Over the summer Meredith McNabb hosted weekly “office hours” for the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving audience. During these calls, topics of conversation centered around different issues of faith and giving each week.
By Emilie Boggis
My family has noticed that I sigh a lot.
Since mid-March, my office is in our home’s main living space. It means that my husband and teenage daughters don’t hesitate to share their observations about my work. (Sometimes even joining in Zoom meeting discussions to offer their opinion.)
“You sigh a lot,” my middle schooler observes while eating lunch.
I counter that I am not sighing. Instead, I am breathing out the tension, loss, and fear inherent in this time. I am also intentionally breathing in courage, possibility, and hope.
That was certainly my experience of Lake Institute on Faith & Giving’s summer office hours: a release of fear; an intake of hope.
When COVID-19 hit the Metro New York area with brutal force, our leaders were placing the finishing touches on our 2020-21 fiscal year budget. We were now afraid for the lives of our families and communities, and we still had the surreal task of budgeting all over again; now for a year unlike any we had ever known.
We named our task force “budgeting in the fog.” Furthermore, we had planned to launch our public capital campaign on the 40+ year dream of a new sanctuary on March 22. Suddenly, everything had a huge question mark on it. What to do? How to proceed?
I arrived at Lake Institute’s office hours holding my breath and praying that they would give us the answers.
Each session had topics (virtual giving, leadership transitions, buildings, gratitude, etc.) along with a guide for each topic. That said, neither Meredith McNabb nor the guide were there to give us the answers. Instead, they gathered the community of people “out there doing the work” to garner our collective wisdom and to center us in the practices of faithful philanthropy.
Let me be real. At first, I was disappointed. (I probably did have an exasperated sigh.)
Through the collective voices of my colleagues, however, I began breathing again. It started with one brave voice who shared a personal struggle. How do we ask people to lean into generosity when they are losing jobs, getting sick, risking their lives? Then, other voices joined in. How do we teach a congregation of elders to text to give? How do we ensure staff members’ jobs, even our own, when there’s a budget crisis?
On and on and on. In hearing our own struggles in another’s voice, my sighs turned to intentional breaths of release. Then, we shifted into sharing ideas, experiments, and lessons, transforming our circle into a Zoom Think Tank. I’ll never forget a colleague who went door to door in Chicago placing signs at church members’ homes proclaiming each home a site of their church. (It brought tears to my eyes.) My notes are filled with ideas like this one!
Our conversations altered my stance. My mind was no longer colonized by scarcity: What if we fail? It was now rooted in innovation and possibility. What if we succeed?! And we have! Our congregation has re-centered itself in embodying our theology of abundance.
As we journey through the next seasons of 21st century pandemics, we’ll continue to need one another and these important conversations. When that happens, I hope Lake Institute can also ensure that faith leaders outside of Christianity and leaders of BIPOC faith communities feel invited, and their voices are centered at the table. Not to mention offering opportunities for these leaders to come together to center their particular needs.
I have learned through my own community of communities’ interfaith and antiracism work how critical it is to understand who “we” are, how our needs are aligned, and when we must concentrate on the specific needs of those of us who have been historically and continue to be systemically marginalized and disempowered.
Lake Institute reminded the leaders gathered to breathe, not to sigh. A powerful, life-giving metaphor in this time. Not by offering answers but by gathering the people, by inviting our collective wisdom to illuminate the path on the journey. For that, I give thanks.
Emilie Boggis serves as co-minister at Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit, NJ. Her theology is grounded in the Universalist tradition of abundant and liberating love, anchored by the power of breath, collective sacrifice and salvation, and practiced through daily centering prayer. She lives in Chatham, NJ with her husband and two daughters.