Growing in God's Grace

Quarterly Newsletter
for First Lutheran Stewards
August 2021
"Helping God's people grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ through the use of the time, talents and financial resources God has entrusted to us."
In late-July, Steve Schwarzman and Pastor Mike Louia braved the ladder to switch out lightbulbs in the Fellowship Center with LED (light-emitting diode) light bulbs, one of the many projects on the Property Committee's to-do list. 

Interested in using your gifts, time, and talents to help maintain an environment at First Lutheran that is welcoming, growing, and sharing in God's grace? Contact Jim Andersen of the Property Committee at jwandersen101@gmail.com.
Creation Care & Property Committee
Partners in Stewardship

For love of God, neighbor, and creation.

LED lighting products produce light up to 90% more efficiently than incandescent light bulbs.

Letting our light shine, while reducing energy use and caring for God's creation.
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13, NRSV)
For several weeks in July and into August, on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings as we’ve gathered for worship, we’ve heard excerpts from Ephesians, a letter written to those in the early church in Ephesus. It’s a beautiful letter that defines, in the author’s words, several aspects of what we might call a “healthy” church community. One of those aspects is unity – the joining together as a community of faith for a common goal.
Many times, we are likely to equate unity with uniformity, particularly in the church. Unity often translates into such concrete aspects as the same readings in worship, identical worship practices and content, same hymns, etc. Taking that view of unity, however, is very short-sighted. 
Those in the church in Ephesus, and those of us gathered as church in Ellicott City some 2000+ years later, are encouraged to experience unity on a much higher level, as we remember that our unity comes not from the practical aspects of community but instead from God’s saving work in Jesus the Christ. With that unity as our frame, we can appreciate the diversity of gifts that God has entrusted to our care—all the more. 
Our unity in Christ also frames our lives as stewards of all that God has entrusted to our care: time, talents, and treasures, we like to name them. When we take what we have been given and use those gifts for God’s kingdom-building work in the world, we truly live as a unified body of Christ in the world. To be sure, our financial offerings are a part of how we live into our role as God’s stewards, and, as a community of faith in Ellicott City, we grow in God’s grace as we practice generous, faithful financial giving. So too, the way we devote our time when we gather for worship, bible study, or prayer. The way we reach out to our neighbors, walking alongside them as we work to alleviate food insecurity, homelessness, and injustice. And the way we accompany those among us who struggle with illness, loneliness, fear, and separation demonstrates how we come together as God’s people, transformed by the unifying love of Jesus, welcoming and sharing in God’s grace.
How blessed we are to be called together, in this very moment, to be God’s hands, feet, and voice in the world. It’s a calling that profoundly reflects the abundant love of God in our lives and one that can bring us even closer to “the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

