When I was 10 or 11 years old my Uncle Frank gave me a book titled “Cathedral”. It was an illustrated book, mainly, but the story that ran through it was about a fictional town in the 12th century that elected to build a new cathedral after their existing church had burned down. In this age this was no small decision: a building as large and as expensive as a cathedral could take over 100 years to construct, meaning that those who initiated the project were highly unlikely to see the finished product. What motivated them, then? Certainly not personal glory or fortune, as those rewards would not come in their lifetimes. Prestige for their town? Perhaps, but even that boast could not be claimed for many, many years, if at all. So just what would move a community to pitch in and undertake a difficult, costly goal with the payoff a century away?
In a word, the answer is faith. This may seem like a simple, pat answer, and you could be excused for saying it and walking away, thinking you had answered the question. But so often, when the answer is faith, that answer in itself is just a door that opens up to a much larger picture.
As a person of faith, I felt compelled when I first started working for the YMCA to donate a small amount of money to our annual campaign. It wasn’t any more difficult than slipping a few dollars in the offering plate at church. If you had asked me then why I gave, I probably would have said something along the lines that I was just doing my duty. It certainly wasn’t for recognition, as the amount I was able to give then wasn’t even enough to merit a plaque over a drinking fountain. But my faith compelled me to give a little, so a little I gave and a small, warm, fuzzy feeling I received.
About the time Sarah and I got married, however, we started feeling a tug to give a little more. We talked it over and made the difficult leap to give at a higher level. This wasn’t an easy decision – we were just married and had big life decisions in front of us, such as buying a house and starting a family. We took the leap of faith together, though, and made the commitment. And, in that leap, our understanding of faith changed – we knew we could trust that voice that was asking us to give more.
At our staff campaign kick-off the following year I was asked to speak to all our full-time staff to encourage them to consider giving to the annual campaign. I prepared a speech and rehearsed it a few times. But that morning, as I walked to the front of the room and stood next to my very pregnant wife, I was suddenly aware that what I had planned to say wasn’t coming from my heart. It wasn’t easy – I felt very vulnerable – but instead of delivering my speech, I shared with the staff that we were now giving because we believed in the work they were doing. We had faith that they, with their gifts, were going to make a huge difference in the lives of our children. Our understanding changed again – our faith grew by opening ourselves up to our community.
That was 11 years ago. Every year since we have reached a little further, stretched a little bit more and increased our gift to this community. In that 11 years the YMCA has more than doubled in size – we serve more people in more locations and in more ways than I think any of us ever dreamed possible back then. And, in that span of 11 years, my understanding of faith has been stretched, too, to where I now can begin to see how a community could make a decision 1000 years ago to erect a cathedral none of them would ever get to see. The decision was not just to build a building, but to build each other. The community does not build a cathedral; the cathedral builds a community.
Can you only imagine what we could build together? I invite you to take that step.