Giving, Gratitude & Generosity

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Linda Bruner is a cradle Methodist, raised in the church as a preacher’s kid. Today, Linda works for the global denomination as senior manager of connectional giving and marketing for United Methodist Communications. We talk with Linda about her enduring United Methodist roots, what generosity means to her and why being part of a local congregation is key to her faith journey.

Linda Bruner

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This episode posted on November 29, 2021.

Transcript

From our sponsor: Is your small group looking for a study to learn more about the central practices of the Christian faith? If so, check out a new study from Sparkhouse called Animate—seven sessions featuring thought leaders such as Brian McLaren and Doug Padgett discuss the topics of prayer, food, worship, money and more, considering why they are important and how they’re relevant to us today. You can learn more about Animate at wearesparkhouse.org/animate.

Prologue

Crystal Caviness, host: Linda Bruner is a cradle United Methodist, raised in the church as a preacher’s kid. Today Linda works for the global denomination as Senior Manager of Connectional Giving and Marketing for United Methodist Communications. We talked with Linda about her enduring United Methodist roots, what generosity means to her and why being part of a local congregation is key to her faith journey.

Conversation

Crystal: Linda, I’m excited to talk to you today on Get Your Spirit in Shape. Welcome.

Linda Bruner: Thank you. I’m excited to be here.

Crystal: Before we start I want to share something with our listeners. Linda and I are colleagues and we work together at United Methodist Communications. And once upon a time we sat in the same area in a quad cubicle space. And so if any of you have ever worked in a cubicle setting you know there are few secrets. Not that, you know, you’re meaning to listen, but people’s conversations just seem to float above the cubicle walls. So this is what I learned about you, Linda. You love the United Methodist Church. I mean, love with all caps. So tell me about the passion that you have for the United Methodist Church. How did that start?

Linda Bruner: I do love the church. And that started because of my dad’s job. And he was a preacher. And then turned into a district superintendent. So I learned from the best. You know, living in both sides—being a member of a church and then also seeing the government behind, you know, all the works of the church, through my dad. And when you’re raised as a preacher’s kid there is a different view of church. Sometimes I think we get a deeper view and sometimes I think we get the worst view. So, that’s where my love comes from.

Crystal: Well, obviously you took the deeper view, for you to have this passion now as an adult. Do you have some favorite memories as a child growing up in the church?

Linda Bruner: I have all levels of memories from the church. I always thought of the church as a second home because my dad was there so much. And if I wanted to go see my next session summer, (?) I was raised in parsonages all my life. And people who don’t know what a parsonage is, it’s where the church actually pays for or provides…. They don’t pay for, they provide a home. And it’s like a renter situation where you pay for the utilities and anything else that you bring into that. And those parsonages were almost always located right next to the church. So I would run into the church just to go to see Dad, like for lunch or whatever, when available just to see my dad. And so it was like a second home. I just…I would look at the church as an extension of our house. So to me that’s where some of the deeper comes from because a lot of people look at God’s house differently. And I just looked at God’s house as my house. So a lot of those memories… Sometimes you’d play hide and seek in the church. Sometimes you would do what…. Probably my funniest memory, the one that gets brought up the most in front of my family, is one time back a long time ago when we didn’t have TV like we do now where you can just watch whatever you want, whenever you want, “The Wizard of Oz” was coming on, and that was a show that I wanted to watch. So I actually lifted my arm, pointed at my wrist for my dad to cut his sermon short, put my arm back down. And my dad stopped his sermon and said, “Betty, (which is my mom’s name) I think you need to come sit next to Linda. So I actually did not get to watch “The Wizard of Oz” that year, as you can imagine. And that was quite an embarrassing moment for me because I got called out in front of the church. So some of those memories, you know, being part of a sermon, doing silly things in church, those are just a part of my life. I mean, I can even remember cleaning the church because sometimes you didn’t have a janitor. So what happens? All of those responsibilities just fall on the family. So,…. Lots of great memories. Also memories of building that relationship with Jesus with some of those adults that you grow up with. I had very strong youth directors. And I was very blessed in that. I can’t say that that’s for everyone. But I was very fortunate to have youth directors that made a big impact on me, which is probably where some of my love for the church comes.

Crystal: You brought up something that I’ve heard people talk about. We may not really fully appreciate. And that’s the importance of people we go to church with and how they mentor, if you will, the faith of children—how children are mentored not necessarily by their parents, but by those people that they’re actually attending church with. And you’ve touched on that. Can you talk a little more about that? Like, are there one or two people that really come to mind and how you saw them walking out a faith that you really wanted to emulate.