Pastor Mike
First Lutheran Disciples' Faith Story
Faith in Action – Our Generosity Makes a Difference!
Proverbs 22:9 tells us “Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.” As disciples of First Lutheran Church, we truly are blessed. We are blessed to share the bountiful gifts that God has given us. As each of us generously offers our financial gifts to God to do God’s work, we sometimes lose sight of where these gifts go. After prayerful discernment, we made recent disbursements from our Endowment Fund, on behalf of our entire faith community, to support missions of the following organizations, locally, statewide and throughout the world.
Led by Pastor Sue Beck (a former FLC disciple), this ministry helps those who are incarcerated in Maryland prisons and those who are transitioning from prison back to the community. By providing scriptural instruction and inspiration and with the encouragement of ELCA members across the DE-MD synod, inmates gain spiritual strength to address the challenges of prison life and the difficult path back into the community, once released. Knowing that fellow disciples care for them and are willing to walk their journey with them can make all the difference in successful reintegration into society.
The First Lutheran Preschool is an inspiring community outreach effort that enriches the lives of young children with a Christian-based environment, where some children hear about God for the first time, and all children grow in their young faith journey. Many families, challenged financially, pray for the means to provide this enriching opportunity for their child. These funds provide the hope and means to many children and families who can then rest in the assurance that God’s greatest love is for his children.
The mission of LWR, headquartered in Baltimore, is to “work with Lutherans and partners around the world to end poverty, injustice and human suffering.” Today, Lutheran World Relief operates in East and West Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East, helping some of the world’s poorest communities build the resilience they need to thrive. The monies provided to Lutheran World Relief by our disciples at First are a tangible sign of our generosity at work in the world. While the pandemic has challenged the LWR staff, the work continues and the need is greater now than ever.
Despite its general affluence, Howard County has a significant problem with poverty. Many county residents suffer daily insecurities, including the threat of homelessness and the necessity of rent payments while living below the poverty line. The CAC of Howard County offers housing assistance to county residents, including eviction prevention (providing one-time financial grants), First Month’s Rent (assisting with the first month’s rent when low-income residents move into a new home), One Month’s Rent (paying one month’s rent past due to avoid eviction), and assistance with other housing emergencies.  
Since the 1980s, the Elkridge Food Pantry has been a hidden treasure for food-insecure residents of Elkridge, Jessup and Hanover. On the 2nd and 4th Friday of every month, donated food, or money donated to buy food, provides hundreds of Howard County residents with much-needed food and hygiene products at its Furnace Road facility. Beyond donations, the pantry’s monthly operating cost is about $2,000 per month to stock shelves and serve the needs of God’s children. The funds provided by our Endowment Fund helps to ensure that those who need this assistance receive it.
Our FLC disciples have a tradition of supporting this center in Jessup. The Center provides meals, showers, limited laundry, fellowship and social services to the homeless who live in the Howard County Route 1 corridor. Over the years, First Lutheran has provided lunch and dinner meals to Day Resource Center clients on the 3rd Monday of every other month. The pandemic temporarily halted this effort, but all indications are that the center will resume these much-needed meals in September. Our funds can also help provide mechanical service for the older-model vehicles that many of these clients rely on and even live in. 
As India deals with a huge spike in COVID-19 cases, these funds will help to provide medical equipment and other necessities at a time when the need is the greatest. We are blessed as a congregation to be able to assist our siblings in the Asia-Pacific.
As you can see, through the generosity of our fellow disciples, God's presence is being felt across Howard County, in Maryland, and throughout the world. The greatest gift a person can receive is the gift of giving generously and realizing that an inmate in a Maryland prison is given hope in a new life. A child can attend FLC's Preschool and see God through curious eyes. An impoverished family in the Middle East is provided with life-sustaining nourishment. A family in Howard County suffering from substance abuse and or unemployment is given a helping hand to pay the rent one more month while looking for a job. An elderly couple in Elkridge barely surviving day-to-day on a meager income can obtain enough food at the food pantry every two weeks to feel God's loving embrace. A homeless woman from Jessup suffering mental illness and estrangement from her family knows that the Grassroots Day Resource Center extends a welcoming smile and assistance to help her 'make it another day.' Those in India who face the deadly challenges of COVID-19 will have a chance to recover. Together, we can make a difference—and do make a difference. Thank you!
Fear of Scarcity or Joy of Abundance?
One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” (John 6:9-12 NRSV)

Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand, as recorded in John’s gospel, offers a clear picture of how our perception of God’s work in the world differs from reality. A boy in the crowd offers what he has – what God has blessed him with that day – to the Lord. The disciples’ immediate perception is how meager it is – how little it could do to meet the needs of the people. Our culture drums an incessant beat of how what we have is not enough – how we may run out – we need to hold on to everything we have. This is the fear of scarcity. 
But Jesus takes the boy’s offering and uses it to meet the needs of thousands. When we recognize the abundance with which God blesses us and offer it to the Lord for God’s work in the world, our joy of abundance overcomes our fear of scarcity and God makes miraculous things happen. (“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in Christ Jesus to all generations.” Ephesians 3:20-21) The reality is that God’s work in our world is miraculous, and that work starts with our faithful offering of the abundance God has given us.
And isn’t it reassuring to know that we have a Lord and Savior who not only cares for, blesses, and feeds us, but who also redeems us forever. “Gather up the fragments left over,” Jesus said, “so that nothing may be lost.” For all of us whose lives have been fragmented at times – who know the feeling of being lost, disconnected, separated, groundless – we can rest in the comfort of a Savior who loves us and gathers us to himself. “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing (and no one) may be lost.”
Quantitative Reflections on Congregational Giving During the Pandemic
Sixty some years ago, the First Lutheran Church Constitution said this of the duties of the Stewardship Committee:

“…. to promote the expression of the Christian faith in the daily life of the members; to inform them of the congregation’s local, national, and international ministries; to teach them the Christian use of money; and to lead them to high levels of proportionate giving for the Lord’s work.”

