Leaders Blog: Pledging As a Spiritual Exercise

Chris Farnham (right, with his family) is Follen’s 2017 Stewardship Chair. He wrote this essay as a Personal Point, and he gave it in a worship service two years ago, on January 11, 2015. Chris’s words touched many listeners, and several asked for a copy. It’s worth revisiting during Stewardship season.

Hello, my name is Chris Farnham, husband to Becky Farnham and father to Layla and Josh who are 6 and 4 years old.

On a Sunday in November of 2008, shortly before Thanksgiving, my wife, Becky, was 39 weeks pregnant with our first child.  We attended our first Follen Sunday service. We didn’t do this because Becky thought that sitting in a wooden pew for an hour would be comfortable one week shy of giving birth.

We did it because we were searching for a caring community for our soon-to-be daughter and, of course, for ourselves. When we came to Follen that morning in 2008 we walked into this beautiful space, we listened to Lucinda’s wise words, and we heard some amazing music.

A bit about our religious backgrounds. Becky grew up attending services at a Dutch Reformed Church in Pennsylvania. I grew up on the Canadian border in northern Maine. My mother was an RE teacher and actively involved in our UCC church. That is the United Church of Canada, there were only Catholic churches on the American side. At 16 I befriended a local native healer, and participated in ceremonies and learned native beliefs. My native name, by the way, was Industrious Beaver with Heart.

Given our backgrounds, this church felt familiar and comfortable. UU beliefs and its seven principles match our own values.  We knew that in Follen we’d found a home.

Five days after that first Follen visit Layla was born. It took some months before we regained our bearings and returned to Follen.  We returned if only for one golden hour of sanity and music while Tasha cared for Layla. Getting dressed and leaving the house was a small price to pay for sanity. 21 months after Layla was born, Josh followed and we needed that golden hour more than ever. “If we just get ourselves to church, we can have one hour of peace!”

Especially in those early years, coffee hour was stressful; chasing a toddler through a crowd is no fun. And it’s hard to connect when there’s a child hanging on your leg.  Finally, now – after six years, Becky and I are able to chat and participate.  Maybe someday soon I’ll even purchase a bowl of that delicious soup and sit long enough to enjoy it.

During these 6 years, our participation gradually increased.  We have both been teaching RE classes, Becky joined the social events committee, and I’ve enjoyed working with the Trustees and the Stewards.

Layla and Josh have established their own relationships. More than once I’ve lost track of one of them only to later find them with an RE teacher or adult who is helping them find a snack or read a book. I have a brief moment of panic but then I remember that it’s Follen. This is a safe place; they’re well cared for. There are no strangers here.

These connections inform our family’s decision about how much we will pledge each year.  I consider our pledge to Follen a sacred act that strengthens our family. To decide our pledge amount, Becky and I have to sit down together and discuss our priorities. We must come to consensus on an amount; a pledge that we’re both happy with and that accommodates our family’s needs as well.

I view pledging as a spiritual exercise. Gift giving is an important part of Native American culture. The real value of something, in their eyes, comes from giving it to someone else and the connection that act creates or strengthens.

Like most people, I have a base desire to collect and own material things. My beliefs remind me that material things are less important than family, community, and shared experiences. A belief must be practiced. Therefore, I want to pledge an amount of money that is at the threshold where I question if I should really give that much. I want to hesitate, due to my base desires, but then make a conscious and deliberate decision to let go. Ultimately I believe this act ensures that I’m prioritizing money and material possessions accordingly.

In the movie “Fight Club”, which I believe is a perfectly crafted essay on modern living and material wealth, Tyler Durden tells us that, “The things you own end up owning you.” I believe that real value comes from giving, not owning. Our pledge to Follen strengthens my connections to each of you. It manifests our family values and projects our worldview. I cannot think of money better spent than that.