'Magi Project' hopes to double donations within three years
The UCC's Pension Boards is launching the Magi Project, a three-year initiative striving to double donations to the Christmas Fund, one of the denomination's four special mission offerings.
For decades, the Christmas Fund — formerly known as "Veterans of the Cross" — has helped provide supplemental monies for pension and health insurance premiums to low-income retirees. At Christmas, the offering provides gift checks to hundreds of annuitants, but it also provides emergency assistance to clergy and lay employees and their families throughout the year.
The Rev. M. Douglas Borko, director of ministerial assistance at the Pension Boards, says that in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent rising cost of energy, now is a good time for churches to think about upping their annual giving to the Christmas Fund.
After Katrina pounded the Gulf Coast, the Christmas Fund was able to allocate funds to completely pay two quarters worth of insurance premiums for 10 retired clergy who were displaced in the FEMA-declared zip codes. An additional $5,000 went towards premiums of active clergy in those same affected zip codes.
Borko says the Christmas Fund is also sponsoring an energy grant, which will be distributed after the first of January 2006. All retired lay employees and clergy who have accounts with the Pension Boards will receive a one-time gift of $50 towards the cost of energy this winter. Those receiving ministerial assistance will receive $75.
"We're recognizing that the impact of Katrina was far beyond New Orleans," Borko says. "Everyone is going to be affected by the energy crisis that came out of it." He notes that all retired clergy with existing accounts with the Pension Boards will automatically receive the grant; retired UCC clergy without accounts may apply to receive it.
Of course, Christmas is not the only time a church can remember the Christmas Fund. While most churches find Christmastime to be an opportune time to lift up the special offering as a seasonal emphasis on mission giving, other churches opt for the Christmas in July Offering. Posters, PowerPoint presentations and worship materials for both December and July options are available through the Pension Boards' office.
The legacy of giving
Legacy Gifts, in the form of bequests or other planned gifts, are another way that churches and individuals are supporting the Christmas Fund.
This summer, Chicago's St. Phillipus UCC, located on the south side of Chicago, voted to close its doors. The proceeds from the sale of the building and assets were divided among five different ministries, among them the Christmas Fund. This fall, Borko gratefully accepted a check for $120,000 on behalf of the Christmas Fund.
"The income from the investment will be used to enhance the annual giving to the Christmas Fund each year," he says.
Back in the 1800s, when the program was established, the lives of clergy were different, acknowledges Borko. Right now, the Christmas Fund is looking at two major trends that are affecting clergy and their finances.
"We are looking at the impact of second-career clergy who have shorter careers," Borko says. "Our pension program is built on the assumption of paying 14 percent of your dues over a 30-year span to provide adequate retirement income. Length of ministry now is far below 30 years."
In addition, the climbing divorce rate has touched the lives of clergy just as it has the rest of the population.
"The number of divorces in clergy households is higher than most people would guess," he says. "That has dramatic impacts on both the spouse who is non-clergy and the clergy spouse. We are evaluating how our program of benefiting through the Christmas Fund applies in those situations."
No matter how much money is in the Christmas Fund, says Borko, it's paramount that clergy, spouses/ partners and lay employees know that it is there to help them.
"We want to provide the highest quality of life possible for the people we work with, while preserving their dignity," he says.
Borko has seen families overwhelmed by the sudden financial strain brought on by illness, an automobile accident or a fire. In the business of caring for others, Borko says many clergy feel uneasy asking for help for themselves.
"I try to reassure them that they've worked their whole lives for the church," he says. "The church is an institution that cares for its people, and they've been doing that through their whole ministry. Now it's time for them to be cared for in their hour of need."
'My father, a UCC minister, had a very small pension'
Iowa church gets personal, boosts offering
Urbandale UCC in Iowa has taken a significant step toward increasing the church's support for the Christmas Fund, the denomination's special mission offering that assists retired church workers in need.
During last year's Advent season, Richard Boyer, the son of a UCC minister and Urbandale's mission chair, shared his family's story with the congregation.
