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Bundles of free books spur both gratitude and creative ways to share

PC(USA) churches and worshiping communities are using the books to help their young ones grow in their faith

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

A child who was visiting his grandparents reads “God’s Big Plan” during worship at the Presbyterian Churches of West Pittston and Wyoming, Pennsylvania. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — “Thanks so much.”

“I am so overwhelmed with gratitude.”

“We are excited.”

“This is wonderful news for our congregation.”

These comments are from some of the leaders in more than 200 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) churches and worshiping communities — each of them with 150 members or fewer — who recently received free book bundles (listed below) from the denomination.

English

Spanish

Korean

Each book bundle highlights aspects of the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 vision, which invites congregations to work at building congregational vitalitydismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty. The focus of the giveaway was on churches and worshiping communities with less means to purchase these important books.

The Rev. Taeler Morgan, the founding pastor of Gather Tacoma in Washington state, was thrilled the bundles were made available to her community.

“We have 15 children. One-third of them are multiracial,” she said. “It’s so helpful to provide resources to our families that are inclusive and diverse, because we champion diversity as one of our primary values.”

Morgan plans on sharing the book bundles this weekend at Gather Tacoma’s “Surprise Event Saturday.” Once each month, Gather Tacoma invites people from all over the city to come for spontaneous family fun. Those coming don’t know what the fun is until they arrive.

“It’s a nonchurch event to help us build pathways to get to know someone spiritually,” Morgan said. “These books are a perfect way to provide a meaningful resource and seed future conversations with people outside of faith communities.”

The book giveaway was made possible by an endowment of donors and  a partnership among the offices of Theology, Formation & Evangelism (TFE), Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, Presbyterian Publishing Corporation and Flyaway Books.

In all, 209 English bundles, 65 Spanish bundles and 36 Korean bundles went to churches and worshiping communities across the denomination. In Anchorage, Alaska, Danna Larson, the director of faith formation at First Presbyterian Church, was so impressed with the books she received that she worked with Presbytery of Yukon to make sure the state’s small village churches also received them.

“Even though the context of the story books doesn’t relate to life in our native Alaska villages, I believe they will lead to conversations that encourage our Indigenous siblings to share their stories of intergenerational trauma and systemic racism,” she said.

Larson is using the books, including “Who is My Neighbor?” “For Beautiful Black Boys Who Believe in a Better World” and “God’s Big Plan” at First Presbyterian Church’s weekly formation time with families. She also encourages families to find Bible stories to read during the week.

“As a Matthew 25 congregation, these books are important as we work together to interrupt the systems of systemic racism, in our congregation, community, presbytery and larger world,” Larson said.

Stephanie Fritz, coordinator for Christian Formation in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, said she was thrilled to share the book bundles with so many faith communities across the country. The giveaway is continuation of TFE’s The Scattered Church project, which is helping  church leaders and families at home to stay faithful and remain creative in their faith formation while living through the pandemic.

“It has been a blessing to share in the joy and energy of how our faith communities are sharing these resources with households in nurturing faith formation around the message of Matthew 25,” Fritz said.

During a back to school fair, the Rev. Dr. Martha Jordan gave away 10 Children’s Bibles to people in her community within an hour. (Photo by The Presbyterian Churches of West Pittston and Wyoming)

Her office continues to hear stories of how the book bundles are being shared, both in and outside the walls of faith communities. At a back-to school fair in West Pittston, Pennsylvania, the Rev. Dr. Martha Jordan ran out of the children’s story Bibles to give to parents in the community in the first hour.

“I figured 10 would be enough,” Jordan said. “But when people approached our church table, the ‘Growing in God’s Love: A Storybook Bible’ drew them in. They instantly opened it and asked if they could have it.”

The people who came to the school fair were looking for help. Once they realized that the Presbyterian Churches of West Pittston and Wyoming, who now worship and do ministry together, were willing to help with gently-used clothes and school supplies, they opened up to Jordan about their struggles.

She said a frequent comment she heard from people is that they grew up in church and wanted their children to hear the biblical stories. After the school fair, Jordan ordered additional copies of the Children’s Bible for families who gave her their contact information, as well as those in her churches who hadn’t received their Bible during Christmas.

The Rev. Magdalena Garcia

For the Rev. Magdalena García, pastor at Iglesia Presbiteriana Ravenswood in Chicago, children’s books are expensive. Every week she has been building a personal library of books by going to garage sales and secondhand stores, and she encourages her church families to do the same. Her congregation is intercultural and bilingual.

“This is an at-risk population with a growing drop-out of school rate,” she said. “It’s important for the church to do its part in contributing to the literacy and development of these children, instilling in them a love of reading and learning. Thank you so much for investing in our children and their faith formation.”

Miatta Wilson, mission specialist for Christian Formation, has received many emails from staff members and volunteers of churches who say they feel “overwhelmed” by the generosity. Many said they just don’t have the funds to do something like this.

“For some it was the introduction to these particular books, which they now hope to share with many more,” Wilson said. “What a blessing.”

In Portland, Oregon, the Rev. Linda Stewart-Kalen of Common Ground plans to launch the “Stories Under the Trees” event using books from the provided bundles on Monday. “Our grounds have a lovely selection of mature trees, and we hope to have story tellers/readers stationed around the grounds for a story book party,” she said. “Then the books will travel from home to home with notes about what our children loved, worried over and asked us to pray about.”


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