|Creating a Bountiful
One Couple's Example of Sacrificial Giving
By Michael Fortuna
Setting aside 10 percent of one’s income for God might seem like a daunting task in this age of skyrocketing gas prices and rising home costs, but Tom and Gwen Umlauf of Gainesville have been tithing for more than 50 years as husband and wife. While they have run across some bumps in the road in their journey to meet God’s challenge, it is a pledge they have kept, and will continue to keep as long as they are living.
“I wish so many Catholic families could come to grips with tithing,” Tom said. “It’s such a source of fantastic grace. It’s so significant for us. I’ll go to my grave attesting to it.”
The Umlaufs first met in junior high school in Michigan and later married. While living in Dearborn in the ‘50s and ‘60s they participated in the Christian Family Movement and Cursillo; Tom received a degree in business and finance from the University of Detroit – a Catholic school in the Jesuit tradition.
Tom became intrigued with the idea of tithing three years into his marriage to Gwen. He was reading the Old Testament and came across several references of tithing to Yahweh. Many Christian denominations take tithing seriously, but Tom never really reflected on the subject. He and Gwen contributed the dollars expected of them at the Sunday collection plate, but he felt his life as a Catholic was simply too easy.
“Doesn’t following the life of Jesus demand some sort of sacrifice?” Tom asks. “Some kind of commitment that would be personally difficult? Why was it that I felt so much at ease with Christianity that it was so comfortable to live with?”
For the Umlaufs, the decision to tithe was a giant leap of faith. At the time of Tom’s challenge to his faith, they were rearing two small children with one on the way; they eventually would have seven more. As he learned more about the principle of tithing, he remembers becoming physically ill. He realized he should be giving back 10 percent of his gross earnings, before Social Security and income taxes.
“You have to trust that somehow the Lord will see us through,” Tom said. “There’s so much wealth and materialism, [tithing] keeps us grounded. It’s living simply so others can simply live.”
At times they both wondered if subtracting 10 percent would put a strain on their financial future, but within a year of tithing the Umlaufs were able to meet all of their financial obligations. All the while, Gwen supported him every step of the way with regard to this decision; they also found their faith in God grow and strengthen.
“It’s something we’ve had to grapple with,” Tom said. “It’s a very difficult path to pursue. Now, 53 years later, it’s one of the greatest choices I believe we could have ever made. We were using tithing to deepen the love we had of the church. We didn’t have high paying jobs, but we’ve never had an insufficient amount of funding.”
Tom did veer off the tithing path once. He was the owner of a meat packing company and had to travel all over the Midwest for his business; he didn’t tithe at all that year. It wasn’t until he sat down to do his taxes the following year that he saw the omission.
“It was one of those things, but I rectified it,” Tom said. “I righted the ship and sailed on.”
The Umlaufs moved to Gainesville from Michigan after Tom’s business closed in 1972. At a friend’s urging, Tom and Gwen bought some property in the area and moved their family to the college town. Tom got a job as a resource director for Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, where he worked until retirement. They have attended Holy Faith Catholic Church since arriving to Gainesville – attracted to the close proximity to home as well as its attraction as a very spiritual community with a welcoming feeling.
Through the years Tom was so moved by his experiences with tithing that in 1982 he decided to write his thoughts on paper and developed a 12-page pamphlet titled, How to Create a Bountiful Harvest: A Challenge from God. He wrote it to explain where he and Gwen were coming from in regards to tithing. He gave copies of the pamphlet to some of his closest friends – the reactions he received were mixed.
“Some of them thought I was a little flakey,” Tom said.
After several correspondences with Bishop Victor Galeone, Tom sent him a copy in May.
“From what he told us, he enjoyed it immensely,” Tom said.
Seven Secrets of Successful Stewards
1. Give until it feels good.
2. See not obligation, but opportunity.
3. Give to specifics.
4. Have an ‘attitude of gratitude.’
5. Share various gifts at the right times.
6. Realize God will point the way.
7. See stewardship as a spiritual act.
Source: Catholic Update, August 2005, St. Anthony Messenger Press, www AmericanCatholic.org.