"[My father] had a very small pension," says Boyer. "After he died, my mother called to ask me what the 'second check from the Pension Boards' was for." Boyer explained to her that it was probably a Veterans of the Cross (Christmas Fund) gift.
By sharing how the offering had helped his own family and explaining how the Christmas Fund is used to help UCC retirees and their families, people opened their hearts — and their wallets.
The previous year, Urbandale UCC had allocated about $250 in support of the Christmas Fund. But, after Boyer and his committee made special appeals (including asking all retired ministers and all children of ministers in the congregation to stand), giving increased by over $3,000 in 2004.
Afterwards, Boyer excitedly reported the results to the Pension Boards. "Next year,"
Learn more about the Christmas Fund
For promotional materials, contact UCC Resources at 800-537-3394 or 800-325-7061
Contact the Rev. M. Douglas Borko, at email@example.com or 800/642-6543 x2716
A monthly feature about spirituality
There seems to be one thing about which most people can agree: greed is rampant in American life. The idea that "enough is never enough" threatens our very existence.
The deadly sin of greed is defined as the inordinate love of money and material possessions, and the compulsive behavior that is driven by the need to have more and more of both. The truly greedy person is never content and is willing to sacrifice everything (and everyone) to acquire more. Also known as "avarice" and "covetousness," we see it in corporate bandits, sports idols, and legions of preachers hawking "prosperity theology."
Honesty also dictates that we confess to being guilty of this sin ourselves and that, to some degree, we are all hypocrites when it comes to condemning greed in others, while going easy on ourselves. But just when we need to bring the word back into the pulpit, we seem to have lost our nerve. We can talk about anything in church except money. It is the "last taboo."
Perhaps it would be helpful if we made a more careful distinction between greed and desire — because the truth is, we all "want" things, and this is not always a bad thing.
J. Philip Wogaman, a Christian ethicist, has offered a very helpful distinction between "intrinsic" and "instrumental" values. We want some things because they are of value in and of themselves, while we want others things because they instrumental in acquiring something else. Our society has the tendency to treat human relationships and other intrinsic values as if they were instrumental ones, measurable in purely economic terms. This is the spirit of the old aphorism: love people and use things, don’t use people and love things.
Moral philosophers do not consider the pursuit of wealth as sinful or the wealthy as inherently sinful. What matters is how that wealth was acquired, at what cost, for what purpose and to what end. More important is our failure to regard all blessings as having come from God. Biblically speaking, being rich is not a sin, but being stingy is.
We can, however, "want wisely," by always asking whether the things we desire have intrinsic or merely instrumental value. In Judaism, one is to use wealth "for the sake of heaven." For Christians, the word is stewardship. Either way, knowing what money is and what it is for is a mark of true faith. Seeing how high you can stack it is pathetic.
The Rev. Robin Meyers is senior minister of Mayflower UCC in Oklahoma City and is professor of rhetoric in the philosophy department at Oklahoma City University. His latest book, The Virtue in the Vice: Finding Seven Lively Virtues in the Seven Deadly Sins is available at HCIbooks.com.
A monthly feature about the history of the United Church of Christ
Calling someone 'pious' in today"s society sends a mixed message. It might mean that you think the person is devout and reverent. But it also might mean that you think the person has a conspicuous, false or even hypocritical way of being religious. For this reason most of us avoid using the word 'pious.'
Yet, Christian Pietism has a great history, and being pious is a Christian virtue. Throughout the 18th and 19th century Pietism produced many popular Protestant devotional books that put stress on the emotional and personal aspects of religion. New England Congregationalists encouraged spiritual habits that cultivated inward piety. In central Europe, Pietism shaped a grassroots religious movement that revitalized the religious life of ordinary people.
