Written by J. Bennett Guess
Jan - Feb 2005
Waves of compassion pour in
An outpouring of more than $330,000 to support the UCC's Tsunami Relief Fund—with more donations arriving daily—is a sign of church members' "incredible compassion," a disaster recovery executive says.
Nearly one-third of the disaster-response gifts have been made online, in numbers and amounts that the UCC's financial development office has never before experienced.
As of Jan. 18, about $198,000 has been received through personal checks and direct congregational gifts, but its a record-setting $112,000 in web-based gifts that has heartened church leaders. Over 1,000 contributors—with dollar amounts totaling more than one-third of all gifts—have elected to give online at ucc.org/disaster to respond immediately and directly to the crisis.
"The incredible compassion of UCC members and friends continues," reports Susan M. Sanders, the UCC's minister for the global sharing of resources, "and we are anticipating significant, additional gifts from UCC congregations to arrive in February" as money is collected by congregations and then funneled through the UCC's 39 Conferences to the denomination's disaster recovery office in Cleveland.
Across the church, a spirit of benevolence is stirring. On top of recent, generous gifts to the UCC's Still Speaking Initiative, congregations are acting quickly to contribute to tsunami relief.
In the UCC's Indiana-Kentucky Conference—which has a longstanding tie with Sri Lanka's Jaffna Diocese of the Church of South India—churches already have contributed about $17,000, says the Rev. Steve Gray, Conference Minister, with "more coming in each day."
At First Parish Congregational UCC in Gorham, Maine, members collected $2,555 for tsunami relief during an "around-the-clock" campaign, where the Rev. Richard L. Small, pastor, and youth minister Eric C. Smith, spent 24 hours above the church's clock tower as a gracious gimmick to collect monetary donations for tsunami victims in addition to canned goods to aid a local food pantry. The congregation also contributed $1,973 for the UCC's disaster recovery effort during a special Sunday morning offering.
At Bethel UCC in Beloit, Ohio, church leaders leveraged giving when they decided the congregation's endowment fund would match members' individual gifts—dollar for dollar. Likewise, a Connecticut congregation set aside $10,000 from a recent bequest to aid the UCC's tsunami relief efforts and put up an additional $10,000 to match individual members' gifts.
Alex Fritz, a teaching "shepherd" for the 4th-grade class at the Vero Beach Community UCC in Florida, said, initially, his students contributed "only pennies." But soon, upon learning more about the disaster, they became energized and started seeking out opportunities to raise additional funds. In little time, they collected $125, an amount Fritz enthusiastically matched from his own pocket.
"At an early age it's important to instill the need to give," Fritz says.
Argusville Congregational UCC in North Dakota, with an average attendance of just 24 members, offered $1,000 for tsunami relief—over and above any individual offerings made by church members.
At the national level, the UCC's Local Church Ministries, one of four covenanted ministries, contributed $20,000 for tsunami relief from its operating budget.
Sanders says that thanks to the UCC's One Great Hour of Sharing special mission offering—received by many churches each spring—the UCC was able to respond within hours of the Dec. 26 disaster with a monetary transfer of $98,000 to its ecumenical partner churches and international relief agencies, including Church World Service and ACT International, both of which the UCC is a founding member.
On Jan. 4, the UCC publicly upped its ecumenical commitment to $300,000, and on Jan. 18, UCC leaders said they would seek to raise an additional $500,000 from UCC members for long-term rehabilitation in the sea-ravaged regions.
"It's so necessary because we're looking at an extended three-month relief time, plus 18 months to two years for recovery time," Sanders explains. "We're going to need to well program every penny that we've received. The $300,000 was our initial goal for relief, but we now have set an additional goal of $500,000 for relief and rehabilitation, and I expect we'll raise it."
In response to an oft-heard request from online donors, Sanders says that web-based givers soon will be able to choose to give on a recurring basis, meaning that contributors can pledge an overall amount but make gifts in installments.
"One of the real teachable moments is that many of the new online givers are new donors who have no identifiable UCC connection," says Sanders. Many donors, she says, are finding online giving through ucc.org/disaster to be "a doorway into participation in the mission and ministry in the UCC."