by Harvey H.H. Homsey
The best thing that I do is sin. In fact, I’m a pro at it. I’m not proud of it, but it’s a fact. I’m a sinner and I’m good at sinning. So you might ask, why do I want to listen to a sinner? Well, my saving grace here is that we’re all sinners. The psalmist even says, “In sin did my mother conceive me.” And isn’t it amazing to think of how good our God is; no matter how bad of a sinner we are, He is always there ready to forgive us, ready to offer His kingdom, ready with open arms.
When we asked Danny Shadid to be the Stewardship Chair, I didn’t realize it was going to backfire on me and he would ask me to give a stewardship address. I asked him why me, and his response was: “You’re the Chairman of the Board.” That phrase has become a running excuse at my home with my wife, Debbie. We have conversations that go like this: I pick up the phone from my office and call Debbie. I tell her I’m going to the church for a meeting; she says what for; I say, I’m not sure; she says, then why are you going; I respond, I’m the Chairman of the Board. Well, I can only use that excuse for two more months. And for those of you tired of hearing from me, you only have to hear me through the end of January, 2006 when my term expires. But for now, I’m what you get.
While we’re on the topic of “The Chairman of the Board,” let’s stay there for a moment, shall we. It is truly one of the greatest honors I have ever had or will ever have. You get to see the inner workings of the Church and learn so many good things. And you get to know so many people and learn about them. It is truly a blessing. And of course, with the good comes the well, not so good. The meetings are a pure joy. Picture this: I’m sitting there at the head of the board table trying to lead an organized meeting. I’m leading my cousins who think I’m still twelve years old; I’m leading my brothers in law, my peers, my mentors; and I’m leading Ned Shadid, who yes, locked me in a closet when we were growing up together. Today, we’re the best of friends. Then there’s Fr. Constantine; when he gets bored at meetings, he pulls a Bible off the shelf and starts reading. Can you imagine how organized the meetings are?
Here are some of the top opportunities and complaints I get as Chairman of the Board. I get, “the sound system in the sanctuary is awful, I can’t hear a thing” — to, “the noise is so loud in the Church, can you do something about the volume.” To both I reply, “I’ll see what I can do.” I hear it’s too cold in the sanctuary during the service — to it’s too hot during the service; “can you do something about the air?” I hear, “the Parish Council gives the priest and the staff too much vacation” — to “the priest and the staff work too hard; you need to give them more time off.” I get, “there is too much Arabic during the Divine Liturgy” — to, “I don’t hear enough of my native tongue during the service.” And one of the best complaints I get is, “those donuts you serve during Coffee Hour aren’t fit for human consumption” — to, “thanks for the donuts during coffee hour; could we also have bagels and fruit?” Again, to all I reply, I'll see what I can do. Now put yourself in my shoes; there is no winning here. My job as Chairman of the Board is to try to maintain some kind of peace and harmony. First of all, the Church pays for the donuts. And of these complaints, some are strictly ecclesiastical and none of my business. In fact, the only complaint I can truly solve is for those who are too hot or too cold in the sanctuary. You see, it’s a zone issue like in your home. Some spots are hot; some spots are cold. So if those people who are too hot could find those people who are too cold and you just switch seats, that problem would be solved.
Now what does all this have to do with stewardship? Well that’s simple; one of the main complaints I get is about stewardship. “Why are there so many speeches about stewardship?” “Why do people ask me to give money to the Church? It’s no one’s business what I give.” And I also get, “Why can’t you get all the parishioners to tithe?” “Why can’t you get the people to give more money?” And, “why did you allow us to go into debt to build the Family Life Center?” Now these are some major complaints. In fact, if my grandfather Nafeeth were living he would say, “The Church never did a project until we had all the money or at least all the money pledged. Why now?” Well imagine adding to all the worries you think about at night and trying to sleep at night knowing that your name is on a $1.5 million credit line loan for the Church.
You know, truly when I started writing this address, I didn’t really believe in people standing up here asking for money. There was something about it that I didn’t like. It was like listening to a sales person. I didn’t understand the need; I thought we should all just be tithing. Then I remembered, I’m actually very shy and boring. I’m not in sales; I’m in service and support. That’s what I do for a living. I’m after the sale. I don’t sell the product, I support it. I tell you how to work it and how to make money with it. I’m a much better party planner than a party attendee. Watch me at Coffee Hour. I'm better at pouring the coffee than mingling. I can perform in front of a group all day long, but at the party, I’m not the life. Thank God, I’m married to the life of the party. So, being in support instead of sales, I realized, the product of Stewardship had already been sold. All I had to do is support it. And I believe in God and St. Elijah so deeply, that supporting stewardship is easy. Debbie and I are so blessed to have the opportunity to share our faith and our Church with our four children and raise them in such a wonderful environment. And we’re both fortunate that we can attend Church with our parents.
I don’t have to sell stewardship. Stewardship was sold by the number one sales person in the world — God. And here’s His product: eternal life. That’s What God has to offer us. And the terms of God’s promise of Eternal Life are simple: believe that His Son Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior and follow God’s Ten commandments.
