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PATHWAYS Theological Education program appeals to nontraditional students seeking careers in ministry
Heidi Hulme, of Faith United Church of Christ in Davenport, Iowa, was married with a family when she "tripped" into the Christian education director position at her church. While she knew traditional seminary was not the right path for her, she still felt a pull to full-time ministry. Looking for an alternative route, she became a licensed children's and youth pastor in 2008 through classes offered by the Iowa Conference of the UCC, and is currently enrolled in the PATHWAYS Theological Education program, with hopes of becoming an ordained UCC minister.
"When I read about the PATHWAYS opportunity, it was a no-brainer for me," said Hulme. "It was the only way I saw myself getting to the point of being prepared for the possibility of ordination. This is the perfect PATHWAY for a 'non-traditionalist' like me."
In response to the changing culture of ministerial authorization in the UCC and in an effort to address leadership training needs, the PATHWAYS Theological Education program was launched in Nov. 2011 by the Southeast Conference of the UCC to minister to aspiring learners in theological and ministerial training. The mission of PATHWAYS is to bring together the best of traditional theological education and the contemporary experiences of the church toward new ministry models by offering affordable, accessible and high-quality theological education to lay and authorized leaders.
Open to the wider UCC church, PATHWAYS carries on the legacy of the TAP (Theology Among the People) program used to train lay leaders within the Southeast Conference for a decade. But unlike the TAP program that took place in a classroom setting, PATHWAYS courses are offered online, encouraging partnerships with other conferences and providing accessibility to distance learners. Also, while TAP offered one curriculum designed for lay leaders, PATHWAYS offers training at three different levels, with the second and third levels designed for those seeking authorization in the UCC.
"PATHWAYS is a continuation of the TAP program in the sense that it is a regional theological education program that is conference based, but it is also replacing the TAP program in the sense that we are doing things differently," said the Rev. Sarah Kim, executive director of theological education and dean of PATHWAYS. "We are truly representing an alternative pattern of theological education that aims to prepare our church leaders — a different strategy for a changing world."
PATHWAYS curriculum is built specifically around the Marks of Faithful and Effective Authorized Ministers. Courses are developed and facilitated by an ecumenical group of educators from seminaries and universities, and by ordained clergy and licensed ministers from a variety of denominations who have excelled in local church ministry and other specialized ministries. Each level of the curriculum involves a learning community of 10-15 people. Level 1 is a two-year program designed for lay leaders seeking foundational training in theology and ministry. Level 2 is a 15-month program designed for licensed ministry in a local church setting, and the Level 3 program is 17-month course designed to prepare lay and licensed ministers for ordination in the UCC.
In January of 2012, PATHWAYS also implemented the Global Theological Education (GTE) immersion trip, where participants from the Southeast Conference and students from Lancaster Theological Seminary take a three-week immersion experience to Thailand.
This summer, PATHWAYS recognizes five graduates from the Level 2 program and by Dec. 2014 will have seven graduates from the Level 1 program. There are currently three people enrolled in the Level 3 program, Kim said.
"We have built and are implementing all three Levels of the PATHWAYS program since it launched in 2011," said Kim.
While Kim is not sure there is a "typical" PATHWAYS student, she said there are certain characteristics they share. Many are not interested in attending traditional seminary due to factors such as location, cost, and full-time jobs and families, but they wish to prepare themselves for authorized ministry. They are learners who are able to communicate online and enjoy the flexibility that comes with distance learning, and many are already serving in churches, often in rural areas, and want to continue their education and training.
"The online learning platform does allow a virtual community where learners find strong bonds with one another, get important feedback, and feel a sense of community," Kim said. "Sometimes this type of social context is critical to those serving small churches in rural areas as sole pastors."
Marsha Brown is another student who found success through the PATHWAYS program. After a friend introduced her to Holy Trinity Community Church UCC in Nashville, Tenn., Brown began the TAP program in 2008 during a period of discontent and uncertainty in her life. She has since graduated from the TAP program and is currently completing Level 2 of PATHWAYS, with plans to continue to Level 3 for ordination. She is involved in pastoral care work at Holy Trinity and Phoenix Christian Church in Wildersville, Tenn., where she also preaches once or twice a month. For Brown, these programs helped her figure out her life's true calling during a time when she couldn't find the answers.
"Prior to this, I had moments of wanting to enter into the ministry, but really had no idea of how or in what position or title," Brown said. "I knew I wanted to delve into the scriptures more and I was thirsting for knowledge. So the new chapter in my life began."