Linda Bruner: There were a few people that…. I mean, my youth directors was two. They were a young married couple. And I saw their love for Jesus. And that was something that I wanted, too. I wanted…I wanted a boyfriend at the time or, you know, of course you imagine as little girls having that husband that would love Jesus and want to do all the things through church. I mean, we did lots of fun things together. And we incorporated how Jesus is a part of that. So that was a huge part of my spirituality. And then there’s a few women in my life that just really…they were leaders in their churches. And one actually wasn’t United Methodist and the other one was. But the one that wasn’t United Methodist saw me through work, and I was not working for the church at the time. And she just…she had a nudge from God to come over and talk to me. And we started a whole relationship together, built on Christ. And that was a very strong influence for me. And the other lady, who was a leader in the church, just watching her do the ebb and flow of going against some people, having to stand up and do what’s right over what’s more comfortable. Her name was Jan and she was very influential to me. And she just was fun. And you know a lot of times some people didn’t find church fun. And she was just fun. And to me laughter is a huge part of who I am. And I think that that’s why I try to incorporate so much…. I mean, all things that are good come from God. And good is fun. And so that probably was a huge piece for me, is those two women made God fun and understandable.

Crystal: I love hearing you talk about that. One thing you said earlier was talking about how the church is a second home for you, and your comfort level with being in the church. How have you seen that kind of play itself out as an adult when you’re…particularly maybe of an adult when you were finding a new church. I don’t know…because you were a preacher’s kid you moved around. You know, the itinerancy of the church, you know, being moved around. So at some point I’d expect you and your family found a church home. How does your comfort level with the church…how does that translate into you going into a new church?

Linda Bruner: That’s a great question because for me that was…. A lot of people it’s not a big deal. But for me I’d always had one preacher and it was my dad. So when my dad moved from being a pastor, a local church pastor, to a district superintendent that was a big shift. I was attending, at the time, the church that he had just left. So it didn’t really feel that different. …just felt Dad was on vacation. And then I moved. I got married and I moved to Nashville. And my first encounter of going to a church that I knew was gonna be my home was a big…. You know, it was like shopping. I mean, and a lot of people look at churches as shopping. But for me it was just different because it was like nothing felt good because it wasn’t my dad. And that was a hard thing for me to get over. But when I finally found my church which is Connell Memorial United Methodist Church I walked in. I loved the environment. I loved the different age levels. I saw a healthy church. It was all levels of ages. And while it’s a small church it had that healthy vibe. And when I walked in I didn’t feel automatically like I was completely a part of this and this was home. It took me about a year. But I kept trying and kept going and engaged into a Sunday school class. And then…. We’ve always been athletes in my family. So I played church softball, and that was what clicked for me. You know, find whatever meets your needs. And then my Sunday school was good and I had great teachers. And then that one thing just clicked. And as soon as I got on that team it broadened the horizons for all of the rest of the team. So now when I walk into my church it feels like home, too. I know every corner of the church. And I know many people in that church. And while it has changed over the years, as all things do, it still…you just walk in that building and you just feel at home. And I think most people know that. Like, when you go away from your parents’ house and then you come back for a while, just the smells of it, just the look of it, just…whatever time of the year, it just has a special welcoming feeling. So for me it was different than most people. But once I found my home…. And I’ve been there a long time, over 25 years. So that is new for me, too, because I’ve never been in one church longer than 5 years. So for me to invest that much time it’s…that’s also grown deeper roots for me, so….

Crystal: I love hearing you talk about…and using the word ‘roots.’ You know, we’re in a time where a lot of churches have had to go virtually because of the pandemic. And now the doors are re-opening and people are coming back. But we are seeing that some people are choosing to not come back, kind of in the same way. Linda, why is it important, do you think, that we be in our community, in our church community, with one another in person when we can do that safely?

