Every year, the Rev. Larry Pray of First Congregational UCC in Big Timber, Mt., goes fishing and reels in a whopper: nearly $1,200 in checks, dollar bills and assorted coins.
"For a small church like ours, that's not bad," Pray says.
First Congregational is among the many churches to fill their cardboard fish boxes and give to the annual "One Great Hour of Sharing" (OGHS) offering.
"Biblically, we are asked to give our tithes and offerings—it isn't either/or," says Pray. "It's tithes andofferings. So to be faithful, we need to give both."
OGHS is the special UCC offering that helps people during times such as natural disasters, political strife or economic crisis. UCC's offering supports international development initiatives, including annual support for approximately 10 missionaries working in health care, education and agricultural development.
"One Great Hour of Sharing makes real the love of Christ around the world," says Susan Sanders, Minister and Team Leader for Global Sharing of Resources. "Each year, over 9 million people, including the 1.4 million members of the UCC, are connected through the mutual sharing of OGHS."
Gifts are used for sustainable development, disaster response, social services and refugee assistance in more than 80 countries, including the United States and Puerto Rico. Ninety-five cents of every dollar contributed to OGHS in the UCC goes to mission, leaving just five cents for promotion.
Pray knows how to cast his line and catch the spirit of giving.
"Well," he says, "for the last four years on Ash Wednesday, as part of receiving your ashes, you receive the fish box as well. Not just to every family, but if there are four people in your family, then your family gets four boxes, kids included. We don't collect the fish back until Easter Sunday; then we reel in the fish.
"We take a great big punch bowl and call the kids up to dump all of the money from the boxes into the punch bowl, and the kids just love it."
OGHS is one of four special offerings of the UCC. Starting in February 2001, the UCC began a new program for special offerings as approved by General Synod 22. This action did not affect the OGHS offering.
"This is a way for us to do a little something, to be part of healing a broken and hurting world," Pray says.