On the anniversary of the United Church of Christ's historic vote to take action to lessen the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, United Church Funds announced the launch date of a new fossil-fuel-free investment fund. The Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund is a domestic core equity fund that will be free of investments in U.S. companies extracting or producing fossil fuels, and is targeted to open for investment on Oct. 1, 2014.
"Our staff has worked hard this year since General Synod to identify appropriate investment options and managers for this fund," said Donald G. Hart, president of UCF. "Our final manager selection will be based on total investment commitments from current and new investors."
The UCC became the first mainline religious denomination to vote to move toward divestment from fossil fuel companies as one strategy to combat climate change on July 1, 2013, at General Synod 29 in Long Beach, Calif. The resolution calls for enhanced shareholder engagement in fossil fuel companies, an intensive search for fossil-fuel-free investment vehicles, and the identification of "best in class" fossil fuel companies by General Synod 30, taking place June 26-30, 2015.
Since the resolution's passage, UCF and The Pension Boards of the UCC, the denomination's main investment vehicles, have been actively engaged in various levels of shareholder activism, using the process of shareholder engagement to work toward the goals of the UCC resolution. The Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund is another step toward meeting those goals, which the Rev. Geoffrey Black, UCC general minister and president, says is a realization of the UCC's act of prophetic witness on climate.
"As stewards of God's creation, we must continue to grow in our commitment to initiatives like this if we are to have a sustainable future on earth," said Black. "The United Church of Christ's support of this fund will make it possible for others to follow."
With a commitment of $10 million in seed money from the United Church of Christ Board's Investment and Endowment Committee, UCF will be able to offer a fund based on the S&P 500 index, free of fossil fuel companies and inclusive of UCF's traditional set of exclusionary screens, which eliminate companies that conflict with the values of the investor. However, UCF's preferred outcome would require a total commitment of at least $20 million, with which UCF would be able to offer an enhanced index fund that provides an opportunity for higher investment returns.
Investors who are interested in shifting part or all of their domestic core equity allocation to the Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund can visit the fund's website or send an email to BFFfund@ucfunds.org to receive a call from a UCF staff member. After Aug. 31, 2014, UCF will make a determination on fund style and manager based on investor commitments to the new fund.
"We, who are dedicated to protecting our planet, appreciate UCF's fidelity in fulfilling the commitment they made at General Synod," said the Rev. Jim Antal, conference minister of the Massachusetts Conference of the UCC who spearheaded the UCC's resolution to move toward divestment. "I urge UCC churches and conferences to prayerfully consider an investment in this fund."
Update - June 26: On Wednesday, June 25, Marco Tulio was granted an order of supervision for one year by Immigration Custom Enforcement, allowing him to stay in the United States with his family.
Marco Tulio is desperately trying to stay in the United States with his wife and children. But complications with Immigration Custom Enforcement (ICE) and other aspects of the legal system make his deportation seem more likely every day. On Wednesday, June 25, advocates from the United Church of Christ and a number of immigrant rights groups will rally together in Arizona to support the Tulio family in their time of desperation by accompanying Tulio to submit one more request for a stay of removal and offering him sanctuary at Shadow Rock UCC in Phoenix.
"Marco Tulio is a human being with a beautiful family doing the best he can do," said the Rev. Ken Heintzelman, pastor of Shadow Rock UCC. "This is the bottom line which motivates the actions of our congregation."
Tulio previously had a stay of removal from deportation, but despite numerous attempts to apply for renewal, ICE has refused to accept his applications. On Wednesday, Tulio, joined by clergy including Heintzelman and the Rev. John Dorhauer, conference minister of the Southwest Conference of the UCC, will once again deliver a request for a stay of removal, as well as an order of supervision, which would require Tulio to check into an ICE facility once per year. After submitting his applications, Tulio will take sanctuary at Shadow Rock UCC until ICE grants him deferred action or an order of supervision, ensuring that he can remain in the United States with his family.
"We have long witnessed families unjustly torn apart by an overzealous government agency whose policies are executed with little regard for family security," said Dorhauer. "I am proud of Shadow Rock UCC, and of the pastor the Rev. Ken Heinzelman, for showing the courage of their convictions and taking Marco Tulio into sanctuary. May it be that he finds in their loving arms the safety that America refused to offer him."
Shadow Rock UCC was initially involved to offer assistance to other congregations that were in line to provide sanctuary to Tulio, as a sanctuary church option would improve his leverage in the case. But as options – and time – began to run out, Heintzelman felt it was his duty and responsibility to offer his church as the safe space Tulio and his family needed to ensure they could stay together.
