Hi. My name is Olga Chwa and I’ve only been a member of our church for about three years, but I’ve been coming here off-and-on since the mid- 1980s. I was ten years old when a classmate brought me to church and I immediately noticed that, here, the Sunday School teachers did not tell me what to believe, but were actually curious about what *I* believed—I felt challenged and seen, like never before. I still recall the thrill I felt in that moment, age ten, in that upstairs, corner classroom. I wanted to come back every week.
So I did.
My family moved around a lot, but whenever we were in Cleveland, I’d make my way here. One year, I was part of a group kidnapping, pulling my peers out of bed, early in the morning, along with all of the High School Youth Group, for a surprise Pancake Breakfast – over at Nancy King Smith’s.
I was greatly shaped by my experience here in high school. As a teen, I was very confused and really lost and it was this church, this YRE program, and these District Youth Conferences that brought me friendship, community, a sense of belonging, and hope for myself and the world.
They saved my teenage life.
I moved away from Cleveland but returned some years ago and in need of all that again: community, a sense of belonging, and hope for myself and the world—I returned to this congregation and was welcomed with a love UUs are famous for.
How can I not give?
I give because you saved my life.
I give because you have saved countless lives, of all ages and from all sorts of torment: spiritual, mental, and physical.
I give because it connects me to the spirit of human generosity, a spirit I need to feel and need so dearly to connect with in these times when I contract in face of news from near and far.
I give because it helps me feel less helpless.
It makes me feel a part of something bigger. In that way, it appears to me as an essential spiritual practice in capitalist times: to keep moving the energy of money magic in ways that cultivate my values, our values.
A couple of years ago, and around this time of year, David Kantor said to all of us, “the more I give, the more I get,” referring to his experience with stewardship and this church. I then thought to myself, “hmm, I’d like to get more.” My massage therapy practice was growing nicely, so I could afford a greater contribution and pledged accordingly.
Well, not long after, my participation on the Adult Religious Education committee ramped up, as we began offering classes and I stepped into more leadership and teaching roles.
I won’t tell you how much I pledged last year, but I will tell you that the “Magic Penny” effect of giving that David Kantor referred to is truly alive here at First Unitarian. Now, I am proud to be chair of the ARE committee, doing a wee-bit more to surf us through this re-staffing transition, offering a heartfelt handful of programs, like last weekend’s Sermon Slam, and an upcoming workshop on traditional Slavic egg decorating.
And this is why I give.
I give to get more, so I can keep giving more and reap the bounty of these friendships, Beloved community, a sense of belonging, and hope for myself and the world.
I give because in these strange times, pledging money is a way to say “I love you.”