I am going through some old writing and found this, a short speech I gave at Second Unitarian Church of Chicago in 2010. This is Thanksgiving week, beginning a season of intentional giving and thanks, so I think this piece is relevant now. When I talk about church, you can think about your own community or a particular organization to which you want to give.
Why I Give:
Good morning! My name is Erin Walter, and it means so much to speak with you today — Mother’s Day – about why this church is valuable to me. My daughter, Annabelle, just turned one on Friday. That makes her the same age I was when my mother started taking me to a Unitarian church. I consider that decision one of my mom’s greatest gifts to me – one full of inspiration, comfort, and friendship —- and I hope Annabelle feels the same way someday.
As a kid, I loved it when my mom let me put money from her wallet into the offering plate on Sundays. I don’t remember many of the things I spent money on as a kid, but I surely remember that glee of giving it away. It felt good to help, to pitch in – and it felt good to touch the money, for it to be more than numbers in a computer like it often is today.
Those of us who agreed to speak during pledge time were charged with answering two questions: Why does Second Unitarian mean so much to me? And why is it worth investing in?
First of all, to me, Second Unitarian means having a safe, warm place for my spiritual side and a weekly reminder that life is not about amassing material goods, as our society would have us believe. It also means having friends to talk with about more than gossip or our jobs, friends who support you through thick and thin — which, as some of you know, for me, included a debilitating accident, surgery, three months without walking, and plenty more excitement in the past year. This community got me through.
I confess, however, that today is my first Sunday at 2U in a month, and the couple of times I did make it in April, I was late. Like end of the sermon late. Not because I don’t love the sermons. I do! It’s just that some days, Annie isn’t sleeping well or my ankle is hurting or one of the two buses we take to get here is just pulling away when we stroll up. Still, when we get here, it is worth it. I feel lighter. I feel in touch with those I love who have died or live far away. I get to laugh and cry and sing with my friends here. I can breathe and think and worship in peace. I am grateful — so grateful —for this place.
In light of that, I’d like to thank everyone who has pledged already. I wish the church could run on hugs and wonderment, but it can’t. Your generosity makes our sanctuary – this physical one and the figurative one — possible. So please give yourselves a round of applause. Thank you all!
As for why 2U is worth investing in? Well, I hate to say it but I can’t talk about money without thinking of the satirical newspaper, The Onion. A recent headline:
… said Bernake, who then paused for a moment and shook his head… . “You know what? It doesn’t matter. None of this — this so-called “money” — really matters at all.”
[hold up Onion] That’s Bernake burning twenties on the front.
Now, when I considered what I should say to you, I told myself, Money is very serious to a lot of people, to almost everyone, really. Perhaps I shouldn’t read the Onion in church, even a Unitarian one. But then I heard about what happened, in real life, at the stock exchange on Friday – a plunge that CNN called horrifying, the most gut-wrenching in history – caused by ERRORS in trading. On the radio, I heard it might have come down to a misplaced DECIMAL POINT. Who knows how many millions or billions lost over a wayward DOT. It’s hard to grasp.
And it makes me think about what money is really good for. Not for having a 60-inch TV instead of a 20-inch, a car with a little less rust or an apartment with many more rooms. Money represents our time and effort spent earning it. Money is good for living out our values and dreams — and so is this church.
The decision to give is a very personal one. I can only tell you that giving makes me feel like a gazillion bucks, and I trust this church to use my gift in accordance with our covenant. I also know that should some error or catastrophe deplete my bank account, I would be crushed if all of the money I’d worked for over the years had been only saved or spent and little or none of it given.
Like me, the church has been through some rough times lately and is working hard to get fully back on its feet. We are close but still need help. Might I suggest you consider what religious freedom, struggles for justice, and acts of compassion mean to you – is it more than your monthly gym membership or your daily Starbucks? — and then enjoy the joy of giving.
You can fill out a pledge card on your way out, and a board member will be at the info table to answer any questions. I will confess that I just turned in my pledge card before I got up here. It’s never too late.
Erin J. Walter is a mother of two, Northwestern journalism grad, and former newspaper reporter living in Austin, Texas, where she serves on the board of the Texas After Violence Project and Girls Rock Camp Austin. She was the first literacy director of Chicago’s Open Books. Follow Erin on Twitter @erinjwalter.