"The offer of sanctuary is like a card the legal team has but does not want to play unless they have to," Heintzelman said. "I understand that part of my pastoral office is to provide sanctuary as a sign of God's mercy to whoever I discern God has brought to us."
After much conversation, the board of Shadow Rock UCC voted unanimously on June 17 to support Heintzelman's offer of sanctuary for Tulio, which will be recognized with a community worship service at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.
"Marco's life is caught up in the machinations of a broken system arbitrarily enforcing unjust laws created by bigotry and unfounded fears," Heintzelman said. "The congregation of Shadow Rock United Church of Christ wants to stand between Marco Tulio and the system which would rip him away from his family, thus we offer him and his family sanctuary.
"We do not know, nor can we help, every deserving and suffering family that lives under the threat of deportation and devastation, but we do know Marco, his family, and his story," Heintzelman continued. "We stand with him and act with compassion and justice. All other political, economic, and legal arguments and rhetoric fail in the light of this human family and their need."
Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago is making some upgrades to its facility, and doing so with the good of the earth in mind. Under the leadership of the Rev. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity UCC, the church is working to raise funds to replace its current roof with a green roof, which will provide the church environmental and financial benefits, while preparing it for a sustainable future.
"We have a leader with a vision and the chutzpah to get it done," said Ramona Westbook, Trinity UCC member and an architect who is helping with the project. "We talk about the people who have a mind to build. Well this is our wall, and this is our time, and this is our opportunity to be part of some amazing stewardship."
Trinity UCC's Raise the Roof campaign launched last fall and is seeking to collect $5 million in the next three to five years to complete the green roof project, as well as other infrastructure improvements such as replacing roofs on other properties, updating heating and cooling systems, modernizing the worship center, and repaving parking lots. The Raise the Roof campaign has already received $4.1 million in donations towards its goal from Trinity UCC members.
"This is a tremendous response from 1,026 members and households from Trinity United Church of Christ," said the Rev. Mark A. Smith, Trinity UCC's minister of stewardship. "The members are overly excited about the campaign, as has been exemplified through sharing their Raise the Roof testimonies during Trinity UCC's regular worship services."
The Raise the Roof campaign website lists several benefits the green roof will provide the church and the surrounding community, such as providing insulation to the building, increasing the church's green space, and absorbing and cleansing rainwater. The roof could also provide space for urban gardening and help mitigate the "heat island" effect that can cause higher temperatures in urban areas that have few trees and little green space. Green roofs are also known to have longer lifespans than traditional roofs and decrease the amount of energy a building needs to operate.
Preliminary stages of the project are already in the works. The project's Feasibility Committee has provided reports detailing research and recommendations for moving towards energy efficiency and sustainability, and the church had a site assessment conducted by a sustainability services firm. On March 19, Trinity UCC had a lighting audit conducted, and on March 21, met with a project manager from the firm that will advise the planning and phasing of the project with LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification as an objective. At this time, a timeline to begin construction and to complete the roof has not been set.
"Taking advantage of the latest in green technologies as we reinvigorate our aging infrastructure is a wonderful way to match what we preach with what we practice," Smith said on the Raise the Roof campaign website. "It is truly a blessing for me to be in a position to witness our church moving into this exciting area."
Mission 4/1 Earth, the UCC's 50-day earth care campaign that took place last spring, inspired an organizing theme around environmental issues that has really caught on at Trinity, said Rosalyn Priester, member of Trinity UCC's Green Committee and member of the UCC's Environmental Ministries Steering Committee. The church's theme for 2014 is "Love God, Live Green, Liberate All," which is meant to provide an overall framework for worship and become infused into the congregation's language and theological understanding.
"The spiritual practices of this church draw on African spiritual traditions in which there is no separation between the sacred and the secular," Priester said. "This means that church is not just about what happens within the walls of the church building, but is also tied directly to what happens in the larger community."
John Kelly Poorman is always exploring different ways to try to increase contributions to the Christmas Fund. For the past several years, the church council president of St. John's UCC in Boalsburg, Pa., has taken professional holiday photographs of members and their families in exchange for a Christmas Fund donation. This year Poorman wrote a nontraditional Christmas story to support the fund that recognizes and honors those who have served and continue to serve in lay and authorized ministries of the UCC.
"The ones who have been around for long time didn't have what pastors have now, so they struggle, and if anything devastating happens to them, they have no recourse," Poorman said. "We had their support when we needed it, and I think it's important that they have our support now that they need it."
