Stories in Generosity from COTC
Tim Groves was the subject of the Generosity Generators’ first “Profile in Generosity”
Probably most of us know about Tim’s generosity as a member of Church of the Covenant. How he gives of his time to the Nica Companions, including planning and fundraising for the various exchanges between Dulce Nombre de Jesus and Covenant, and participating in many of those exchange trips himself. Some of us will remember that for years he (together with wife, Betsy Groves) generously shared the gift of his beautiful tenor voice with all of us a member of choir. Some may also know that he serves on the church’s Personnel Committee and has served in other leadership roles at Covenant as well over the decades.
But, somehow, on top of all that Tim does with and for Covenant, he also finds time to live out his faith and “be the church” out in the world. Let me mention a few of the many ways Tim demonstrates love of neighbor outside our sanctuary walls.
For the past five plus years, Tim has been volunteering to teach English to speakers of other languages at The Welcome Project, a community-based organization that began in the Mystic Public Housing Development in Somerville in 1987, following state mandated racial integration of the development. Over the past 30 years, The Welcome Project has evolved to work with the immigrant community throughout the city, while continuing to be closely linked with Mystic Housing residents.
As Gillian Burleson, the Adult Education Coordinator at The Welcome Project, put it recently, “Tim’s an excellent teacher for the parents in our program—not only because he is a parent himself, but also because he worked with so many parents when he was a teacher and a principal in the Cambridge Public Schools. His experience means he not only knows how to teach, but what the parents need to know.”
“The students love him!,” Gillian said of Tim. “He’s been a tremendous asset to the program.”
The Welcome Project’s Executive Director, Ben Echevarria, admires Tim, too. Ben, who is also a pastor, describes Tim as someone “who embodies what the Bible says: ‘You shall not oppress the alien in your land.’ He is kind, compassionate, loving and goes out of his way to help.”
“When I think of Tim,” Ben remarked, “I think of someone who volunteers out of his passion for the immigrant cause—he really wants people who come to this country to be treated with fairness and kindness, whoever they are and how ever they got here, and to have a chance to have successful lives here. Tim is not just another volunteer. He is a friend and someone I look up to.”
As if all that Tim does with and for The Welcome Project weren’t enough, he is also active in other immigrant and refugee support activities throughout greater Boston.
You’ll note elsewhere in today’s Bulletin (or, as Julie announced earlier in the service), Tim and his Nica Companion companeros will lead a discussion after worship today of how climate change is negatively affecting our brothers and sisters in Dulce Nombre de Jesus, Nicaragua.
And later this fall, he will join with Rev. Julie and Venezuelan Catholic theologian, Rafael Luciani, to co-facilitate a new "Reflection on the Word" group forming between Covenant and members of Boston's international community.
And Tim is active in GBIO, especially that coalition’s work on immigration issues, and the Boston New Sanctuary Movement, and with the Massachusetts Immigrant Rights Advocacy organization, or MIRA.
And if you’d been looking for Tim last Wednesday, you would have found him at the State House advocating for protection for our Haitian neighbors who are threatened by the loss of their Temporary Protective Status, a special refugee status awarded them after the 2010 earthquake.
And there’s so much more. I think Gillian from The Welcome Project summed up well how each of us who know Tim feels about him when she told me: “Tim’s very dedicated and humble. He really puts his feet where his faith is.”
Bob Jay was the subject of the second Profile in Generosity
When I think of Bob Jay in terms of generosity, as framed by the Generosity Generators, I think of his matter of fact practice of giving, his humility, and his practice of presence.
For starters, Bob has been an active member of Covenant since the early nineties, during which time he has served on major committees, like Deacons and Council, sung in the choir, and been throughout very much a part of church life. Concerning giving, I recall a conversation we had about tithing, where he offhandedly spoke of himself as tithing, summing up all his expenditures and giving at least ten percent, where, he remarked offhandedly, the act itself did not lead him to feel any different. And, knowing Bob, the reason why is clear. For why would tithing make any difference, given that his orientation was one of, simply as a matter of fact, giving what he could. This is what one did, is it not – give what one could? And then, let it go.
This practice of letting it go, of course, connects deeply to his humility – an excellence of his that especially comes out in his opening up his home to international visitors, particularly students. Repeatedly, his friends would find themselves at his home for a dinner and be introduced to a student or two who were there “for a time” while they were studying or conducting business in the area. And I say “for a time,” meaning for a while – weeks into months. Again, he never made much of it – just something that he, one, did, when one could –and let it go.
Nowhere does this matter of fact embracing of others come clearer than the time or times he welcomed into his house a homeless person – who was in need of a place to recuperate from an operation, in need of help in applying for aid. I’m not certain how many persons were involved here, two, three, more, or “just” one. For, pure Bob, he never spoke much of it – spoke only to make clear why he was unavailable or who it was who was staying with him while some of us visited him.