One book that inspired Pietism was 'Pia Desidera,' by Philipp Jakob Spener (published in 1675). Spener suggested six ways to reform Christianity. He thought that Christians should read and study scripture more, especially in groups; they should cultivate spiritual leadership; they should strive to express active Christian love instead of seeking religious knowledge; they should avoid controversy; they should support good theological education for clergy; and they should demand better preaching. His discussion of Bible study emphasized the need to nurture an 'inner' understanding of Christianity. 'It is not enough that we hear the Word with our outward ear, but we must let it penetrate to our heart, so that we may hear the Holy Spirit speak there, that is, with vibrant emotion and comfort feel the sealing of the Spirit and the power of the Word.'
Pietist writers like Spener shaped the practices of German Reformed laity and clergy during late 18th and early 19th century revivals on the American frontier. Pietism was especially significant in the mid-18th century among Midwestern German Evangelical immigrants, because Swiss German missionaries that came to the United States to serve German Evangelical churches had been trained at institutes in Basel and Barmen where German Pietism flourished. They emphasized the experience of salvation, rather than beliefs. They understood when people said they were impatient with church politics, doctrinal squabbles and ecclesiastical authoritarianism.
Pietism focuses upon inward religious experience and action. Pietism nurtures the idea that 'creeds are testimonies, rather than tests of faith.' Furthermore, Pietism motivated the German Evangelical Synod to found dozens of hospitals, institutions, and enterprises to meet the special needs of the sick, the disabled, the orphaned and the disadvantaged. The United Church of Christ can be proud of its roots in Christian Pietism.
The Rev. Barbara Brown Zikmund, a missionary associate for the Global Ministries Board, teaches American Studies at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan.
She is the administrator of an HIV health care clinic. He directs choral choirs, handbell choirs, and a jazz quartet at his church. She conducts a Christian Theater Arts Camp each summer. What do all of these people have in common? They are Commissioned Ministers in the United Church of Christ.
Commissioned Ministry is an authorized form of ministry in the UCC that emerged in 1984 from the category of Commissioned Worker. The UCC "Manual on Ministry" lists several areas in which a person may be commissioned: Christian education, church administration, church music, UCCrelated missionary work, Conference and denominational staff work, and certain ministries of advocacy or community change. There are currently 124 Commissioned Ministers in the UCC.
Everyone who has sought to become a Commissioned Minister has had to discern and recognize a call from God to a specific ministry.
"It was only when I found out about Commissioned Ministry that I was able to answer a call I had felt for many years," says Ellie Sanders, Commissioned Minister of the Arts at Bethlehem UCC in Evansville, Ind. "Without the Commissioned Ministry process, I might still be fumbling around trying to find ways to respond to it within the constraints of my own life. I am convinced that this is part of God's plan for my life, and that all the years I worked in theater and teaching were preparing me for this work."
Christy Trudo, Lay Leadership and Ministry Coordinator in the UCC's Parish Life and Leadership Ministry, reminds us that the ministries of word and sacrament require ordination. "But," she says, "if one's sense of call does not clearly lead in that direction at the outset of the discernment process, it is important to consider commissioning as a possibility for authorization."
When asked why she decided to become a Commissioned Minister, Deborah Diehl, President of the Board for Children's Ministries of America, answers, "I sought commissioning because I felt a call to ministry in Christian Education, a call to teaching, and a call to ministry with children.
"I felt no sense of calling around marriages, baptisms, funerals, pastoral visits, or any of the other ministry areas that are fulfilled by those who are called to be ordained. I also chose commissioning because I wanted to feel I was still part of the people. In essence, I did not want to be Ôset apart.'"
For Tim Brown of the UCC Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns, "Commissioning was a natural response to my call to work for the Coalition. I needed to respond to God's tapping on my shoulder with ministerial acknowledgment from my denomination."
As the administrator of Matthew 25 AIDS Services in Henderson, Ky., Cyndee Burton says that her commissioned minister status has provided the education and discernment needed to do her work. "It has allowed me to provide a more solid and holistic ministry," she says. "I feel comfortable including spirituality and prayer in the care I provide."
