Priorities and Commitment

by Sutton Lowe

Upon joining St. John the Divine, Sutton Lowe and his wife, Marleigh, recognized that an important part of their commitment was prioritizing their gifts to God through a pledge to St. John the Divine. Hear from Sutton why this priority is vital to their commitment as Christians.

Q: Why is making a pledge a priority for you and Marleigh?

Answer: We pledge because if we don’t set a goal and make a commitment, we won’t do it. It will get to the end of the month and the money will go down, and we’ll say, “Maybe next month we’ll do it.” But if we set a pledge, we are making a commitment, and we are going do our best to make it a priority every single time. When Marleigh and I made marriage vows to each other, we made a commitment to each other. In a similar way, we make promises as the church community in our baptisms. Giving our resources and making a pledge is one way we are living into that promise.

Q: Was there a moment when giving to the church became a priority?

Answer: When I was young, my parents always gave me a couple dollars to put into the plate. I remember watching my mom pull out her checkbook and write her check every week. I got to place that check in the plate too. That practice was an example set before me as I grew up. Then when I went to college, I didn’t have any money at all. I saw that as my moral reason for not giving at that time. My parents tithed, and it was like they were tithing for me. Then I went to seminary and still didn’t have any money, so I used the same excuse.

Halfway through seminary, I got my first church job and Marleigh and I got married. She had a job, and we were making just enough to get by, just barely enough. And arguably, looking back, we didn’t have enough to get by. After those first paychecks, Marleigh said, “We need to start tithing.” And I said, “Are you sure? We don’t have very much money right now.” She was certain, “Yeah, we have a church that you’re working at. We need to be tithing.” So we made a decision upon getting those first steady paychecks that we were going to start giving 10% as an act of worship to God. It was a lot at the time, and it felt like a lot. As we began giving regularly, we realized that our concerns about having enough were reflecting a scarcity mentality. God gives us life and gives it in abundance. All of our lives are total gifts, including the provisions we have been given. Money is a part of the gift, and we use our money with the understanding that it is a gift to be stewarded.

Q: Have you seen blessings from practicing the discipline of tithing?

Answer: Something I love that Leigh always says is “The more you give, the more you receive,” and I think that’s true. While we have not received more money because of tithing, we have been given freedom from worrying about money. Tithing properly orients the way money fits into our lives. By consistently giving a percentage of our income, we are acknowledging that all of our money is God’s. We’re designating some of it to be given to the church, and that influences the way we spend the rest of our money. It has been very liberating to realize that it isn’t really our money, but it’s a gift from God, just like my life. I feel freedom that my life is not defined by how much money I make. My life is a complete gift of grace, and tithing helps us to see that money is just a piece of that gracious gift.

Q: Is there anyone who has been an example of giving in your life?

Answer: When I was a Summer Seminarian Fellow in 2022, Marleigh and I lived with parishioners Barbara Strobel and George Bement. That year, the seminarians were asked to write devotions for the fall stewardship campaign. This was a really tough assignment, because I was still in seminary, still without an income, and still not giving consistently. I felt like I was the wrong person to write devotions about generosity.

Barbara and George wrote me an email pushing back against one of my devotions. It was so great, and I was grateful to receive it. They encouraged me to speak boldly about money. They shared that it is hard to measure your faith, but one way to measure it is by paying attention to how you spend your money. Our spending shows where our priorities and hearts are. They encouraged me to be bold about the Bible’s teaching on money, and they encouraged me to examine how my own spending reflected my priorities. That inspired Marleigh and me to prioritize conversations about money and giving. It was very impactful.

While our yearly stewardship campaign happens every fall, you can make a pledge at any time. Contact Terra Seidel, director of parish giving.

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