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Good news from Minneappolis

Reprinted from Presbyterians Today

One of the most frequently asked questions in the church is, “Why can’t we have good news? Why does only bad news get attention?” 

One powerful example of the Good News coming out of Minneapolis has just been shared with me by the Rev. Christine Chakoian, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Lake Forest, Illinois, a commissioner who served as a member of the General Assembly Committee on Mission Coordination.

Chris has just sent word of a magnificent gift of $70,000 from Lynn and Foster Friess, through their cousin Susan Peet, a member of First Presbyterian Church in Lake Forest, towards scholarships for the Young Adult Volunteer program.

As Chris tells the story, it all started in the room where the GA committee was meeting. Although members of the committee had heard many requests for initiatives requiring financial resources, they remained convinced that because the church was being called to “do business” in a new way, as worthy as many of the projects were, such expenditures were not supporting the new direction of network resourcing.

Chris recalled only two exceptions: the expansion of staffing for collegiate ministries, and a $100,000 scholarship program for Young Adult Volunteers who could not raise all of their funds on their own. “I personally was so moved that this was the right thing to do that, on the spot, I pledged that somehow I would raise $50,000 from my congregation,” Chris shared.

When she returned home from GA, Chris preached about the work of God through the General Assembly, specifically highlighting the GA action to institute the Young Adult Volunteer Scholarship program through the initial investment of $100,000. Following her sermon, Chris received two immediate reactions: one from a church member who was upset about ordination issues, and another, Susan Peet, who said that she'd been racking her brain about a recommendation for a worthy charitable contribution, which she needed at a family member's request. Susan decided that the Young Adult Volunteer program mentioned in Chris's sermon would do quite nicely.

As it turned out, the family members who were seeking the recommendation were Susan’s cousin Lynn Friess and her husband Foster, who founded Brandywine Mutual Funds. They are extraordinarily generous people and deep Christians. This summer, they invited 100 families to come celebrate their 70th birthday with them in Wyoming. In lieu of birthday presents, they asked each household to recommend a charity to be a gift recipient in their honor. This isn’t unusual for them, Susan had explained. The Friesses are deeply faithful Christians who feel blessed beyond measure. At the birthday celebration, the Friesses gave away at least $7 million dollars to their friends’ and relatives’ charities, including their $70,000 gift to the Young Adult Volunteer program.  The room of 200 people was in tears, Susan said.

I am awed by the power of the Holy Spirit, which has moved and worked in so many lives to make this incredible gift possible. We are so very grateful for the generosity of the Friesses, and for Susan, Chris, and all of the others who inspired this gift.

Because our daughter was a young adult volunteer in San Antonio, Texas, in a year of discernment in the midst of college, I can testify firsthand to what a transformative experience this is. Many YAVs go on to become pastors and leaders in the church – so in addition to being transformational for young people, the YAV program prepares leaders for the church and for society. This gift will enable more young people to serve, and will inspire others to provide support as well. In fact, the GA Committee on Mission Coordination heard the challenge from among their own members to raise another $50,000 for the YAV scholarship fund by raising $1,000 each from their respective congregations. Just imagine the impact if we all responded to such a call! 

- Linda Valentine


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