Still 11 weeks away from the kickoff of Mission:1, little Bethany UCC has sky-high hopes for the national church’s campaign against hunger.
The 67-member church in Lebanon, Ohio, with a huge heart has been practicing the tenets of Mission:1 for decades, says the Rev. Barb Hobe.
On Aug. 28, Hobe and friends plan to take their own Mission:1 promotion to the air.
“We’re inviting 111 people to form the number ‘1’ as a donated plane does fly-bys and takes photos,” says Hobe, who has kept her congregation on track for four years. “That's what Ron Mehl of Nexus UCC and I are organizing for our Southern Ohio Northern Kentucky Association (SONKA).”
Hobe and Mehl are prepared should fewer than 111 people show up. “We’ll have brown grocery bags of food for fillers,” says Hobe. “People can take a bag, hold it over their head or place it on the ground next to them as part of the formation of the ‘1’. "
“We’ll encourage people who don’t have the same opportunity as Bethany does to take a bag, fill it with non-perishables and give it to their local food pantry,” says Hobe.
The Mission:1 campaign centers on the UCC’s motto, “That they may all be 1,” Nov. 1-11, 2011 (11-1-11—11-11-11). During those 11 days, the UCC’s goal is to collect more than 1 million food and household items for local food banks and collect $111,111 in online donations for hunger-related causes. At the same time, it will encourage its 5,300 congregations to advocate for hunger-related causes worldwide via 11,111 letters to Congress.
According to SONKA records, Hobe says Bethany is one of the top three per-capita giving churches in the Association. For years, Bethany members have donated non-perishables to the Lebanon Community Center's Food Pantry.
“Once a month, heavy boxes of donations from local companies are unloaded, while other people fill boxes and bags with food, health and cleaning items, and paper products to give to people who qualify for services,” Hobe explains.
Half of the proceeds from a rented cell-phone tower (on land owned by the church) are given to the Food Pantry each year; the other half goes to the Interfaith Hospitality Network, which Bethany has worked with for more than 10 years.
In July, Bethany helped sponsor IHN's main fund-raiser. “When the church was invited to sponsor a back-to-school special for IHN children, $700 was given out of pocket for seven children to receive haircuts, new shoes, new outfits, backpacks and supplies to start school,” she says.
At Christmas, Bethany members donate non-perishables for baskets given to people who are referred from Lebanon Community Services. “The perishables are purchased from our Christmas Basket Fund,” says Hobe. “Last year 20 families were given several days' worth of food, complete with homemade cookies and a greeting card made by a member.”
Funding for the Christmas baskets comes from budgeting and the receipt of half of the proceeds from a Christmas raffle hosted by a local restaurant, Country Kitchen. “For the past three years, Country Kitchen has held this raffle, and last year's check was almost $500,” says Hobe.
Hobe praised Walter Murray, the owner of Country Kitchen, for his constant compassion and open door.
“Whenever someone in need stops by the church and asks for food, I take them to Country Kitchen,” she says. “Walt donates half the price of the meals, and Bethany provides the other half, plus tip. The wholesome, homemade food is eaten after I have put up to $40 of gasoline into the person's car or truck.”
In addition, Bethany has risen to the challenge the past few years as a “5 for 5 Church,” which supports Our Church’s Wider Mission through its church budget as well as through OCWM's four special mission offerings received annually – One Great Hour of Sharing, Neighbors in Need, Strengthen the Church and the Christmas Fund.
Hobe feels strongly that Bethany embodies the spirit of Mission:1 and is a prime example of a past UCC branding campaign: “To believe is to care. To care is to do.”
“That’s what I see a lot of Mission:1 being,” she says. “We get out there and we do, because that’s what Jesus tells us to do. We’re just kind of doing Matthew 25.
“We worship an extravagant God who has poured an extravagant Spirit of generosity into our hearts. May it touch hearts to know that we are listening and responding to our still-speaking God all the time – and particularly with Mission:1.”