Posted: Oct 5

Remembering Terry Parsons

By administrator

terry-parson.jpegI am a skeptic.  I tend to believe that people in the hierarchy of the church just don’t get it.  So, God sent me from a very progressive, praise band, projection screen church in California to The General Theological Seminary. (Is there any doubt that God has a sense of humor?)  And the second semester that I was there, the course catalogue included a class on Stewardship, taught by Terry Parsons, the then Stewardship Officer for the Episcopal Church.  Naturally, coming from a parish that did stewardship very, very well, I thought to myself, “Well! Hmph.  We’ll just see whether or not this lady from the Episcopal Church office knows anything about stewardship.”  And I enrolled in the class.

Not only did Terry Parsons know a thing or two about stewardship, Terry Parsons was stewardship.  Terry was a well of gratitude.  She was grateful for everything and everyone around her.  And she spilled that gratitude on to all of us, whether we were ready for it or not.

Within moments of her opening her mouth, I was hooked.  I couldn’t get enough of her.   I could have talked with her for hours – and in the years following I had the great opportunity to do just that.  In our casual conversations, Terry learned that I had video production skills.  She recognized right away the opportunities this could provide in some of the work that she was doing and asked me to participate in some events, providing video support both during and after the conferences.  This work led her to invite me to spend my last year in seminary working as an intern in her office.

It was a dream to work with her.  I felt so incredibly lucky just to get to talk to her about all things theological.  She had such a perfect way of just saying the truth – even really hard truth.  She never beat around the bush or spent any time being vague, and at the same time she never said anything harmful or mean.  She just very politely said it like it was.

Terry made everyone in her presence feel that they mattered, that God valued them, that God made them and loved them just as they are, and that they had been given gifts to share with the world.   From watching Terry I learned that the most important thing we can do in this world is to treat every single person we meet with grace, respect, and dignity. It’s amazing what people can – and will – accomplish when they know that someone believes in them.

There are so many great things I learned from her, so many puzzles she presented that I’m still trying to unravel, and so many terrific quotes that still make me laugh.  Following are a few of my favorites:

On stewardship campaigns: We have got to get away from the annual October beg-a-thon!

On gratitude: Thank people for behavior you’d like to see repeated.  You’d be surprised how far a thank you card will go.

On the act of offering in worship: This is arguably the most important thing we do in worship together, yet it is the most passive time in the service.  Why?  Why are we so passive during this most important activity?  What can we do to make our actions reflect the significance of what is happening?

On receiving the offering: Put the money on the table.  People work hard for that money and it is their offering.  It belongs on the altar.

On Eucharist: Never, ever, have Eucharist without an offering.  We must always have an opportunity to bring something to the community and to God.

On whining: Stop talking about what you don’t have and about what you can’t do because of what you don’t have.  Look at what you do have and figure out what God is calling you to do with that.

On giving stuff away: I’ve never shared something with someone who needed it and then came home with another thing to dust.

On talking about money at church: I promise not to talk about money any more than Jesus did.

On the disparity of wealth: God gave us enough resources to care for everyone in the world.  The problem is that God put us in charge of the distribution system.

On the abolition of the OT laws: Yes, Jesus abolished the Old Testament laws, including the 10% tithe.  Jesus suggested that we sell everything we own and give the money to the poor.  I think I’ll stick with the 10%.

On being an Episcopalian: The Baptists saved me from hell.  The Episcopalians saved me from the Baptists. 

On transformation in relationship with Jesus: God loves me just the way I am, but he loves me too much to leave me this way.

And the best definition of stewardship I’ve ever heard:  Using the gifts God has given us to do the work God is calling us to do.


julie.jpegThe Rev. Julie Nelson lives and works in Silicon Valley. She is a Communications Manager at VMware, Inc. and serves in various ministry capacities in the Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real.  Terry Parsons once told her that she didn’t really see Julie as being a conventional sort of priest.