Let’s cover those points,
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believed in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Imagine Jesus is applying for the job of Lord and Savior of your life. Think what His résumé would look like. Name: Jesus Christ; address: seated at the right hand of the Father. Telephone number: just call, toll free, any time, from any place. Work experience: created heaven and earth and died for our sins. References: God the Father. It’s a simple choice; Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior.
The second term is a big one: follow God’s Ten commandments. Let’s just review the first commandment:
“I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no other Gods before me.”
His first commandment is — serve Me. We are to be His servants and serve Him in everything we do. He even tells us how to serve Him — give Him 10% back of all He gives us to begin with. When we “ bought” God’s sales plan, we became members of a very elite group — those seeking the Kingdom of God. And like belonging to the PTA, a neighborhood association, a bowling league, or a country club, membership comes with a price.
St. Elijah offers us so many ways to serve God. There are tons of committees, tons of needs — Sunday School, the Choir, Adult Fellowship, Ladies Aid — there is something for everyone. I’m amazed every year at the Bake Sale that we have the opportunity to meet new parishioners. This year I met and got to know Mark McGuiness. I got to work with and learn how to make sfeeha from my adopted grandmother, Aunt Adeeba. As you know, Nila Dutcher has just recently lost her mother. When I went to see her and tell her I was sorry, she said, yes, I’ve lost my mom, but there are plenty of ladies at St. Elijah to fill the spot. What a huge statement about our Church and the people of St. Elijah.
You see, St. Elijah is one of the best kept secrets. We need to start spreading that secret. I have been a member since birth, 45 years. My father has been a member for 81 years. How many of our friends outside of St. Elijah can say that they have been a member of their same church for 45 or 81 years. For that matter, how many of them can say they have been a member of the same church for 3 to 5 years. I have friends at work who are always saying, well I’m looking for a new church. I respond, where did your old church go? We have something going on here at St. Elijah — I invite us to spread that secret — and not to just people outside the Church but to those who are inside the Church, but not really a part of the Church.
One of the things I don’t like is when a parishioner says, well I wasn’t asked to work or help or donate money so I’m not going to. We need to quit waiting to be asked and become the askers. The power of one is amazing. God just asked one person to die for our sins, Jesus Christ. There is power in one person asking another person to do something. In 1992, Esber Samara asked me to chair the anniversary banquet. I’ve done it about 8 times since then. Each of us needs to ask just one person to join us as a full time, full fledged member of St. Elijah and ask one person to work on a committee. Say “hello” to one more person at Coffee Hour. Just imagine how filled our sanctuary would be every Sunday, if we each just asked one person to join us.
And to keep this place going, yes, it takes money. To maintain our entire facility inn 2006, our budget for 2006 will be $795,000; $56,000 of that is our Archdiocese assessment. That’s a lot of money. In fact, you can look at it this way; we have about 744 members, so it’s about $1,075 per person, but not really. Remember, I said there is a price to membership in God’s kingdom. I’m not selling or preaching the price here, I’m just supporting it. God simply asks us to give Him back 10% of what He gives us. Imagine what it would be like if we all tithed. First, there would be no more Stewardship speeches. We would be able to pay all our bills every day with no problem. And we could do amazing things as a tithing Church. This Thanksgiving with all of us pitching in, we feed over 50 needy families. If we all tithed, we could feed hundreds of families and do even more. We would be serving God on a top level of service and we could pay for a great portion of the unpaid Family Life Center.
Let’s look at that a minute. Bishop BASIL reminded us at the 85th Anniversary Banquet that of those who voted for the Family Life Center, 89% of us voted to begin building the Family Life Center, but only 25% of us have donated to the project. We need the support of the other 75%. So last week, I gave the Parish Council a challenge that by the parish meeting in January we would raise over $100,000 in donations and pledges by contacting as many of the 75% who haven’t donated yet as possible. So today, as the Chairman of the Board, I am personally asking you if you haven’t donated to the Family Life Center, to please do so. We don’t need to buy rooms or pledge thousands of dollars. We need to pay for the paint for the walls, the nails, you name it. So every dollar is important. Every dollar is big. Please, if you haven’t donated or pledged, do so today.
I’ve covered a lot and given us a few challenges. Here’s our mission: First, be responsible for yourself, both spiritually and financially. Then, ask just one person to join you. God gives us everything we have. All He asks in return is 10%. When you receive your pledge card, I’m asking you to buy and support God’s plan. There is no greater return on any investment.
Yes, I'm a sinner, but by the grace of God, I'm being saved, but only if I believe in Jesus Christ and follow God’s commandments. I know what Debbie and I and our children do. We tithe. “As for me and my house, we follow the Lord.” What you do is between you and God and it’s His Kingdom we’re all trying to get in. We bought His product, eternal life, by being baptized and walking into His Church. Now all we have to do is service the product we bought. All we have to do is be servants of the Lord. I pray for us all that when our time comes, the Lord may say to us all,
“Well done thy good and faithful servant, enter into My Kingdom,” which is now and forever. Amen.
Courtesy of the
May 2006 issue of The Word magazine.