The question was posed to me earlier this month at a continuing education event sponsored by the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving that was hosted by Austin Presbyterian Seminary. A group of about thirty leaders from a wide spectrum of faith traditions came together to pursue the Executive Certificate of Religious Fundraising (ECRF). I guess it was a logical place to start.

“Before we teach you how to grow generosity in others, who has helped grow generosity in you?”

Let me pause before I share my answer, and ask you: “Who is your generosity mentor?”

There were a lot of people I could have named: My Dad and many people who have been members of churches I have served as pastor. There are famous people who are very generous, and some whose generosity is done in secret. There are people who have very little, but are still incredibly generous. I tell  a story in some of my workshops about orphan children from Liberia who collected an offering for children in the U.S. who were affected by Hurricane Katrina.

When instructed to turn to the person next to us and share the story of our generosity mentor, one name came out without a moment’s hesitation: Clayton Miller.

 

The Rev. Dr. Clayton Z. Miller with Greater NJ Conference Elders Jana Purkis-Brash & Ken Sloane, who received their call to ordained ministry (along with several others) under Miller’s pastoral leadership at Union UMC in East Northport, NY.

 

Clayton was my pastor when I was growing up. My United Methodist church was lucky enough to have his pastoral leadership for eighteen amazing years, through my school years and into college. As I described him to my neighbor, I was conscious that the generosity I described had nothing to do with money or financial support. He is such a generous person in how he shares his time, his guidance, his affirmation, his joy, and so much more. He has a generous soul, a generous spirit, and so there is no way I could believe that he was anything but generous with money.

So, how did you answer the question: “Who is your generosity mentor?”

About a week after I returned from my class in Austin, I received a magazine from Drew University, where I had earned my Master of Divinity (MDiv) and, later, my Doctor of Ministry (DMin) degree. I came to a page that focused on the generosity of one particular donor who had endowed a scholarship to the Theological School — none other than Clayton Miller. I was not a bit surprised. You can read the story about Clayton from Drew University here.

Philanthropy springs from a generous spirit, so it was not surprising that Clayton Miller had made such a generous donation. Clayton continues to be my generosity mentor. I hope that the life I live will reflect generosity to those whose paths cross mine. And when someone tells the world about a generous gift I’ve made, I hope that not a soul who knows me will be surprised.