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As good or better than you found it – Stewardship Message from John First

 When I was a kid growing up in 1960’s Ohio, I was fortunate to always live close to the woods. I liked to explore those semi wild places with my older brother or friends and climb trees and turn over rocks looking for crayfish and salamanders. At other times we found tadpoles and frogs, a turtle, a bunny (for a day until it died of fright), a skunk, guppies to breed, a series of hamsters and a stuffed squirrel. I collected pond water to see what I could see through a magnifying lens and a microscope. I checked out the Little Golden Books on mammals, birds, fishes, pond life, trees, insects. I wanted to learn all about the world around me.
I liked to explore the woods and imagine what it must have been like when the Indians lived here and then the white pioneers. They had to be self-sufficient.  Making what they needed and living off the land. To survive you needed to learn the best type of wood for its intended purpose, which plants you use for food, or medicine, and which are poisonous. I wondered what the land must have looked like; the mixed hardwood forests that a squirrel could travel from the east coast to the Mississippi River without ever leaving the tree canopy, the prairie lands in parts of the state where buffalo grazed. Where the fish were thick enough in places in Lake Erie you could dip a net in the water and bring it up full of fish.
I became a Boy Scout because I wanted to be out in nature, to camp, to learn survival skills. I longed to be in those places where it felt special, where I was awed by the land. God’s country. There was no wilderness, no wildness left in Ohio, all us people had already gone and messed it all up. Scouting taught me an ethos of respect and gentleness and caring for the earth that was at odds with messages of exploitation and consumption I was also receiving from media and on the land. They used up all the best parts of the land and then just dumped what they had no more use for everywhere. That was just wrong! I think I understood then that I had a responsibility to be a steward of this world, of God’s world and his people, to care for God’s creation with loving kindness.
I make it a practice in my life to try to minimize my negative impact to the environment by using its resources wisely, living locally, growing our own food. I understand that I can’t really own the land I sleep on. I’m merely borrowing it. It’s a simple as my father taught me; ‘When you borrow something return it as good or better as you found it, and if you break it, fix it or replace it.’ That’s what Stewardship means to me. Trying to leave it better than when I found it, and fix what’s broken.
In St. John’s and the Episcopal Church, I have found a place where I can more fully realize that call. To care for the physically and spiritually needy, to speak out against injustice and work for change, to show God’s love and kindness in the world. I know what it means to be a good steward of St. John’s. It means our pledge keeps the lights and water on, pays the insurance, the cleaners, the nursery help, office staff. It pays the rector’s salary and housing. It means we can gather to worship in a special place and maintain and build new connections to our St. John’s community. It allows us to maintain a presence in Snohomish to fulfill our mission to act out God’s love in the world. It means we are charged with upholding a 2000-year-old faith tradition during our brief tenure as stewards of all that is God’s.
These things are the tangible result of our tithe. The lesson is in the giving. It is a lesson I never stop learning and relearning.


John First
Vestry Member

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