Hard to believe, but it was a conversation I overheard when I was just five that helped form my ideas on giving. I was hanging around the house one day, trying to amuse myself while my mom hosted the Women’s Fellowship. They had tea and cookies, conversation and that day, a visiting speaker. I lingered in the next room, curious, and heard the visitor talk about giving to church missions. She was what was called a ‘circuit rider’, a minister who travels among rural parishes, and I knew my parents admired her. She told the gathered ladies, “Last week I bought a sweater; paid $7 for it.” [In the 1950’s $7 was a lot.] She continued, “I didn’t need that sweater; it was just something I saw and wanted. Afterwards I realized that if I could afford to spend $7 on something I didn’t need, then I could certainly afford $7 for something that was terribly needed. So I scraped together another $7 and gave it to the mission fund.”
I’m not sure why the sweater story made such an impression on me. But in fact it became a touchstone: something that still comes back to me. What did it say to me at age 5? That there’s a larger world out there besides my own wants and needs. That I have a responsibility to think about those other needs. And that money can do good.
Another touchstone came when I was in my 20’s: Bill Coffin, former pastor of Riverside Church, used to say “There are two ways to be rich. One is to have a lot of money. The other is to have few needs!” He’d also say that an advantage of having fewer needs is that one can be more generous with others.
So I try to think carefully about my needs. When I spend money on things I don’t really need (and I do that), the ‘circuit rider’ still asks me what I am doing for others. And what are my needs, anyway? Some of the things I value most are not things money can buy, but other important things do cost money. One of those is having a church that can help me grow into the person God wants me to be. Plymouth Church is an important part of my life, and I want to make sure it’s there, both for me and for others, including those who haven’t found it yet. I also want Plymouth to grow in its ability to do God’s work in the world. So I count Plymouth as an important need, and supporting Plymouth financially as an important response to God’s generosity.