Poorman's story, So, a Preacher and Santa Walk into a Bar, is for sale on amazon.com, and all proceeds will go to the Christmas Fund. While Poorman is not a UCC minister and does not personally benefit from the contributions, he has a special appreciation for the fund that assists ministers in need.
The Christmas Fund for the Veterans of the Cross and the Emergency Fund is one of the UCC's four special mission offerings. In 2012, the fund provided nearly $1.5 million in assistance to 900 clergy facing overwhelming financial demands in the form of Christmas thank-you checks, monthly pension supplementation, quarterly health premium supplementation, and emergency grants, which can also be utilized by active clergy. A ministry carried out by the Pension Boards for 111 years, the fund is received each year on the Sunday before Christmas.
The Rev. Jim Rapp and his ex-wife the Rev. Alicia Spring, who have both served various UCC congregations in Florida, benefitted from a Christmas Fund emergency grant after their son, Evan, had a kidney transplant in May 2013. While insurance paid for the surgery, both Evan and Jim, who was the kidney donor, needed to stay near the hospital for several weeks of follow-up appointments. The emergency grant enabled them to cover the costs of housing and meals during their recovery period. Jim is now pastor of Church of the Isles UCC in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla., and hopes to see his congregation become the highest giver per capita to the Christmas Fund this year.
"It was a no-brainer for me to want to share a kidney with my son," Jim said. "Ministerial assistance came through quickly and generously and we were able to be ministered to."
"We always supported the Christmas fund," Alicia added. "I had always thought of elderly and retired ministers and spouses. I had never thought about the other side – people who were in difficult situations. It was a real blessing to have that weight lifted."
Vernis Brown is the widow of the Rev. Roy Brown, who was called to be a pastor at age 7 and served UCC congregations until he suffered a stroke in 1997 and passed away in 2002. Vernis said her husband always kept his promise to God to serve small congregations, which meant that she and Roy were often the only staff in churches they served in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Dakota. Vernis taught Sunday school, ran vacation Bible school, and worked with the women's and youth groups. In addition to preaching, Roy also drove a school bus, and worked as a farmer, hunter, trapper and fisherman. While she would never trade her life as a preacher's wife for anything, Vernis recalls how she, Roy and their 10 children lived on very little because the small churches they served couldn't afford to pay much. But the annual Christmas thank-you check has been and continues to be a welcomed contribution to her family. Each year, Vernis donates one-tenth of her check back to the Christmas Fund and encourages others to give as well.
"It has really been a blessing and helped us in so many ways," Vernis said of the fund. "I'm the first one to stand up and say, ‘I'm a recipient. Give generously to help other people.'"
To donate to the Christmas Fund, visit the Pension Boards website.
The Rev. Gary Brinn arrived at a local salon this past weekend with a rather unusual request: to have his fingernails painted bright blue. In an effort to raise awareness about bullying and the effects it has on youth and young adults, the pastor of Sayville Congregational United Church of Christ in Sayville, N.Y., will maintain his blue nails through the month of September – and hopes others will be courageous enough to do the same.
"Everyone at the salon was pretty much shocked because I don't represent someone who would have painted fingernails," said Brinn, who describes himself as a "NASCAR-watching, disabled Army veteran." "My nails are already totally chipped because I just don't know how to do this."
Brinn was inspired to publically address the country's bullying epidemic by the UCC's Synod Scarf Project, through which UCC members made more than 10,000 rainbow-colored scarves that were given to those who pledged to take a stand against the bullying of LGBT youth during General Synod 2013 in Long Beach, Calif. He wanted to do something at a local level to raise awareness about the many reasons kids are bullied including their race, weight and disabilities. Brinn recalled a television special he watched this summer that focused on a young man being bullied because he wore blue nail polish to school and decided that would be an effective and simple way to attract attention to the issue.
"This is a continuation of the denomination's long commitment to supporting vulnerable and exploited populations, beginning with its early work towards the abolition of slavery and continuing today in active support for groups like immigrants and the LGBT community," Brinn said.
So far, a handful of people from Sayville Congregational UCC have also painted their fingernails blue, and Brinn hopes this visible witness will continue to catch on once school begins next week. Participants are asked to take a "No Bullying Pledge," promising not to bully others in person or online, to tell an adult if they witness or experience bullying, and to become a friend to those who are bullied. The congregation will host a celebration of its efforts at the end of the month and, if the campaign generates enough attention, Brinn plans to do it again in January, as a reminder to students coming back to school after the holiday break.
