April 8

“Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.”

So we’re doing a capital campaign, y’all. 

It’s been a long time coming.  First, we had to stabilize our annual budget; we were running big deficits when I first came, in early 2011. We did hard work on that back in 2013. Then, with our finances on a firmer footing, we spent couple of years just living into our mission, seeing things start to grow and flourish among us. 

But it was always there – the awareness that our physical surroundings didn’t fully reflect the welcome and comfort and beauty we found here in worship and community. The chairs, oh, the chairs! Patti Brennan, who left us to head the world’s largest biomedical library in Washington, DC, committed some of her very valuable time to inventing and producing those covers, just to camouflage the shabbiness a little. The kitchen! Our infamous two-butt kitchen – too small to share the holy work of preparing food together. The parking lot! Every year we’d toss more gravel and asphalt into another new round of potholes. The parish center! The musty smell; the fifty-year-old appliances; what are we going to do with that place, anyway? … 

In 2015, we finally started to get serious. We interviewed consultants. We learned about how the process works. In the summer of 2016, almost two years ago, we decided to begin a process of discernment: Is it time for us to undertake a capital campaign, to address the things that need repair at costs beyond the scope of annual budget, and, perhaps, some of the ways our buildings are a poor fit for what we actually do? 

Some churches do this top-down, or maybe cart-before-horse: A leadership group decides what the church needs, commissions a design, and then asks the congregation to support it. That is NOT how we have done it – and as a result, it’s taken us a while to get here. For example, last summer we basically had to press Pause on our process for several months to give us time to develop a couple of different approaches with our architects. Because we didn’t start with the architects, friends – we started with the congregation. Every step of the way, our plans and priorities have reflected what campaign leadership has heard from you. 

It’s been a long time coming – but because we did the way we did it,  I’m so proud and hopeful about the vision we’re presenting, and about how engaged and excited people are. The plans have gotten even better since they were last shared with the congregation. The plans we’re working with now give us enhanced and enlarged spaces for learning and fellowship; AND make all levels of our building accessible to all with an elevator: AND enhance our access to the outdoors, AND makes our beloved nave even more beautiful, AND makes the main floor bathrooms accessible and spacious, AND – even make the kitchen a little bigger. The Vestry meets TODAY to finalize exactly what will be included in the campaign, and then we’re going to tell you ALL about it!  I can’t wait! 

But it’s a big project.  And it will involve some change, some disruption. There’s anxiety about it – understandably. 

In the Feasibility Study, back in February, people named some of their concerns. Some people wondered: Can we handle this? Financially? Logistically? Thinking about the stretches and strains involved is important. But I can tell you that your Vestry, capital campaign leadership, and your Rector would not be moving ahead with this if we didn’t believe heartily that we’re strong and resilient enough to handle it. We are financially stable; we’ve had balanced annual budgets for five years now – and have even successfully increased our budget, though your support and commitment.  

Logistically – Yeah, it will be a disruption! Moving walls! Redoing floors! Putting in an ELEVATOR! But I see this as a tradeoff between a big short-term disruption, versus the small, long-term disruption and friction and constraint of living with the status quo. Having our parking lot full of potholes, our basement prone to flooding, rearranging the chairs for special events so guests won’t see the worst ones. I know young healthy people who actively avoid using the bathrooms at church. 

We are a flexible, creative, playful, loving congregation. If we have to get creative with where we worship for a few weeks, we can do that. If we have to try something different with Sunday school or Music for a season while building is in process, we can do that. We’ll take time to grieve changes and acknowledge struggles, as well as celebrate possibilities.  This will be a journey. A shared adventure. I believe we have what we need to set out. 

Some people wondered: Do we really need this? I think there are a couple of different things people mean, when they ask this question – or things that boil down to this question. 

Some people simply don’t feel the need.  Maybe you’ve been here so long that it all just feels normal. Maybe your presence at the church, the things you do or places you go, does not bring you into any of the places where others feel pinch, discomfort or struggle. The answer there – as with so many things – is just to listen and take others’ needs and experiences seriously. What is fine for you might not be fine for others. That’s a fundamental lesson we all need to re-learn often. 

