Watch your mailboxes for a letter from the vestry as we begin stewardship season. If you don’t receive a letter, please let me know.
– Rev. John Forman, Rector, St. Elizabeth Episcopal Church
2019 Stewardship Letter
I’m drafting this letter on Indigenous People’s Day and that may be what reminded me of a way to think about stewardship that Vine Deloria Jr. used to talk about. Deloria came from a family of Lakota Sioux. He was the son of an Episcopal Archdeacon and the grandson of an Episcopal priest. He was also the Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians for a few years, and served for a time on the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church.
The framework for stewardship that Deloria brought to the Episcopal Church involved the notion of Seven Generations. Unlike the version promoted by people in the environmental movement that considers seven generations yet to come, the First Nations version is more immediate. Several First Nations teach that the generations we are responsible for protecting and honoring are the seven we are most immediately connected to.
Let me show you what I mean. Some of us have known or will know our great-grandparents or at least their names and some of their history. That’s one generation. Most of us have known or will know grandparents and parents. That’s two more generations. Many know children (including nieces and nephews) and some know grandchildren (or grand-nieces and nephews). A few will know great-grandchildren or can at least envision them. Seven generations, including ourselves.
Even if we aren’t fortunate enough to have been in the physical presence of those who came before us, we usually have stories, photos or mementos that have been passed down to us so that we feel a connection. We also want to make sure our kids and grandkids and their children are healthy, safe and aware of where they come from. And so, counting our own generation – ourselves, our siblings and cousins – we are accountable to those seven generations, not some hard-to-imagine people who may show up two hundred years from now.
In the world around us, people seem to be increasingly disconnected. That makes St. Elizabeth a rare and unusual gathering place. From a recent 100th birthday to a baby still waiting for a first birthday, we are the spiritual home to all seven generations! We actively tend to each other, our tradition and our legacy by treasuring the lives, the stories and the faith of all seven, even as individual people move from one age group to the next.
In First Nation practices, each generation was responsible to teach, learn from and cherish the three generations that had come before it, its own and the next three. That’s how many of them have maintained their communities for millennia. The generations that came before us are the reason we have this remarkable house of worship. (Imagine trying to build a church like this now!) The generations that are just behind us are the purpose of this house. And those of us who fall somewhere in between are the keepers of the traditions and well-being of this place we have inherited.
Our liturgy is ancient, our welcoming offer of hope in the world is contemporary and our outreach extends to the people who come after us. We maintain and pass down the gift of this house as a community of ordinary folks rather than as accomplished individuals because we recognize our spiritual responsibility to our predecessors (flaws and all), to our present-day relations (exactly as they truly are) and to those who, years from now, come to realize the helpfulness of a community that is both spiritual and religious practicing to support each other in love, even when we disagree.
With God’s help, that legacy is the irreplaceable resource that St. Elizabeth can offer Burien and the surrounding community for seven generations. Your pledge will make this and much more possible for years to come. I invite you to pray over the next couple of weeks and then join me in expressing our gratitude by pledging back to God some of the resources God has given each of us and all of us.
And thank you all for being here!
Fr. John Forman +
Rector | St. Elizabeth Episcopal Church | Burien, WA