Bullying and teen suicide are issues that Brinn and other local clergy and community leaders have been working on for years in New York, he said. The group is currently working to develop a young-adult outreach program in Sayville as a way to help teens dealing with bullying or depression, and the local school system also has a number of programs in place to promote anti-bullying measures.
"Everyone has been very supportive and thinks it's a good idea," Brinn said of the blue nail polish campaign. "People are certainly asking me about it because it looks bizarre. Hopefully responses from other clergy and publicizing it to the community will spread it around."
Through the hard work and generosity of Mission 4/1 Earth participants, nearly 9,000 trees will be planted in the Kenyan village of Kaiguchu by October. The Rev. Lise Sparrow, pastor of Guilford Community United Church of Christ in Guilford, Vt., who initiated the global partnership between the Mission 4/1 Earth campaign and Kenya, couldn't believe the church was able to reach the lofty goal she imagined before the UCC's 50-day earth care campaign began April 1.
"It was just wonderful," said Sparrow of the donations. "It was a question of dreaming the impossible dream – this will make a huge difference."
Sparrow and the Rev. Carter Via, co-pastor of Talmadge Hill Community Church UCC in Darien, Conn., whose congregation also has ties to Kaiguchu, traveled there in June to discuss with the villagers how to best use the funds. A council that formed to represent the villagers decided to purchase 400 macadamia nut tree seedlings, which will provide a future source of income. Those trees will be planted by 12 volunteers from four UCC churches during the October trip.
"I felt we were responsible for the fact that the UCC was so generous and felt I needed to go there to see what the villagers were thinking and talk though how we would use these funds most responsibly," Sparrow said. "We wanted to give the villagers the most possible say in how these funds should be used to benefit their community."
During their June visit, Sparrow and Via helped plant indigenous, fast-growing trees around the school to act as a type of fencing for protection and also aesthetic appeal. The villagers have been busy planting the remaining 8,000 trees provided by Mission 4/1 Earth funds on a deforested hillside once used for coffee and tea production. The trees will help prevent erosion, keep water levels high, and also create a source of wood for cooking and fuel. The villagers hope to have the trees planted by the time the UCC volunteers arrive in October.
The macadamia nut trees will be planted on the grounds of a secondary school being constructed through a partnership between Talmadge Hill UCC and Cross Cultural Thresholds, a nonprofit that works with grassroots community leaders to build schools and create opportunities for underprivileged children. A stipend has been set aside to compensate the villagers who are willing to help care for the trees once they are planted. Sparrow says this is an important part of the equation, as the trees are only beneficial if they thrive and grow.
"You can plant the seedlings, but the real cost is in encouraging people to water the trees and keep them growing and weeded," she said. "Those willing to do this will get a little income over the next few years."
"I feel very strongly that we were born to care and we were born to take care of," Via adds. "And that means ourselves, it means other people, it means the next generation, it means the earth. So this project is really kind of a beautiful extension of that. It’s just about caring and taking care of."
Learn more about the partnership between Guilford Community UCC and the village of Kaiguchu.
When the suggestion of a solar panel installation project first came up at First Congregational Church United Church of Christ, the Rev. David Stabenfeldt was asked a lot of questions. Do these things really work? Are we really going to make our money back? Is this a good investment? A year later, members of the Bakersfield, Calif. congregation say it was one of the best things the church has ever done.
"The naysayers are now congratulating us," Stabenfeldt said.
Stabenfeldt and a few environmentally savvy members had been aware of the benefits of solar power, but the idea became more feasible when California utility companies began offering rebate incentives. First Congregational formed a committee, aptly called The Solar Panel, and began compiling research and crunching numbers to make sure the investment made both ecological and financial sense. With the knowledge that the panels would not only reduce the congregation's carbon footprint, but also produce an energy cost savings of $20,000-$30,000 a year, Stabenfeldt and about three-fourths of the congregation was confident that pursuing the project was the right choice.
"This was a legacy investment, not only for this generation, but for future generations at First Congregational," Stabenfeldt said. "Our church is very aware of the need to reduce our carbon footprint, which is one of the reasons there was such a high buy-in."
One of the main challenges was to make sure the church members were knowledgable about solar energy and its pros and cons. The Solar Panel offered educational sessions, conducted surveys and handed out literature to ensure everyone was informed. The next challenge was making sure members were willing to make a financial investment for the project that would cost about $200,000. The congregation raised $80,000 and received $50,000 in rebates from its utility company. The other $70,000 came from a loan from the UCC Cornerstone Fund, a financial ministry that offers loans to UCC churches and members for improvements and repairs, which the congregation will be able to repay in less than five years.
