Stewardship. It’s a word we toss around often in the Fall and especially in relation to the funding of the ministries of the parish church and our diocese. It gets tangled with the words pledge and tithe rather quickly. And those are important, but stewardship is much bigger than that. Stewardship is how we understand and take care of all that is and especially all that we have been given by God (which, in Christian understanding, is everything we have, of course). Stewardship is involved when we decide to forego that extra cookie to take care of our bodies -- or believe we should enjoy that cookie as care for our spirit. Stewardship is recycling in our parish kitchen in order to honor God’s creation on the beautiful Chesapeake Bay. And stewardship is offering our time and money to those in need after all the hurricanes and earthquakes of late, caring for others and for our relationship with others.
We, the Christian people of Kingston Episcopal Parish are stewards of an Anglican tradition and a Christian faith, and most especially God’s Good News, the Gospel. We are stewards of each other, of Mathews County, and of the Gospel throughout the world. We are stewards not only of the tradition that links us to Bishops and dioceses in Virginia and around the world, we are also stewards of a particular history here in Mathews and at Kingston Parish. We have a special connection, for example with Sally Tomkins and Giles B. Cooke. Their stories are, like all of our stories, shades of grey and glory. While I am conscious they worked in some way to continue the ways of slavery (which is surely against the Gospel of Jesus Christ in who there is neither north nor south, slave or free), yet there is much holy and good in their stories to share and celebrate in our stewardship of their memories here at Kingston. Captain Sally’s smart and faithful use of cleanliness for healing is a powerful witness especially in a time when surgeons regularly used the same dirty knife going from one patient to the next. And Cooke, a secretary to Robert E. Lee, went on to become an Episcopal priest, founder of numerous educational and religious institutions for Black Americans during the Reconstruction in his home of Petersburg before he served as parish priest here in Mathews. In fact, the library where I worked and studied as a seminary student is named for the Bishop Paine Seminary. Bishop Alexander Paine was a Black bishop who Cooke honored when he named a seminary to train Black clergy he helped create. Eventually Cooke’s seminary was united with the Virginia Seminary where I studied for holy orders. The Rev. Cooke and his wife are both remembered in the very walls of Christ Church for their faithfulness and good stewardship of what God had given them.
Being stewards of all that God has given us is a great responsibility and never easy to discern in rigid, easy terms. There is much for us to learn and know about all that God has given us so that we can be good stewards. And just as the cookie can be something to forego as a good steward or something to enjoy as a good steward, so we have always to make careful and faithful decisions about how to honor the Gospel with our actions and stewardship. May we each and all always be good stewards of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be remembered in ages to come, not for ourselves, but for the ways we brought the Kingdom of God faithfully into the world.
The Very Rev. Gary Barker