Linda Bruner: Because as humans, even though we think the pandemic has changed our view of what it’s like to be in person. And it becomes really comfortable to just see somebody through a video screen. But there is different when you are breathing the same air and you are able to actually touch another human being. Touch, especially for me, and I know a lot of people in the world…touch is important. Being able to see somebody’s eyes beyond just through a camera is something completely different. And we all know the difference in being in presence and just on a phone call or just on a video. There is a complete difference because that engagement in person where I know I can actually reach out and touch you is everything. I mean, it’s the way God created us, and sent his son Jesus to have that personal relationship, that one-on-one in person. And to me I think that that is one of the things that’s really hard now. The pandemic will forever change how we worship and I’m very fortunate that our church has that technology that we can still offer that to people who won’t ever be able to come back in person, that just may…either illness or moved away or whatever the circumstance is. It has changed that. But in our own lives, I mean, imagine not being able to ever talk to someone face to face and enjoy that presence. To me it’s just overwhelming that I just…I couldn’t not have that. Plus, the church as a brick and mortar…you know, the church can be anywhere and everywhere. But a lot of us have a church building. And it goes back to that song we all learned as children. It’s the people. But we have one location that we can come to and that in itself…. You know, talking about comfortable. We can be there and be comfortable, but we can also meet together and be comfortable. And there’s something about just singing and praying together in person it also shows a different level of spirituality.

Crystal: You make a really good point that it’s really the whole point of Jesus coming, too, was to be here with us, among us, not from afar, but to be, you know, someone that at the time could be touched and hugged and, yeah.  So, I hadn’t really thought of it quite like that. But you make a really great point. At United Methodist Communications you are Senior Manager of Connectional Giving and Marketing. So, let’s talk about connection. I would think as a United Methodist who has worshipped in a lot of churches because of your father being a pastor and maybe going…visiting a lot of churches because of his role as a district superintendent, you’ve probably seen connectionalism in action. Tell me what that has looked like through the years for you.

Linda Bruner: Well, it’s an amazing thing. And I don’t think I could have respected that until I got in this role, in my position and you know, with age comes wisdom, we hope. One of those is the connection and seeing that. So it’s not just that corporate worship that you can see across the channel singing the same hymns, worshipping the same things on the same day, whether it be communion or a special Sunday, or talking about apportionments and how we give together as a church. But it’s seeing what that connection does. I mean, I even was blessed to get to go to Africa. And when I was in Africa hearing the same liturgies spoken and the same songs. That, even though there’s some difference and there’s different instruments and there’s different ways to worship, it’s all the same recognizable, comfortable… Like I’ve been talking about the whole time, comfortable place. I know this. I recognize this. I feel this. So from my position now being able to see the connection, fortunately all my life my dad was a very strong supporter of the connection. And so I understand apportionments and special Sundays, what we call first mile and second mile giving, all my life. And a lot of people don’t have that understanding. So watching that connection work, not only through the church but also from my side now as a senior manager, to see how it works around the world. I try to bring that information to my Sunday school class. A disaster happens obviously I talk about UMCOR. A lot of people might bring up other places like Red Cross or United Way. And then I like to go back and tell them, let me tell you what the connection does and how it works and how that makes us completely different than any other denomination. Lots of churches give in the ministry and different kinds of missionaries or missions. But the United Methodist Church, the reason it works is because of our local churches. That is the core of everything. So if we have a local church in a certain area, we can work through whatever the agency, whatever the ministry, through that local church to get into that community. And that to me is what we have been talking about all along. That community, that connection and that comfortable feeling. I know these people that have had something happen to them, or I know these people that need a scholarship, that one of the special Sundays may offer. And to see that actually come to fruition, you know, it’s happened at my house. I’ve received a gift of hope through GBHEM, and my daughter did, too. And that’s because of that connection. Somebody putting in a dollar and another person putting in a dollar, and you add all of these together, it makes things happen. And if you think about that, you Crystal, are a part of starting a college in another side of the world. And so am I. And that is everything to me, is that my little tiny, tiny works here in this small community that I’ve got explode around the world. And while you can say that for all churches that, you know, the love of Christ explodes around the world, the great thing about the United Methodist Church is we have this connection that we work together to make sure that this ship goes forward, and it continues and that all of the work that we do doesn’t just get scattered. It is strategically placed to do strategic ministry in all places, in all communities. Where there’s a local church we can do ministry together.

From our sponsorWe’ll hear more from Linda Bruner in a minutes. But now I want to tell you about a new study from Sparkhouse called Animate. This study features 7 sessions and thought leaders such as Brian McLaren and Doug Padgett discussing prayer, food, worship, money and more. To learn more about Animate go to wearesparkhouse.org/animate.

Crystal: Linda, this podcast episode is going to air around Thanksgiving. So I want to talk about gratitude and generosity for just a minute. When I say the word ‘generosity’ what comes to mind for you?

