Written by J. Bennett Guess
A new campaign is celebrating the consistent giving of more than 750 UCC congregations that are "5 for 5" in their basic support of Our Church's Wider Mission (OCWM) and the denomination's four special mission offerings.
Hundreds of delegates and visitors at General Synod 24, held July 11-15 in Minneapolis, proudly sported red and white stickers proclaiming their respective home church's achievement: "My church is 5 for 5!"
A 5-for-5 congregation is one that gives to OCWM through its church budget, while also providing parishioners the opportunity to participate in each of OCWM's four special mission offerings received during the year—One Great Hour of Sharing, Neighbors in Need, Strengthen the Church and the Christmas Fund.
In 2002, about 82 percent of the UCC's nearly 6,000 congregations participated—at some level—in National Basic Support of OCWM, but only 13 percent could boast of the 5-for-5 designation.
First UCC in Belvidere, Tenn., is a consistent 5-for-5 congregation. Last year, the 129-member church—with an average of 56 in Sunday worship — contributed $8,349 to OCWM National Basic Support and a combined $5,903 to the four special mission offerings. In addition, the congregation collects 10 more offerings each year to support other important ministries. This year, church members accepted a challenge to raise at least $1,000 to support scholarships at UCC-related Eden Seminary in St. Louis.
"They have always had a tremendous sense of mission giving," says the Rev. John C. Sumner, pastor. "They have made plain their acceptance of a goal set forth by the [Southeast] Conference to contribute 10 percent of their dollars to mission. They have a long, long history of percentage giving."
He says the congregation's commitment to OCWM is the members' doing, not his—even though he frequently teaches about the joy that comes through giving. "When I came here, I accepted their commitment to large mission giving," Sumner says. "And mission giving is always for others."
Sumner says the giving requires intentionality, and stewardship education is a constant process. "It takes interpretation for our newer folks to understand what it means to be connected," he says. "We stand proudly in the Reformed tradition, and we are proud to be UCC."
He says it "feels good" to be a part of a generous congregation. "I continue to tell them how proud I am of them and their giving," he says. "It's so exciting to be happy about something, and giving makes us happy."
The Rev. R. Bary Fleet, pastor of Edgewood Congregational UCC in Cranston, R.I., says his 5-for-5 congregation is "a wonderful combination of folks who come here because they want to make a difference."
Edgewood's depth of OCWM participation comes naturally, he says. "We are a church that likes to think of ourselves as a church in mission," Fleet says. "You have to be looking outside yourself. You can't just be focused on 'how can we survive?'"
In addition to supporting OCWM, the church's local mission work is focused on bridging the stark economic divide that exists between Cranston's wealthier and poorer neighborhoods. "We are very intentional about finding ways to reach across that line," Fleet says.
The Rev. Kate Huey of the UCC's Stewardship and Church Finances Ministry says the 5-for-5 campaign enables the UCC's national and Conference settings "to recognize and celebrate those churches that participate fully in OCWM and encourage others to do so."
Susan Sanders of the UCC's Global Sharing of Resources Ministry says she has learned that local church members are likely to identify differently with each of the church's special mission offerings. "We don't all respond to the same mission needs in the same way," she says.
That's why Sanders applauds churches that intentionally promote all aspects of OCWM, because it provides opportunities for individual members to give to the ministries that mean the most to them.
The number of 5-for-5 churches increased from 700 in 2001 to 764 in 2002, but that number represents only 13 percent of the 5,853 reporting congregations.
Materials to promote OCWM and the special mission offerings are provided without cost and in quantity to every UCC congregation.
In 2002, the Penn West Conference posted the highest participation levels, with 31 percent of its congregations receiving the 5-for-5 designation. The Central Pacific Conference and the Penn Central Conference tied for second at 25 percent.
For more information about efforts to recognize 5-for-5 congregations, contact the Rev. Kate Huey, Stewardship and Church Finances Ministry, by phone at 216/736-3855 or by e-mail email@example.com.