I’ve also found that when I talk with people who wonder if we really need a capital campaign, pretty soon we get to things they think could be better. I think just about everybody here can think of something around here that needs replacing or updating or re-arranging. Maybe some of those seem small to you – why don’t we just do it? Why do we need a campaign? – but they are actually not so small. The minimum fix for the parking lot is $38,000. Estimates for re-upholstering the chairs started around $30,000. That’s why organizations do capital campaigns: to put some of those medium-to-large projects together into a plan that has things in it that everybody can get excited about, so we can focus our energy and our resources for a season on getting a lot of stuff dealt with all at once.  So I think part of what’s behind the “Do we really need this?” question is that some folks just haven’t fully taken in the needs, and why it makes sense to address them this way. 

But there’s a deeper layer here too, I think – for some, at least, the question of, “Do we really need this?” Comes from a place of fear that the growth in members and activities and energy here, won’t last.  We have members contributing time and energy, kids who need room to learn and grow, a lively common life that stretches our buildings’ capacity, right NOW –  but what if five years from now, ten years from now, we don’t? Will we feel like this investment was wasted?

Look: The future is unknowable. I’ve talked about that. I cannot promise you that five years from now, or ten, we’ll have still have a lively crop of kids and youth using the rooms we plan to renovate and expand. But I can tell you that if we DON’T renovate and expand – if we keep trying to cram growing programs into too-small and actively unpleasant spaces – we will NOT have a lively crop of of kids and youth in ten years. 

But listen, folks: It’s our spaces that are inadequate, not our parish. St. Dunstan’s is a great church. This is important for you to hear. Somebody wrote this concern on their Feasibility study: “What if Miranda leaves?” I’ve heard that less directly from others, as well. I need to address that at a couple of different levels.

First, some of you you want to hear something that I can’t tell you. I don’t have any plans to leave. I am really happy here, my family is happy here, I’m still learning and growing, I’m NOT bored. I’m going to go on sabbatical soon and come back with fresh ideas that we can explore together in the years to come. But in this vocation, no door is ever locked. 

I can’t look you in the eye and say, I will be here for another X years. It’s not entirely up to me. At some point, God may have other ideas. I probably don’t like that any more than you do, but it’s part of the deal. 

But the question of how many years Miranda will spend at St. Dunstan’s is actually beside the point. The point is that some of you think that the good stuff happening around here is all about me. It’s not. St. Dunstan’s has formed me. You called me as a young priest with two years as an assistant under my belt, planning Sunday school and preaching every other week. I have grown up as a priest here. With you. From day one, the mutuality and curiosity and honesty and affection and joy of our relationship has been remarkable. You – all of you – have blessed me and taught me and challenged me and loved me. I regularly think, How did I get lucky enough to serve a church that so many of my favorite people in the world go to? I regularly get a little teary while I’m giving out Communion, because I love you so much. Each and all. 

When I leave – and I will leave, someday – when I leave, St. Dunstan’s can and will call a remarkable priest. This is a church any smart, creative, passionate priest would be delighted to serve. It’s not all about me. 

Let’s circle back around to that Acts lesson, and talk about church fundraising in Scripture. There are a few examples. Which will be our capital campaign story? 

Our text this morning tells us that in that first, beautiful season of the church’s life, the believers shared everything with each other. People who were wealthy, who had extra property, would sell it and give the money to the church so the poor within the fellowship would have what they needed. This was before Christian churches had buildings of their own – but it’s a striking vision of collective generosity, for the good of the whole. And if somebody has an extra house or piece of land they’d like to sell in order to contribute to our church, we’d be happy to talk!

But listen – there’s more to that story from Acts; and it’s dishonest to only tell the nice part. Just a couple of verses later, we get a cautionary tale: A couple named Ananias and Sapphira sell a piece of property, as the church has encouraged them to do. Say, for $10,000. But they don’t feel like giving ALL the proceeds to the church. They decide they’re going to keep half the money for themselves. Ananias takes part of the money and lays it at the apostles’ feet as an offering. He says, Here you are! $5000! Exactly what our land was worth! But Peter sees into Ananias’ heart – or maybe he’s just heard something. Peter says, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? Look, it’s your land, your money, and your choice what to do with it. Why are you lying to the church and to God, by pretending to give all when you’re only giving some?” Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died! They wrap him up and haul his body away.  And then, about three hours later, his wife, Sapphira, comes to the church looking for him. And Peter asks her, “So, you and your husband sold some land for $5000?” And she says, “Yes, that’s right.”  Then Peter said to her, ‘Why did you conspire together to test God? Your husband is dead, and you will soon follow.” And Sapphira falls down at his feet, and dies. 