Linda Bruner: Generosity comes in all kinds of forms. A lot of people think of generosity as money and financial. But generosity has made a place in my heart as generous with your time, generous with your love, and generous with your attention. There’s a lot of things that need attention. There’s been times in my life where the only way I could tithe was by my presence, and by the giving of my time. And everybody goes through that season. Sometimes generosity means I’m gonna give you an hour of my day every day. And then sometimes generosity means I really don’t have time to invest in this, and I’m gonna write a check so that this ministry can keep going. So to me generosity is not just a financial. Generosity means you as a human being, what can you give? If it’s financial, if it’s emotional, if it’s spiritual, that’s generosity.

Crystal: Yeah, I really like that, how you define now that it opens it up. And you know, I’ve always felt like that conversation was between me and God. And like you said, there’s been times where I was able to give more time than perhaps give money. And so I really appreciate that you really expanded that definition of how you can be generous. Sometimes the greatest expression of generosity is giving your time. You know, there are ministries and just places that need people to help and give attention there. So, I really appreciate how you framed that. As you approach Thanksgiving and I know you well enough to know that this isn’t just a Thanksgiving topic, but what are you most grateful for in your life, Linda?

Linda Bruner: If you would have asked me that 5 years ago it would have been a different answer. And 10 years ago it would have been a different answer. But today what I’m most grateful for is those special moments that I can have with different individuals. Some of it’s with my husband. Some of it’s with my daughter. Some of it’s even with my dog. It’s that special time that I can invest because Covid has, like everyone else, brought a different perspective on what’s important. And, you know, it’s all…family has always been important, but time together because in so many cases I’ve not been able to see some of my friends because they’ve either been compromised or I’ve been compromised. So I think that engagement and those times that you can actually have…. And I now the older we get the more we value things like that. But I think a lot of us, even though we’re not elderly or we wouldn’t call ourselves elderly, our eyes have been opened to that. So this year I’m thankful that I could actually have a meal and a special time that we have set aside in the United States as Thanksgiving to celebrate with our families. And I can do that in person and I don’t have to worry about harming somebody. So I really am thankful for that. I’m thankful that so many people are healthy. Health is a big issue as well. Yeah, I’m just really thankful that a lot of people in my family are healthy ‘cause I have lots of friends that cannot say that same sentence. Very thankful for that.

Crystal: Yeah, definitely good ones to get perspective for sure. I have 2 more questions before we finish up. And the next one is: Is there something that you wanted to talk about that we didn’t talk about? Something that you wanted to make sure you shared or mentioned that we haven’t yet.

Linda Bruner: I do. I know a lot of people can look at me and even you, Crystal, we work at the same United Methodist agency. So a lot of people just think that we know everything about the United Methodist Church and how it works and how it functions. And I think probably what I would want people who listen to this to hear is, find what works for you in your church, and find that generosity, what works. But most importantly find all the answers and all the reasons of why we do more good together and why we don’t do good together, because I know a lot of people it’s really A or B. And for me it’s A through Z. There are so many things that I can look at and really define. Find out why your church gives to certain things. Or find out why your church doesn’t give to certain things. Dive in to see what ministries we do. And I think that’s been my goal for the past 3 years at UMCOM is to just remind people: Hey, did you know we do this? Hey, did you know we support this? And this is why. A lot of these ministries were started because something happened in a local community. And there was enough desire and graciousness that people wanted to start a ministry around this. And so that’s where everything comes from…is it starts from the local church. It’s not this massive buildings or government statute that are standing there that are…that’s where they came from. Just like in everything if you’re going to run a fundraising, if you’ve got just a simple spaghetti supper for your church somebody has to be in charge to be able to say, this is what we need. We need these people here, this many knives and spoons and utensils and who needs to come, who needs to cook. So that’s really what the government of the church is. I just wish that that was something that people knew, that they focused more on the connection instead of that government. And then just really talk to those in charge at their church. Hey, what is this UMCOR thing? What is this ministerial education fund? What is this…all of these different apportionments that we give to? What are these special Sundays? Why do we have these awareness Sundays? And when it all boils down to the bottom layer it all comes down to somebody in some small church or some small area had a need and there was a ministry that was built around that. And from that we have grown it. So that’s probably the most important… I just want people to understand what we do together and how good we are together instead of dividing over just a few things. And that happens all the time. In relationships you argue over one or two things. And when you break it away, and you look at the ??? and why are we arguing about this, we find out that some of our reasons can be worked through. Not overlooked. Worked through. And that’s what I love about the United Methodist Church is I have seen things change out of love.

