Paying Christmas Gifts Forward
Christmas is often a time of packed pews and full offering baskets. For some churches, they use that opportunity to close the gaps in the budget by year-end. But there’s been a growing trend in churches to take that special time of generosity and share it with other in need.
Two St. Louis churches, Webster Hills UMC and Asbury UMC, have been in relationship for a little over a year, working on ways to be partners in ministry. Webster Hills is located in Webster Groves, Asbury is a small congregation with limited resources located in an economically disadvantaged inner-city area of St. Louis. At a recent Webster Hills church council meeting, they were discussing how they, as a church, was doing at living out their vision and mission.
“We wanted to be sure we are living out our ministry beyond our doors,” said Rev. Linda Gastreich.
They were already working with Asbury on plans to increase its ministry to local children and youth by expanding it after school tutoring program. The decision was made to give all of their Christmas offering to Asbury for this ministry. An early service, two Christmas Eve services and about $300 from a soup supper totaled to $5,000 for Asbury.
Another St. Louis area church, Arlington UMC, also opted to send some Christmas Eve offering Asbury’s way this year. The $3,725 offering the church received were split between Asbury UMC and the General Board of Global Ministries.
The church has also provided food and gloves for the children in Asbury’s outreach program.
“For the past few years we’ve given our Christmas Eve offering to mission, and the offering increased when we started doing that,” said Rev. Barbara Phifer.
Asbury wasn’t just on the receiving end of Christmas offering giving, it also paid it forward. Asbury and Samaritan UMC had a joint Christmas Eve service, and the two churches gave away their offering, splitting it between a local shelter for youth and Mozambique ministries.
Green Trails UMC also put their Christmas money toward Mozambique. It wasn’t just a token effort – Rev. Londia Wright put the emphasis on the gift at every opportunity.
“We were promoting the absolutely true meaning of Christmas, and talked about how Jesus came into this world without a home,” she said. “We were using Mozambique pictures in worship, and kept the question before us, ‘What are you giving Jesus for his birthday?’”
They also did a book study on Rev. Michael Slaughter’s book Christmas Is Not Your Birthday. They had decided to give their offering to the Carolyn Belshe Orphanage in Cambine village, Inhambane province, Mozambique. They hoped to raise enough to support 30 children at the orphanage for a year. The congregation gave $23,597.72 during two Christmas Eve services with an attendance of 241.
“The congregation was challenged to take a look at their own gift-giving budgets and then let their financial gifts reflect God's generosity towards them,” Rita Goddard, connectional ministries director said. “This gift will provide for the total yearly needs of 49.16 beautiful kids. We believe Jesus is pleased with how we celebrated his birthday.”
Wright said she knew after that number was put out, the congregation would step up with another $400 to make it an even 50 children that they were supporting, and they did.
Some churches made their offering donations very personal. Pomme de Terre UMC gave its offering of $1,000 to a local man who had just lost his wife to cancer and was struggling to pay medical bills.
Cassidy UMC gave their collection of $1,700 to a three-year-old girl in the community who is fighting bone cancer.