When I was growing up, our family dinner table was a favorite gathering place. We often had guests, and conversations were lively. Occasionally disagreements would arise, but my parents modeled hospitality that made the table a place of welcome in spite of differences.
There were many subjects discussed, but money and the church were recurring themes. I continue to enjoy talking about these topics, and I still find that conversations at a table, especially when there’s food involved, are often the best, particularly when issues are contentious.
My first memory of my own money was when I began receiving a weekly allowance as a 5- or 6-year-old. I don’t remember how much it was. It couldn’t have been much in the early ’50s, but I remember there were no strings attached. I could spend it however I wanted to, and I did. In the fourth grade I opened up my first savings account and learned about compound interest, where you would earn interest on interest if you didn’t withdraw it.
Giving to the church was encouraged. On Sunday morning, my parents would give me a coin to drop in the offering plate. We had mission banks and special projects during vacation Bible school. Giving was expected. Generosity was encouraged.
My understanding of stewardship and generosity was shaped in large part by my parents. They tithed religiously. They also had an envelope where they would keep extra money and use that for special needs that came their way. My father would often talk about how the discipline of tithing enriched his life. He believed generosity had compounding effects, much like interest on a savings account. Being generous made him happy.
Spending 20 years as a banker also shaped my view of money. I gained an appreciation of investing wisely, setting money aside for emergencies and saving for retirement. In 1990, I joined Mennonite Mutual Aid (now Everence) as vice president of stewardship services and executive director of the Mennonite Foundation. I was drawn to MMA because of the opportunity to integrate values and faith with one’s view of money and wealth. I witnessed firsthand acts of stewardship and generosity that were life-changing, both for the donors and the recipients. I also saw the impact that investing responsibly can have on society through shareholder activism and engaging with corporations whose activities are sometimes suspect. Working at Everence was a calling and a vital link for me to the church.
Being a part of church life has always been important to me. For much of my early years we lived within walking distance of our church. When the doors were open, we were expected to be there. I was always involved in church and its activities: Sunday school, vacation Bible school, Mennonite Youth Fellowship, Mennonite schools. As an adult my involvement included service on boards, locally and nationally. After serving on the MMA board, I joined the staff and retired from Everence in 2014 after 22 years of service.
My view of money and the church is seen through the lenses of those experiences. But I also see life through lenses of being: a white male, gay, partner, brother, uncle, friend and animal lover. What I see through these lenses and what I’ve experienced informs who I am today. It’s from this vantage point that I look forward to conversations around money, the church and our communities. I hope you’ll join me at the table.
JB Miller lives in Sarasota, Fla., and attends Covenant Mennonite Fellowship.