Crystal: One of the things you said about relationship kind of goes back to something you said earlier when you were looking for a church and you landed at Connell United Methodist you said it took you about a year to feel at home there. And I think that’s an important reminder that in building relationships…. I kind of call it the sitcom mentality where you know a network will put a sitcom on for 2 or 3 episodes and when it doesn’t have great ratings that you are handing out the schedule, I’m like, wait. It takes time to get to love these characters and know the story. And that’s true. It takes time to know a church and know the people in the church and see if that’s a fit for you and your family. And so I appreciate that you were really candid that it took you a while to find a place that you’ve now been at for more than 20 years. And I would bet if we talked longer that they haven’t been 20 years where everybody was in agreement about everything every time, because that’s not how relationships happen...

Linda Bruner: You’re exactly right.

Crystal: …in real life. That’s such a great point that you made about when…you know, as the church, as a church family, it is about investing and sowing into those relationships and loving and forgiving one another.

Linda Bruner: Exactly. And that is what the church is. No matter what the denomination it’s about the relationship that you have, first starting with that relationship that we all can agree on; and that relationship with Christ. And all denominations and all churches have a different connection and a different ministry. I just have been very fortunate to fall in love with the church that my dad introduced me to. And that’s the United Methodist Church and that connection. And I think that’s probably another thing I’d like to make sure is that our connection is not just built in money. It’s built in our theology. It’s built in the way that we practice our ministry. It’s built in our relationship, that connection that we have in the relationship that we build together.

Crystal: That’s a really good point. Yeah. It’s not one dimensional at all. Before we go there is a final question that we ask all of our guests. And that is, Linda, what do you do to keep your spirit in shape.

Linda Bruner: And that is a question I knew you were gonna ask me. And I still don’t know that I have the right answer. But it’s my answer. And my answer is, I teach Sunday school. And I also do children’s minute at church. And to do those you have to invest time in the Bible, and you have to read Scripture. And I have learned from my own spirit that while sometimes it’s frustrating preparing for Sunday school or preparing for a children’s minute, it does make me get involved in Scripture. And without Scripture I personally would begin to make my own foundation. And if I begin to make my own foundation of what I think the Scripture says then it all becomes about me and it doesn’t become about God. So for me to keep my spirit in check I have to make sure I am investing time in Scripture. And to make me invest time ‘cause I’m not one of those fantastic people that can just sit down and read the Bible. I’ve got to have a purpose for it. So my purpose is I’ll teach Sunday school, or I’ll do things that I have to lead in some format, if it’s a devotion or something where I have to invest time in Scripture. So that’s how I keep my spirit in check. Plus, an additional piece of that, like we said before, it’s not just one dimensional. I have strong accountable friends that can tell that spiritual accountability. They’ll look at me and say, Linda, you’re off. Let’s talk about it. What’s going on? How can we get back in balance? So, I’d say those 2 things: Scripture and those accountable friends. I have to have those to help me stay in line.

Crystal: Sounds like those are really great. I think you said you weren’t sure it was the right answer. I think it was definitely…it’s the right answer. If that’s helping you, then it is the right answer. And what a blessing to have community of people around you like that, too. Well, Linda, thank you for your work for the United Methodist Church. Thank you for your ministry in your local church. And thank you for being a guest on Get Your Spirit in Shape.

Linda Bruner: Thank you for inviting me. The great thing about this is it really makes you think about who you are and what you do. And I appreciate what you and Joe put out there. And these podcasts are very helpful for me to listen to how other people are keeping themselves in Scripture and how their…the work that they do around the world mirrors the face of Jesus. So I appreciate this podcast and the opportunity.

Epilogue

Crystal: Thank you. That was Linda Bruner, Senior Manager of Connectional Giving and Marketing at United Methodist Communications, the global communications agency of the United Methodist Church. To learn more about Linda and the work she does go to UMC.org/podcast and look for this episode. In addition to the helpful links and a transcript of our conversation you’ll find my email address. You can talk with me about Get Your Spirit in Shape. Thank you so much for joining us for today’s episode of Get Your Spirit in Shape. I look forward to the next time that we’re together. I’m Crystal Caviness.