I don’t know about you, but I’ve found it difficult this year to get into the “Christmas Spirit.” Living in Arlington has worked out for us in many important ways, but I will say that at this time of year I especially miss the pleasure of watching Cathy and our former neighbor, Bob, engaging in their friendly holiday light competition.
Alas, the spirit meter was so low, we weren’t even going to put up a tree this year, let alone lights. Until last week. On Thursday night, Cathy and I went to dinner, as has become our ritual, and we got to talking. Cathy had mentioned that the Third Congregational Church in Alstead, one of the towns most affected by the devastation from the recent flooding in New Hampshire, was going to be holding a toy and adult present drive on Saturday. Before you knew it, we’d decided that we would drive up to Alstead – also the town where Cathy’s grandparents had lived for over 15 years – with a car full of new fleece blankets and roasts from our freezer to be distributed to families most affected by the flooding.
With that small, but important decision the spirit meter leapt up, and on the way home from dinner we drove to the Fallon UU Church in Lexington to buy a small tree. By the end of Sunday, our mission completed, not only was the tree up, but it was decorated, the candles were in the windows, and the yard was awash with colored lights and a deer for good measure. Giving does the spirit good!
This Christmastime it also does my spirit good to think about how much you’ve given. I’ve just been reading through the “Stewardship Cards,” tabulating some results, and I’m very proud of us. As you will remember if you were there, on Sunday, October 23rd – Stewardship Sunday – I had the pleasure of distributing 150 envelopes, which between them contained a total of $1,020 of the church’s money. Everyone who came to worship that morning received an envelope, which contained either $2, $5, $10, $15 or $20. Every recipient was told to practice being a steward: to remember that the money belonged to the church and to spend it in a manner consistent with the church’s mission, vision and values.
To date I’ve received over 60 of the cards back. That’s pretty good considering that many families consolidated their stewardship money and returned only one card, and that the Middle School Youth Group, which received the undistributed envelopes, also returned only one card. I would say that almost 110 of the 150 envelopes are accounted for.
This is what I know: The money that was accounted for went to 31 different organizations or causes – local, national, and international. Almost everyone who returned a card at least doubled their money before giving it away, and most did far more than that. For example, one card told the story of five individuals who pooled their church money for a total of $27. To that they added $73 of their own money. Then they solicited another $145 from friends. Finally, they contributed their total – $245 – to the Loaves and Fishes capital campaign, where it was matched dollar for dollar. In short, they grew the church’s $27 into a whopping $490! There are other similar stories, some with even greater totals!
Not everyone who filled out and returned a card included information on the specific amount received or the specific amount given away, but thirty-four people were very specific. Those 34 people originally received a total of $225, and were able to add $2,722 through donations from friends and families, through additional contributions of their own, and through matching grants. In other words, those 34 people alone helped contribute a grand total of over $2,950 to causes consistent with this church’s mission, vision and values!
We should note here that the Rev. Andy Stanley of the Northpoint Community Church in metro-Atlanta has said that when they tried this Stewardship exercise at his church, they distributed $35,000 to the 5,500 regular worshippers. He believes that they at least tripled their investment in service to the world.
Well, we almost tripled our church’s original investment through the donations of just those 34 people. Add in the donations of the other 80 or so people who returned cards – each of whom at least doubled their original amount – and I’d guess we turned the church’s $1,020 into an amount easily 5 and perhaps as much as 10 times that! It is very reasonable to believe that we may have given away as much as $8,000 as part of this Stewardship exercise alone. And I am aware of all the other ways in which we have given this year, including increased giving for Loaves and Fishes locally, and donations for disaster relief around the world. Can you see why I’m so proud of you?
May the spirit of Christmas, the spirit of generosity, the spirit of the Love, which is the spirit of this church, continue to both grow and glow in your hearts and in your lives in this holiday season and in the New Year!