The New Testament speaks of the many gifts or “charisms” of the Holy Spirit. I don’t know if cooking ranks among the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but if it is, it was not given to me. If I try to boil an egg, it usually comes out cracked. In an extreme situation, you will find me scouting the frozen dinner aisle. But, thank God, I am blessed to have a wife who takes good care of me. Elfriede and I have a long-standing joke that when it comes to food, she is a “producer” and I am a “consumer”; each having his or her own gift. Needless to say, the joke has worn thin over the years and I don’t bring it up too often. But the truth is that I am a consumer.
When you think about it, all of us have become more and more the consumer. We produce almost none of our daily necessities. We purchase them. Most of our ancestors had something to do with agriculture. But, other than the occasional tomato plant, we are not much into agriculture. Not too far back in history, people made their own clothing. Today, somebody in Vietnam or China has made just about everything that we wear. In times past, young people were trained by their parents to support themselves. Today parents not only chose the schools that their children will attend, they buy a home with a view to the quality of the schools. We no longer raise the horse, we buy truck or car. Many people even approach their government from the consumer perspective. Their motto seems to be “Ask not what you can do for your country, but what your country can do for you”! (To turn around President Kennedy’s famous statement.) Whether it be food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, or hair care, we are a nation of consumers. Economic survival means being a well-informed and smart consumer. We approach just about everything as consumers of the goods and services of our society. If we want to survive we must be good at the consumer game.
But having a consumer mentality troubles me a little. If I am not careful, I lose sight of the fact that the people who provide me with these goods and service are real people. Like me, they too have their human limitations. They too feel like kicking their computers several times a week. How difficult it must be to be an airline employee these days. If we are going to be a consumer, we must also be understanding with the people that we deal with every day.
There is one area in life where consumerism is an absolute no-no. And that is the church. A consumer attitude is very destructive to the life of a church. One might think that no one would ever approach the church with such an attitude, but many times I have heard people say, “I have to find a church that provides for my needs”. “I am looking for a church that has lots of programs.”
The Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ has something to offer you. That gift is Eternal Life. This cannot be purchased. This is the free gift of God. This we must never forget. Through the ministries of Word and Sacrament we receive the Good News of the Gospel. We receive the Truth about God, about ourselves and about the world. Through Baptism we receive the Life of God. In Chrismation we receive the Holy Spirit. In Holy Communion we receive the Body and Blood of the Lord, the food that endures forever.
In addition to these things, there is the human part of the church. As God acted through the humanity of His Son, he continues to act through the Church. The building, the bread, the wine, the oil, and most important, the people are the means that God uses to provide for us.
By far, the majority of the people who serve us in our church are volunteers. We should show them gratitude for all that they do.
You and I do not “own” the grocery store, the school or the hospital. But we do “own” our church. We are not customers—- we are the owners. Our church is our home—our spiritual home, and we should treat it as such. “Consumers” complain to the management. Owners make things right. If things become messy at home, the owners take care of it. The same thing is true for the church. We are all part of a family. Let’s not leave a mess for someone else to pick up. And if there is a mess, maybe we can address the problem. This is our home. We are the family who own the facility. This is true of all of us.
It is critical that each of us has the attitude not of a consumer but that of an owner. If we take on the attitude of ownership we will do our part of support and maintain all that we have.
When we are approached by a member of the Parish Council and asked to lend a hand, let’s do so willingly. And when we approach our council members, why not begin by saying “I appreciate the things that you do for our church. Can I help in some way?”
At the moment, we are in dire need of Church School teachers. The children are certainly not consumers. They are the new members of our church family. If we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, then we all have a responsibility toward these children. They are the children of “our” family. Considering all that God gives us through our church, giving back on hour or two a week is something many could do.
If we begin to see ourselves not as consumers of the services of the church, but grateful members of the body of Christ, and as the earthly owners and stewards, we will find that we look at things very differently.
Fr. Daniel Daly is pastor of St. Nicholas Church, Grand Rapids, MI.