By Joy Philpott
The Philpott story of being at Saint David’s is different from most that I’ve heard. Over and over I’ve heard people say, “We walked in, and we felt at home immediately.” I’m so very glad for that, but it was NOT my experience.
Ben, Winn, and I wound up visiting Saint David’s because Ben interviewed David Boyd about the ordination of Gene Robinson in 2003. At the same time, David was interviewing Ben and found out that we were a young Episcopal family without a church home in Austin. He lured us in to try the family service—where we could be with a toddler and her sippy cup and general toddler antics in the Bethell family service.
In this “Three Bears” story, the church was TOO BIG (for the mama bear, anyway). There are three times as many folks on the roll at Saint David’s as there are on the population sign in my home town. Everyone seemed so affluent, so together—even in the family service in Bethell Hall. In that service alone there were more people than attended our tiny church that we’d left in Birmingham.
So we lurked about the church, showing up sporadically. We still use the Advent wreath we made there in 2003.
In 2004, we welcomed Tate. Ben and Winn attended that Christmas Eve service without Tate and me—and brought home Chinese food following the service.
With a toddler and an infant, we stayed home most Sundays—until the no-so-baby bear declared loudly in a song improvised for the neighborhood to hear “I need God; I need Go-oo-od.”
And thus, we were back in Bethell.
Was it 2007 when we finally stopped lurking and plugged in? I don’t remember exactly. I just know that both girls were old enough to enjoy being in Sunday school—so Ben and I had time to go to the Newcomer class. I responded to a call in Looking Ahead for someone to help with youth Sunday school. And because there’s a pretty strong public radio ethos at our house and because we didn’t want to be Goldilocks and sample everything without giving anything back—we pledged—at which point Mary Vano gently suggested that it MIGHT be time to move our membership. Yep, that’s right, we pledged before we were even members of the church.
But rather than mangling the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears further—what I’m supposed to be doing is explaining WHY we give to a church—in particular to St. David’s. And that story has to do with why we’re at Saint David’s and not somewhere else, why we kept lurking about long before I felt comfortable there. We attend St. David’s because it’s downtown, “In the heart downtown Austin since . . .” We moved back to my home state and to Austin to be IN Austin—to be a part of it. We’re at St. David’s because it is ideally situated to help homeless neighbors, SXSW tourists, and folks who work at the federal building across the street. We’re happy that outreach at St. David’s seems to be becoming even more deliberate with more people putting their bodies as well as their monies on the line through Bridge Builders and a tighter partnership with Trinity Center. We want a church that actively participates in the world around it. The church’s physical location facilitates this and the body, its members, makes it happen. And this requires resources—both temporal and fiscal.
But here’s the thing—while we want our church supporting the neighborhood of downtown Austin (and beyond—think of the work at Saint James Episcopal school last spring—or much further east in Malawi with Warm Heart International)—I don’t believe that it’s the church’s main role to be the conduit of fiscal resources to its community and world. I DO believe that it’s the church’s main role to be a conduit of human resources to its community and the world—“Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.” These words are said (in some form or fashion) following the Eucharist somewhere shortly after “may we become what we receive.” We want for our church (the building and the body) to help others, but we go there for ourselves—to equip ourselves to be better members of the body out in the world. As it turns out, we’re not the bears in this story. We sample Journey Groups and Theology on Tap (or Holy Happy Hour . . . whatever) and Sunday school and EFM and choirs and men’s and women’s and kid’s groups and communion, always communion, like some mad Goldilocks so that we may better walk the path of our faith in the world. We need Go-oo-od. We offer up ourselves, our bodies, our resources both temporal and fiscal, so that we may better serve. The money we give becomes the upkeep of the space for the renewing of our bodies and minds as well as being a shelter in cold weather for neighbors in downtown; it becomes the time the church staff spends in equipping us for ministry by ministering to us and to others.
Goldilocks broke the chairs and ate the porridge and fell asleep. We break the bread and eat it and find rest and then break apart as the body to go into the world. And that is why we give . . . to offer up what we have to be further nourished to go into the world and serve as God wills that we may all live (happily) ever after.