At this point I want to pause and reflect on just what had to have happened for Bob to have invited a homeless person, or two, or more, into his home. For this is not only something that most would not do; it is something that most would not even think of doing or be in a position to do. That is, most of us – I’m of course generalizing on a sample class of one here, me – would not have been open to the conversation of what this particular person faced or needed. For sure, the dollar or two, and “Have a good day!” – and be on one’s – my – way. But no conversation. No finding out “the that of it.” Bob was and is able to do this work of finding out in part because of his long-time Zen Buddhist practice of presence, of connecting with people and situations free of preconceptions. He had to have seen the person or persons as, well, exactly this one, this one in need of some aid, and some aid that he could give – and, for sure, give out of a profound Christian sensibility of welcoming the stranger.
We are truly fortunate to have such a person as Bob, to reflect on, celebrate, and, indeed, to emulate, in our lives!
Six year-old Penny was the subject of the third Profile in Generosity
Penny has held a yearly lemonade stand that benefits childhood cancer initiative's since she was 4 years old. Her Mom, Evangeline, told us that this was something Penny herself decided to do. After the first lemonade stand, Penny was given the choice of keeping the money herself or choosing a place to donate it. Penny decided to donate the money for a good cause to help with childhood cancer research. She also collected donations online for people who could not visit the lemonade stand itself!
Joan Hill was the subject of fourth “Profile in Generosity”
Joan is one of those quiet heroes, not broadcasting her selfless acts. Joan was a special ed teacher in the Boston Public schools for many years. People loved her there. She had small classes of challenging students and she showed them abundant kindness and patience.
An amazing gift of time and talent that Joan gave recently was her assistance in helping rosi olmstead learn to read again after her stroke. This gift was entirely Joan’s idea. Joan traveled from Cambridge to Dorchester once a week for an entire year, spending an hour or an hour and a half each time, working on phonetics and reading.
rosi says Joan was “so patient, so kind, she just kept showing up. It made a huge difference to me. She was someone who could put me at ease because she knew me. It was a real gift to make someone comfortable learning to do things again at my age. She is a friend as well as a gifted teacher.”
Nancy Stockford was the subject of the fifth Profile in Generosity
Nancy Stockford is a wonderful colleague of mine at the foundation where e both work. But more importantly, she is a dear friend and a real role model for how to live a life of integrity, kindness, and, of course, generosity.
Over the near-decade I’ve known her, I’ve watched Nancy lovingly take care of her beloved mother, Joan, who suffered for many years from advanced Alzheimer’s. I also watched her agonize about how to best support her beloved daughter when EJ went through a very serious period of suicidal depression. In both cases, Nancy’s generosity and commitment to caring for loved ones—no matter the personal sacrifices inherent in doing so—always shone through.
For much longer than I’ve known her, Nancy has been being a loving wife to Mark Huston, a devoted mother to Eva, a caring daughter to Joan, an indispensable member of the John Merck Fund staff, a 30+-year vegan, a veteran of every Walk for Hunger since it started, the most faithful Financial Secretary Covenant could ever ask for, and an active member of Council, Choir, and the Worship & Music, Stewardship and Consumption & Justice committees, to name just a few of her roles. Yet somehow in early 2014, Nancy found another—this time astounding—way to express her generosity of spirit and live out her love of neighbor.
Where you or I might have thought it enough to answer a call from the Red Cross to become a blood donor, Nancy decided it was her call to answer an appeal from a minor acquaintance—for a KIDNEY!!!
Yes, you heard right, Nancy signed up to give a vital organ to someone she barely knew, but whom she recognized would continue to suffer and would surely die an untimely death if she did not step up.
So, with the support of her loving family, and with the Covenant community behind her, Nancy went through the intense physical and psychological testing that goes with becoming a living organ donor, and, when it was clear that she was a match for the ill man, she signed up.
I don’t think I have the physical fortitude—never mind the generous spirit—to undergo the major surgery, hospital stay, and long recuperation that comes with organ donation, only to live with the knowledge that I’d have just one kidney to get me through the rest of my life, when the long process of human evolution had decided that redundancy in the renal system was a good idea.
But for Nancy, donating a kidney was something she could do, so she did it.
In a recent “Still Speaking” daily devotional from the UCC, former Old South minister, Quinn Caldwell, writes about the passage in Acts wherein Jesus is described as “presenting himself alive…by many convincing proofs…and speaking about the kingdom of God.” In his meditation, Rev. Caldwell ponders what constitutes a "convincing proof" that Christ “is alive and kicking these days.”
“What did it for you?” he asks. “Was it a vision? Your parents? The moment your son was born? The way you felt when they sang that one hymn on a random Sunday in 1983?”
“The Book of Acts” Caldwell says, “is a story about the apostles going around presenting Jesus "by many convincing proofs" to people they thought needed reminders that God is real and hope wins.” Caldwell ends his piece asking how we might go about proving to somebody else that faith in God and the love God represents is true, today and in our lives.
Witnessing Nancy Stockford’s willing sacrifice of a vital part of her own living being for the sake of a neighbor in need, is proof enough for me.
It is a rare and beautiful person who can do as Nancy has done. And few of us could do the same. But we can all be moved by her generosity and love of neighbor to do what we can, both in our individual lives, and as members of Church of the Covenant. So, please, between now and next Sunday when we dedicate our pledges for 2018, remember Nancy’s story and those of our other “Profiles in Generosity”—Tim Groves, Bob Jay, Joan Hill, and the children of our congregation, and give as generously as you can.