Across the UCC: Chronic philanthrophy
Written by Edited by Carol L. Pavlik
June 2004

Carol L. Pavlik

Churches raise funds to support chronically ill

For Oklahoma congregation, giving is receiving

Bob Fultz, a member of Community of Hope UCC in Tulsa, Okla., does what he can to help. In Murdock Villa, the apartment complex where he lives, shut-ins know they can call on Fultz if they need someone to run an errand or pick something up at the grocery store.

Even in bad weather, Fultz is not discouraged. "He is more dependable than the post office!" says his pastor, the Rev. Leslie Penrose. There's something else you should know about Bob. He's got cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair.

"I try to give back," says Fultz. "I believe you can't outgive God." Fultz makes most of his trips in his electric wheelchair, but every so often an errand sends him further away from home, requiring use of his van, specially equipped to accommodate him and his wheelchair. Fultz also relies on the van to get him to church each Sunday.

 

Last summer, Fultz's van needed extensive repairs and was deemed unsafe to drive.

Fultz, who lives on a fixed income, knew the cost of repairs was beyond his means. This time it was his turn to ask for help.

Penrose put out an e-mail on a Monday afternoon, and by Thursday, enough donations had come in from 18 different members and friends of the church to cover the $1,000-plus bill for the repairs. Fultz was back on the road with the wheels he so heavily relied on, without missing a Sunday at Community of Hope.

Fultz says he was speechless when the donations came in from church friends, "but it didn't really surprise me," he says. "I've seen this community do amazing things before."

Penrose says it's Fultz who is amazing. "Most people would look at us repairing his van as our blessing to him, but it was really in order for him to be present in our midst because he is so important," she says. "Every week he says or does something that reminds us who God is, and where God is."

Virginia church raises $100,000 for American Cancer Society

Members of Oakland Christian UCC in Suffolk, Va., have been participating in the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, the organization's largest fundraiser, since it began in that area in 1995. At the Relay, faith communities assemble teams to walk, run or rock in a rocking chair on a track for the event's duration. Luminaria, purchased by donations, illuminate the track in the all-night event.

Rana Weaver, Relay for Life's team coordinator at Oakland Christian, says the congregation is proud of the money it has raised for the event. Two years ago, the church placed in the top three among participating businesses, hospitals and faith communities.

The American Cancer Society is a nationwide community-based voluntary health organization. Funds are channeled through ACS for research, education, advocacy and service.

The Relay for Life is just one way Oakland Christian Church supports ACS. Throughout the year, the church holds other fundraisers, including hair cut-a-thons (participants get a hair cut from one of the church's many professional hairdressers in exchange for a $10 donation to ACS), and an annual pie sale, this year resulting in orders for a whopping 1,130 homemade pies. Using the church's ovens and those at a nearby fi re station, church members baked pies for an entire week at the rate of 24 pies per hour to raise an excess of $5,900 for ACS.

Weaver explains that raising money for the American Cancer Society has become a passion for the congregation. "Every day we're finding out more and more church members or family of church members who have cancer," she says. "We felt we needed to be a vital part of the fundraising efforts." Since 1995, the church has raised well over $100,000 to combat cancer.

Benefit aids those with chronic conditions

St. John's UCC in Coopersburg, Pa., is holding its third annual benefit for a local resident this July, continuing its new tradition of reaching out and helping community residents plagued with chronic illness. Over the past two years, the congregation has raised over $20,000—first for a local woman suffering from lupus, then last year for Jon Zinn, a kidney transplant recipient.

Proceeds from this year's benefit will go to Laurie Hersh, who suffers from amaloidosis, a rare disease that attacks the organs. Hersh is a member of the St. John's congregation, but the Rev. Rick Guhl says that it is not a pre-requisite in order to receive help. Hersh was chosen from a long list of possible recipients because of the immediate nature of her financial need.

The July 25 benefit will be preceded by an outdoor church service, coinciding with the anniversary of the fi rst communion ever celebrated at St. John's. The afternoon's events will include an auction of goods and services donated by local businesses as well as food booths, entertainment and pony rides and other games for the children.

"Folks hear about it and want to respond," says Guhl, who says the benefits have helped his church look beyond the building's four walls. Up until last year, Guhl says, "We had this albatross of a mortgage hanging around our neck. Fortunately, we paid it off. It's enabled us to redirect our energies in a more positive direction."

Last year's benefit gained the attention of both the local Lutheran church and a bank, who offered matching funds. And helping a family get out from under the burden of outstanding medical bills gives the folks at St. John's a sense of purpose. "We've gotten a good identity through the community from this, as a church that really cares," says Guhl. "It has added a spectacular outreach dimension to our congregation's life."

Checking in

Green Bay, WI
Several congregations representing diverse denominations met at Union Congregational UCC in Green Bay, Wis., on May 8 to launch project JOSHUA (Justice Organization Sharing Hope and United for Action) to press city and state governments to tackle issues such as affordable housing, alcohol-abuse treatment in place of jail time and tuition assistance for immigrants. "I think this is an extremely important opportunity to come together and offer a voice, identify common ground and speak with enthusiasm and passion about what's important in our community," the Rev. Kay Krejci said. (Press-Gazette)

Fairfield, CT
The Dogwood Festival at Greenfield Hill Congregational UCC, which attracts thousands of New Englanders each year, celebrated its 69th installment May 7-10. Proceeds enable the congregation to financially support nearly 20 justice-related causes each year, including Church World Service, Planned Parenthood, Yale Divinity School's scholarships for women, and ministries with Dakota Indians.

Washington County, OR
When a Muslim speaker was removed from the program of the Washington County Mayors' Prayer Breakfast in early May, some pastors said Jesus would have preferred it that way. One said the Bible commands Christians to "teach against" other religions. But the Rev. Diane Dulin, pastor of First Congregational UCC in Hillsboro, Ore., joined other pastors in calling for religious tolerance. "My desire is to minimize the chasm," she said. (Oregonian)

St. Paul, MN
On May 9, during the final installment of the 25th annual Music in the Park series, a power outage at St. Anthony Park UCC left a classical quartet and its admirers sitting in the dark. But determined neighborhood residents responded with offerings of candles and fl ashlights. Even extension cords were run from across the street to enable the show to continue. "Nothing was permitted to get in the way of the excellent music making," wrote reviewer William Randall Beard. (Star-Tribune)


Coffin

'I am UCC'

My understanding of Christianity is that it underlies all progressive moves to implement more justice, get a higher degree of peace in the world. The impulse to love God and neighbor, that impulse is at the heart of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. No question about it—we have much more in common than we have in conflict. (from an interview with PBS' Bill Moyers)

The Rev. William Sloane Coffin
Pastor, prophet, author and activist
Member, The United Church of Strafford, Vt.

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700 Prospect Ave.
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