Count your blessings. That simple premise has carried a Lenten mission of a United Church of Christ congregation in Michigan for more than 50 years, and collected thousands of dollars for local charities. And this year, it's helping feed students in need.
It's a great little idea called Blessing Bags. Made with love by the women of First Congregational Church in New Baltimore, Mich., the bags are distributed to members of the congregation just before Lent begins. Families use them to collect coins and cash from Ash Wednesday to Easter. They are counting their blessings, so others can too.
"It is probably my favorite mission project as it makes us think about all the blessings we do have in our lives and they are so many," said Phyllis Maddix, coordinator of the First Congregational mission team. "I also think about all the wonderful people we have had on our church that are no longer with us. Many of them made the Blessing Bags, including my mom. I love that it is pretty unique to our congregation."
During Lent, church members drop money into the Blessing Bags every time they feel blessed. At Easter, they collect the bags and count the tangible evidence of their blessings, which is donated to a local charity.
"We select the recipient of the project for the year by a vote of the mission team members," said Maddix. "Anyone that wants can offer a suggestion. We usually do local charities, but have done others too, such as Habitat for Humanity, and the Heifer Project."
This year, the eight-member mission team will be sending the collection to the area's Feed the Bay Backpack Program. The program, run by volunteers and supported by the community, provides food on weekends to local students in need.
Many members of the New Baltimore church can't remember a time without the Blessing Bags. They have been involved in this project for more than 50 years, since the early 1960's. It started with little cards, which asked congregants to put a dime on the card every time they felt blessed. It changed to Blessing Bags not long after. The drawstring bags are handmade and reused, with a few more added to the collection annually.
"I have been a member of First Congregational Church since the 70's and have participated in the annual Blessing Bags each year since then," said Peggy Sehlmeyer, who is also a member of the missions team. "We have a wonderful, very generous congregation which supports all of our projects."
The church, which gathers 60-70 people in worship each week, counts a lot of blessings during Lent. They usually collect $500-$700 for their designated charity every year.
"As a new member of First Congregational this is my first time using the Blessing Bag," said Simone Campau. "When I receive what I think is some type of blessing it's great to share by filling my bag! I don't know who originally thought of this but I believe it would serve most of us to pay attention to our blessings large and small and recognize them by sharing them with others."