I do not want this to be our capital campaign story. Not just because it’s awkward when people keel over in church. But because of what’s going on here: Fear of judgment about how much you give. A concern that some gifts will be more honored than others, that only those with a lot of resources will “count.”  That we’ll push people to give from shame,  rather than hope and joy. Let’s leave this story, and look for another. 

How about 2 Kings 12? This is in the time of King Joash. The Great Temple to Yahweh in Jerusalem, built by King Solomon about a hundred years earlier, has fallen into disrepair.

People give financial gifts at the Temple all the time, when they go there to worship and make sacrifices, but it turns out the priests of the temple are just keeping those gifts. They are not interested in fixing up the place. A king built it; let a king maintain it. 

So King Joash says, Well, OK, people’s donations are going to go to a fund to fix up the temple.  And that works out. They take a chest and make a hole in the lid – I love that detail – and people give generously. The king hires workers and pays them, and they repair the Temple and restore it to its former glory.

There’s some good in this story – a desire to restore a beloved holy building; the people’s generosity; and the text makes a point that the workers were particularly skilled and trustworthy – always a good thing! But there’s a separation here between the spiritual and the material. The priests don’t want to be involved. We’re all about worshipping God; the leaky roof or the broken steps are not our problem. I wish they’d seen it differently. We come to God as whole selves, body and spirit; we honor God with the beauty, and the safety, and the comfort, of the space we create to gather in worship as a household of faith. 

Here’s my favorite story of a capital campaign in Scripture.  The story I hope our story will be the most like. It’s an early story, from the Wilderness time, Exodus chapters 35 and 36. God’s people are creating a holy place to worship God for the first time: the Tabernacle, the fanciest tent in human history, the portable Temple long before Solomon’s Temple.  Moses says to all the congregation of the Israelites: This is the thing that the Lord has commanded: Take from among you an offering to the Lord; let whoever is of a generous heart bring the Lord’s offering: gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and fine leather; acacia wood, oil, spices, and gems. And let all who are skillful among you come and make all that the Lord has commanded:  the tent and its supports, metalwork, vessels, pillars, candlesticks, vestments, and so much more. 

And the people respond to Moses’ call:  They came, everyone whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and brought the Lord’s offering to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service. They came, both men and women; all who were of a willing heart brought jewelry and gold objects as an offering to the Lord. And everyone who possessed blue or purple or crimson yarn, or linen or goats’ hair or leather, or silver or bronze or wood that could be of use in the work, brought it. All the women whose hearts moved them to use their skill spun the yarn and the goats’ hair. And all the Israelite men and women whose hearts made them willing to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded, brought it as a freewill-offering to the Lord. 

They brought their gifts and kept bringing them, every day, so that all the artisans who were working on the project came to Moses and said,‘The people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.’ So Moses had to put the word out that no more offerings were needed. Because what the people had already brought was more than enough to do all the work. 

Here’s what I love about this story – why I hope this will be our story:  People give from what they have.  Gifts of all kinds and sizes are welcomed and honored. People with skills contribute too – their time and work and skill is needed and valued as part of the work. People give from joy and love and willingness – this passage stresses that again and again: people giving from generous and willing hearts. And they end up with MORE than enough, more than they need.  

May we, like our long-ago ancestors, take delight in being invited into building up God’s house. May we honor every gift, of money, material, time or skill. May our hearts be willing. And may we go forward with confidence that there will be enough for the work God has laid before us.

Let us pray. 

Gracious God, we thank you for the growth of our community in numbers and in spirit. As we now seek to renew our church home, give our Vestry, Campaign volunteers, and all members of this parish  wisdom, discernment and a spirit of generosity, so that we may renew not only the buildings, but but also our commitment to your mission of restoring all people to unity with God and each other in Christ Jesus. Amen.