Voice of the Vestry: What is a Steward?

by Marian Vermeulen

My earliest specific memory of encountering the word “steward” comes from my childhood, as my brother and I sat in our family living room with my parents, often in the glow of a fire that muttered cheerfully in the wood stove, and listened with rapt attention to my father, reading to us from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. At the beginning of the tale, the line of kings has disappeared from Middle Earth, and the great kingdom of Gondor lies in the hands of the Stewards, who hold the kingdom in their care until the true king shall return. Denethor, the first Steward of Gondor that we encounter, is corrupt and power hungry, having held the highest position for so long that he forgot his charge; he no longer cares for the kingdom and its people for their good, but rather to hold onto his possession and his position.  In his pride and despair, at the height of the major battle, Denethor kills himself rather than be forced to lay down his power, either by losing to the enemy or having to hand the kingdom back to the true king, Aragorn.

His powers then pass to his son, Faramir, one of the noblest characters in the books (and my first fictional crush I might add) whose first words when he meets Aragorn are “My Lord, you called me. I come. What does the King command?” You probably already know where I am heading with this. Symbolically speaking, the King is God, who holds ownership over all. We are aspiring to be a Steward like Faramir, faithful, loving, caring, tending well and giving back generously of himself to that which was given to him. Too often in churches, the word Stewardship gets associated with a monetary giving campaign, and indeed I imagine some of you may have been surprised to see the word come up in July. After all, it’s not that season yet! I actually read a quote that left me chuckling, “when most people hear the word “stewardship,” they grab a wallet or purse, either to open it or to get a firmer grip.” But that focus that has taken place in churches all around the world is one that loses something significant from the word. And please don’t misunderstand me, being a member of the vestry has certainly taught me that funding the church is of vital importance! Yet it is only one small aspect of a very high calling.

At its heart, Stewardship is the belief that we are the caretakers of a world that belongs solely to God, and as such it is our responsibility to manage absolutely everything for His glory. Over the next few months, I hope to be able to share stories with you of the people in our Parish who are quietly and beautifully living into that truth, and hopefully together we can all explore what it means to be noble Stewards for our King. Peter wrote that, “each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” Let’s challenge ourselves to begin to consider the gifts God has given us; family, personal strengths, character traits, property, financial success, skills, intelligence and reason, compassion and love, and every combination of the above list and more. Let’s think about how we might best implement those gifts and ignite our passions for the glory of God.

When King Aragorn of Gondor returned, Faramir came before him to surrender his office as Steward and the white rod that symbolized that position, but the King said to him “That office is not ended, and it shall be thine and thy heirs’ as long as my line shall last. Do now thy office!” The greatest King of all has granted us the honor to be eternal Stewards of a magnificent Kingdom full of gifts. Let’s do our office!


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