"Once we got the green light, and raised enough money and all that, everything now has been a blessing," Stabenfeldt said.
The energy cost savings have already been tremendous. The panels on the roof cover a 165'x30' area and produce 240-260 kilowatts of energy on an average summer day. To put it in perspective, last year's energy costs decreased from $25,000 to $7,500, with the $18,000 in cost savings going to repay the Cornerstone Fund loan. To save even more energy dollars, First Congregational has its thermostats adjusted automatically through a computer program, did major repairs on its air conditioning unit, has added additional insulation to older parts of the building, and is generally being more observant about turning things off.
Because of this work, First Congregational UCC has been nominated for an "Energy Oscar" by California Interfaith Power and Light, a faith-based organization that promotes energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy. But energy conservation isn't the only issue the congregation is concerned with. They are also active in water conservation, and recently replaced all of their landscaping with low-maintenance, drought-tolerant plant species that require less water to survive. While these changes have obvious financial and environmental benefits, Stabenfeldt says one of the best benefits is the message these actions send into the community and to the church's members, guests and visitors, some of who have been inspired to do things like install solar panels or tank-less water heaters in their homes.
"Every congregation needs to be asking how they can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels," Stabenfeldt said. "Just by asking the questions to their members, congregations can have a multiplying effect on what we can all do to the help the environment."
The United Church of Christ has been working for environmental justice for almost 30 years, and recognizes the opportunity for a shared mission campaign to live out our faith — in unity, as one church — for the sake of our fragile planet Earth.
With the help of UCC congregations everywhere, Mission 4/1 Earth, which begins Easter Monday 2013, hopes to accomplish more than 1 million hours of engaged earth care, 100,000 tree plantings across the globe, and 100,000 advocacy letters written and sent on environmental concerns.
For more information, visit the Mission 4/1 Earth website.
The Rev. Gary Rarick promoted "Big Surprise Sunday" at Plainville (N.Y.) Christian Church United Church of Christ for about four weeks. Kept in suspense, one member asked if they were having a guest speaker. Another asked if they were having a party. One even had a dream that country singer Taylor Swift was coming to sing with the church choir. But the actual surprise - the church was giving each member $20 with which they were to go out and try to make a difference.
"No matter what they did, I wanted them to think that ministry isn't something that happens just by coming to church and sitting in a pew every Sunday," Rarick said. "If we just go home and forget about church until the next week, that isn't making a difference and being a good, active Christian."
The idea came to Rarick after preaching about the parable of the talents, a story in the Bible where a landowner gives three slaves a different amount of money in hopes of them turning it into more money to give back to him. However, Rarick wasn't concerned with growing the money to bring back into the church – he was more concerned with his members trying to think of creative ways to use the money to make a difference in their communities. As a young pastor celebrating his one-year anniversary at his first church out of seminary, Rarick's goal was to do something different and memorable. But first he needed to get his congregation on board.
"No one made a sound or moved – a bomb could have been dropped outside and no one would have moved," Rarick said of the announcement. "Everyone was stunned and I was actually pretty nervous."
While some are still figuring out what to do with it, other members used their money in a variety of different ways. A few simply added it to their weekly offering and gave it back to the church or the youth group. One woman took the $20 to buy ingredients for pumpkin rolls and pies to sell and has since quadrupled the funds. Three young sisters pooled their money together and bought school supplies for needy children. An enterprising young woman garnered more donations from family and her employer and donated the total to a local nonprofit. Still others gave their money to the local food bank or the Meals on Wheels program.
Barb Longwell was at first conflicted about what to do with her money. Then one day at the grocery store deli counter, she saw a woman buying a few slices of ham and a few slices of cheese, with instructions to the clerk that her order could not exceed five dollars. Realizing that the woman was struggling financially, Longwell used her $20 to buy a grocery store gift card and gave it to her.
"I thought, here's a local person on a fixed income who is obviously struggling a little bit," Longwell said. "It felt good that I could do that for this lady, even though I felt like I would have liked to have done more."
The five-week project technically ended Oct. 21, when 13 members gave testimonials to the congregation explaining how they used their money. But Rarick is encouraging his congregation to continue this kind of thinking in their daily lives, long after the project is over.
"For anyone who thought about the project for even five minutes after church on Sunday, I would say it was successful," Rarick said.