When I was in graduate school I attended a chapel on campus. Not surprisingly, most of the congregation was students or faculty or staff of the university. Several of us students formed a ‘ministry’ group. We were concerned with service to Jesus and the community, and looked for ways to help people in our area. Since we were students we suffered from a lack of funds and this hampered our mission activities. We were able to do some things on our limited budget, such as organize a clothing drive for the poor. Other things we wanted to do required money. We had a few fund-raising activities but these met with limited success.

After about two years of struggling, our priest made a proposal. He told us that he had a discretionary fund through the diocese for use in meeting the needs of people he encountered. He worked part-time at the chapel and had another position which did not involve pastoral work. As a result, he didn’t receive the number of requests which fall on those in full-time pastoral situations. His proposal was that he hand the discretionary fund to us for use in our ministry and mission work. We were thrilled both with the prospect of having money available for projects and with being judged as responsible enough to manage the discretionary fund. The group managed and used the discretionary fund for about a year and a half. Our oversight ended when the chapel gained a full-time priest and we placed the discretionary fund under his control.

The time of administering the discretionary fund was valuable. It taught us to be responsible not only fiscally but also spiritually because we had to discern the best use of the limited funds. Taking to heart Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) we also used our time to raise additional money to place in the discretionary fund. The priest had made us stewards of the fund and we had to learn to think and act as stewards. We were representatives of Jesus in our community and we had to behave appropriately. The money obviously could not be used for a pizza party or to pay for our college textbooks; the money was not ours — it belonged to Jesus through the church. We were agents for Jesus and the church. We were stewards and we learned stewardship.

I was reminded of this bit of my personal history recently when my daily Bible reading was from Acts. Part of the reading was, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” (Acts 4:32, ESV) Clearly none of us could have said that the discretionary fund was “his own” and that understanding led us to reasoned, loving use of the money for the furtherment of God’s kingdom. The early Christians could could easily have said, “This is mine, and for my use,” but they did not. They had a view that their possessions were to be used as needed to meet whatever needs were existed. They did not see their “personal property” as a source for their private use but rather as a fund for communal support.

This is very different from our usual way of thinking of possessions. In fact, the use of the word ‘possessions’ betrays our attitude: “This is mine! I earned it, and I have it.” It is mine to use as I please for whatever I want to do. Certainly that attitude is an accurate reflection of our laws. However, it is not a proper Christian attitude. As Christians we are taught (or we should be) that all “our possessions” are in fact God’s possessions and are only entrusted to us. In other words, we are stewards, and we are to use the possessions as representatives of God.

Paul talks about this attitude in the first epistle to Timothy: “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Timothy 6:6-8, ESV) Paul tells us that we bring nothing into the world with us when we are born, and we take nothing with us when die, so how should we say that something is “ours”? Whatever goods or wealth we have are given by God and are in our possession only temporarily. We are stewards, and we will have to give an accounting of our stewardship. The catechism teaches us that our duty is “to use our talents and possessions as ones who must answer for them to God” (Book of Common Prayer, p.848).

As I read the verses from Acts and remembered my experience with the discretionary fund, I began to wonder what my life would be like if I had the fullness of the attitude of stewardship in my life, if I treated “possessions” as items on loan from God for use in meeting needs wherever they arise. What if I made all fiscal decisions on a communal and Christian basis? What if all Christians did? What if we were of one mind that all that we have is for use in the expansion of God’s kingdom? That we are managers and not owners? What would the world be like? Perhaps it would be like the early church with new members joining every day, and people being healed of diseases, and the masses speaking of the love of Jesus and of the power of God.

I’m not sure exactly what the world would be like if we all had the attitude of the early church. But I would like to find out.