Josiah Royce, 19th century Harvard philosopher, was investigating loyalty. When you are loyal to a group or community, what is it that keeps you attached to them? Surely, it's got nothing to do with the fact that every single member of that community is perfect, for what group or community has perfect people in it? Is it the fact that you share values with the people of the group? Or within the group, are there various values represented? Maybe the group aspires to uphold the values you care about, but sometimes fails in their practical execution, and you can forgive them for a while. Where does the loyalty come from? Royce came up with the idea of the beloved community. Because we love the group, we are loyal to them. Not because we share values with them--not because we are the same in any way, but because we love them. Howard Thurman and Martin Luther King, Jr. took this idea and made it theological. The beloved community is the kingdom of God. The beloved community is the Spirit-led church. The beloved community is the body of Christ, the communion of the saints.
The "communion of the saints" is something we say we believe in each Sunday in the Apostle's Creed. Protestants don't emphasize named saints from the past--St. Lucia or St. Nicholas; St. Catherine or St. Christopher. Those saints were "canonized" into being saints by the authority of the church, eventually the Catholic Church, and had to meet certain requirements: holy living of sinless lives, a certain number of miracles (as science and empiricism took hold of culture, they had to be verifiable miracles).
In the Protestant traditions, saints are simply those who died in Christ. In the funeral liturgy we say that the work begun in our baptism is complete in death. That means we become truly holy not during our lifetime but at the end of our lives, when we are finally in the presence of Christ our Lord. When we refer to the communion of the saints we are referring to all the saints: those currently alive, and those who have died but are alive in Christ, and those to come. In fact, the "communion" part of the phrase emphasizes the fact that we are in union with all the saints because we are all, collectively, the body of Christ. That makes us one with each other and one with Christ. THAT makes us the ultimate beloved community.
Along with the November Presby Press newsletter, we are sending pledge cards. As you consider what your pledge will be for 2023, I want to be sure there are two reasons that you're NOT considering. First, don't give out of guilt; we are not trying to shame anyone into giving. Also related to that, don't give sacrificially. Take care of yourself first: pay rent, buy groceries, live your life. That being said, DO consider the beloved community.
When you think about living in the beloved community, think about living among the people you are loyal to, the people you love. God wants us to live joyfully in that community. Giving is a practical way of supporting that community. Pledging helps the leaders plan how we're going to live joyfully in the coming year. When you pledge, think about that beloved community.