The Association of United Church Educators is sponsoring "A Resolution Affirming the Essential Role of Commissioned Ministry as an Authorized Ministry of the United Church of Christ" at General Synod 24 this summer in Minneapolis. According to Ruth Hainsworth, Commissioned Minister of Christian Education and Chair of the Association of United Church Educators, the resolution "already has and should continue to raise the level of discussion on Commissioned Ministry throughout the denomination."
When the Commissioned Ministers in the New Hampshire Conference gathered recently to talk about their ministries, they were asked what difference being a Commissioned Minister has made. One answer surfaced from each of their responses: The Commissioning process provides an opportunity for us to pull together everything we've always known about our faith, our passions, and God's role in it all. Our ministries are then affirmed by our denomination as well as our Conference, association, and congregations. This validates what we know to be God's work through us.
Deborah Gline Allen is a Commissioned Minister of Christian Education and Consultant for Christian Education for the UCC's New Hampshire Conference.
More information about Commissioned Ministry can be found in the Commissioned Ministry section of the UCC Manual on Ministry, available from United Church Resources at 800-537-3394.
On Oct. 24, 2001, six weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Congress passed a law "to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes." The House voted 356 to 66, and the Senate, 90 to 1, to support the USA Patriot Act.
Quickly pulled together in an environment of fear about terrorism, the law consolidates tremendous new powers in the executive branch of government, and greatly enlarges the government's ability to conduct surveillance, detain immigrants, conduct searches and seizures, and prosecute political dissidents. Today, more than 18 months after the attacks, U.S. citizens are growing more concerned about our government's ability to suspend civil liberties and silence political dissent. Now, bureaucratic power is further consolidated with the creation of the new U.S. Department for Homeland Security. Meanwhile, our government has been busily preparing for war with Iraq while simultaneously fighting a war on terrorism with nebulous boundaries and no end in sight.
Why is this important? Take a walk with me on any day, anywhere in the United States. Let's go to the grocery store for beans and rice. No cash? Use the debit card. Your information is captured. We visit the doctor and pay for the lab tests. Information captured. Call a friend from a cell phone. Captured. Make a monthly payment through customer service and provide your social security number. Surf the web. Captured.
Was there anything there that might be construed by an observer to be unpatriotic? New laws make it possible for the government to monitor calls, email, and conversations in homes, offices, and cars. Our smallest movements can be known and we will never know.
The FBI has created an online database called the Terrorist Information System that contains data on more than 200,000 individuals and 3,000 organizations. It contains information not only on subjects of investigations, but on contacts and potential witnesses as well. In itself, this may seem like a necessary thing. But when we operate out of fear, without proper safeguards, such an information system can endanger the privacy of a whole people.
This is not the first time in this country that we have responded to fear by clamping down on individual liberties. Just as Arab Americans are being suspected of terrorist plots based on nothing other than their heritage, we also imprisoned dissidents during World War I for speaking out against the war, and we incarcerated Japanese Americans during World War II. In the 1960s and '70s, the FBI's counterintelligence program COINTELPRO was a massive operation to infiltrate, disrupt, and otherwise interfere with the lawful activities of civil rights advocates, religious bodies, and others.
As history teaches us: Once the government has successfully curtailed our civil liberties, it is very difficult to roll back on these infringements.
All people in the United States have rights. Regardless of our citizenship status, we do not have to answer any questions by any law enforcement agent. We do not have to sign any paper without a lawyer present. We do not have to let the police, the FBI, the INS, or anyone else come into our homes or search our offices without a warrant. We do not have to answer questions about immigration status. We are protected under the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable seizures. We have the right to advocate for changes in laws and government practices under the First Amendment.
I believe it is our duty as true patriots to act now to support our human rights to privacy and peace.
The Rev. Sala W.J. Nolan is Minister for Criminal Justice and Human Rights with the UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries.
For information on defending our civil liberties, go to the Center for Constitutional Rights www.ccr-ny.org or the Public Eye www.publiceye.org. For the full text of the USA Patriot Act, go to www.epic.org.