These duties continue today.  The Stewardship Committee is all about education regarding the theology of giving of time and talent and treasure. You can see this in the other articles in this issue, quarterly letters with giving statements, and in our annual response campaign.

While the Stewardship Committee does not access individual giving records, we periodically complete a quantitative analysis of congregation giving. It’s one way of taking the pulse of the congregation. Much of the quantitative information is contained in the 2021 Addendum to the Annual Congregation Report, issued in the spring each year just before the May semi-annual congregation meeting.
Addendum reflections:

  • Regular giving (i.e., unrestricted giving to the general fund) in 2020 was 95% of what was given in 2019. Due to the pandemic, we weren’t able to gather for worship for three quarters of 2020. This is a strong signal of commitment by the congregation. (pg. 5)

  • Temporarily Restricted Account balances at the end of 2020 were 13% higher than at the end of 2019. (pg. 13)
  • Financial Secretary’s report: (pg. 16)
For larger image, click here.
These are all strong signals of commitment by the congregation. We are particularly gratified to see the increase in the number of pledgers in 2021.
The Stewardship Committee also examines the monthly treasurer’s report to determine how giving is received (offering, Bankcard (PayPal), automated clearinghouse (ACH), SimplyGiving).

After the first six months of 2021, we see:

  • Unrestricted giving is 2.5% above the general giving for the same period in 2020.

  • Total giving (unrestricted plus restricted) is 28% above total giving for the same period in 2020, due to bequests and the response to the campaign to replenish the capital reserve fund.

  • Giving by ACH has been in the $4,000 - $7,000 range monthly since March 2020.

  • Giving by SimplyGiving has been reasonably constant at $4,000-$5,000 per month. However, giving by Bankcard has been much more variable – from a high of $27,000 (August 2020) to a low of $9,400 (June 2021). More data and consideration to come. 

  • Giving by offering, principally by checks and the envelope system, continues as the congregation’s largest giving source. In 2021 giving by offering was 55% of the total unrestricted giving, even while in-person services were canceled for 9 months. Offerings were mailed and delivered to the church office. For the first 6 months of 2021, giving by offering has grown to 59% of the total unrestricted giving, perhaps due in part to the return to in-person worship.

  • The congregation has raised more than $80,000 toward our goal of $100,000 to replenish the capital reserve fund.  

  • The congregation has operated in the black through the first 6 months of 2021. Historically, the summer months are challenging due to some expenses (church maintenance and once-per-year administrative invoices). If we remain in the black at fiscal year-end, the Council will allocate any surplus – applying additional funds to outreach and benevolence, capital reserve, endowment, etc.  
This quantitative reflection provides abundant evidence of the commitment of our faith community. That should give us all additional confidence. As we approach the beginning of another program year in new times, we hope our collective commitment and confidence will lead to more members, pledgers, fellow disciples in worship, growth, and Christian fellowship. Thanks be to God!
First Evangelical Lutheran Church
Generosity Statement
We believe that we are created in the image of a loving, generous God who creates us to live in relationships of love and generosity.

We commit to living lives of generosity, welcoming, growing, and sharing in God's grace, and using the abundance God provides to meet the needs of others.

We invite all disciples to experience the joy of fearless generosity, giving our time, talents and treasure so that each of us, our community, and the world might be transformed through the ministries of First Lutheran Church.
Trusting in God’s abundance empowers us to live lives of generosity.
First Evangelical Lutheran Church
Stewardship Ministry
3604 Chatham Road
Ellicott City, MD 21042
Office: 410-465-5977