.

For that opportunity, I am so grateful. Thank you.

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