#GivingTuesday telethon highlights the PC(USA)’s breadth and depth

Twelve-hour online event invites financial and prayerful support for myriad ministries

by Darla Carter, Rich Copley, Paul Seebeck, Kathy Melvin and Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — Presbyterians began their 12-hour #GivingTuesday telethon as they’re wont to do during the pandemic — with a 30-minute online worship service that included prayer, hymn-singing and Scripture.

View the events from 9 a.m. through 9 p.m. Eastern Time Tuesday here. A giving link is here.

The worship service that led off the “We are the Church, Together” #GivingTuesday event included selections from the Glory to God hymnal, liturgy from the Book of Common Worship and a look at 2 Cor. 9:6-15, a scriptural passage on generosity that’s familiar even to casual readers of the Bible. Included are these words from verses 7 and 8: “God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.”

Following worship, three #GivingTuesday organizers — Destini Hodges, interim coordinator of Young Adult Volunteers; Bryce Wiebe, director of Special Offerings; and Lee Catoe, managing editor of the journal “Unbound” — performed their duties as emcees, knitting together nearly three dozen #GivingTuesday presentations with off-the-cuff banter and insight into the event. Later, an event co-organizer, Lauren Rogers, a mission specialist with Special Offerings, took several turns at the emcee desk.

Destini Hodges was one of the emcees for the #GivingTuesday telethon. (Photo by Randy Hobson)

“I’m most excited about the amount of opportunities for young adults to give,” Hodges said.

Wiebe said he’s excited about “the amount of mission opportunity we get to engage in today. It’s rare that we get the chance to let every ministry of the Church share what they have to offer.”

“I’m excited to hear about what’s going on in the Church,” Catoe said. “We haven’t been together in such a long time, and we’re feeling a little disconnected. This will be a great day to stay connected and interact with people of the church.”

Prayer partners were on hand during the entire 12-hour event. To date the #GivingTuesday event has raised more than $150,000, about 20% above the 2019 total.

PresbySquares

Technical problems prevented a planned PresbySquares contest from being staged as it was originally conceived. The Co-Moderators of the 224th General Assembly, the Rev. Gregory Bentley and Ruling Elder Elona Street-Stewart, were to have contended against one another discerning real from made-up answers provided by a number of their moderatorial forebears, including the Rev. Dr. Neal Presa, the Rev. Dr. Jan Edmiston, the Rev. Denise Anderson, the Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, the Rev. Dr. Susan Andrews, and the man who was to have occupied the center square, the Rev. Dr. Cláudio Carvalhaes, not a former PC(USA) moderator but a professor at Union Theological Seminary.

The lineup for the PresbySquares event included moderators and co-moderators past and present, along with a seminary professor. (Screen shot courtesy of Neal Presa)

Thinking fast, Hodges and Catoe divided the company into two groups and subjected them to a pair of lightning rounds with questions covering all things Presbyterian. Some questions were a bit harder than others.

Hodges asked, “How many PC(USA) churches are named First Presbyterian Church?” None of the contestants knew that the right answer is, of course, 2,353.

Asked how long in feet Noah’s Ark would have been — recall the Lord instructed Noah to build it 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits — the moderators were once again baffled.

“It was big enough to hold two of everything,” Kohlmann joked.

Hodges only laughed.

“These questions weren’t meant to stump me,” Hodges told the contestants. “They’re meant to stump you.”

Asked which three ministry areas are supported by One Great Hour of Sharing, Edmiston guessed “the Co-Moderators’ Travel Fund.” Hodges suggested she employ the “phone a friend” tool.

Eventually, the group named all three: Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, the Presbyterian Hunger Program, and Self-Development of People, which they also knew turned 50 this year.

Hodges asked this relative softball question: What’s a Four for Four congregation?

“I’m old enough to remember when it was Five for Five,” Andrews said, ticking off the four Special Offerings and adding, “In the good old days, it included general mission giving.”

By this time, the moderators clearly had rallied to the cause.

“Teamwork makes dream work,” Bentley told them.

Catoe thanked all the guests for their flexibility. “This didn’t work out as we planned, but the Spirit has led us,” he said. “It was really wonderful to see you again and have a little fun by cutting up a bit.”

Mental health

Churches have the potential to make a tremendous difference when it comes to mental health, Donna Miller explained during a morning segment of the #GivingTuesday telethon.

“We’re not talking about becoming mental health providers; we’re talking about knowing how to respond when someone is in crisis or in pain,” said Miller, the associate for Mental Health Ministry. “We’re talking about knowing how to walk alongside when people are experiencing a struggle” as well as “how to support loved ones and family members.”

The Mental Health Ministry, which resides within the Presbyterian Mission Agency, has been helping to lay the groundwork for that in several ways, Miller explained. They include conducting a churchwide survey on mental health, awarding grants around the country, and helping to establish the Presbyterian Mental Health Network as a resource for churches and others interested in mental health ministry.

Donna Miller (Screen shot)

Miller encouraged viewers to sign up for the network’s mailing list and to take advantage of educational resources on topics, such as racial trauma and the emotional impact of the pandemic, on the Mental Health Ministry’s website.

Also, she urged, “Think about your own community and prayerfully consider what is the culture around mental health.”

The need for mental health ministry is reflected in the fact that “one out of every five of us will have a diagnosable mental health condition in a given year, and that has now increased” during the pandemic, Miller explained.

She also noted that Jesus Christ confronted “the tendency that we have to rank and sort people into categories and groups and systems that elevate some people and really diminish others and often result in marginalization, stigma and really kind of deny that we are all equally loved and precious.”

“If we’re thinking about what Jesus has to say, there’s very good reason to be involved in mental health ministry,” she said.

A churchwide mental health initiative was adopted by the 223rd General Assembly in 2018, leading the way for the Church’s recent work, including the survey, network and grants.

Around the nation, “we have some really exciting programs,” Miller said, on topics such as processing the grief of injustice and learning mental health first-aid skills.

Self-Development of People

Working with Cleveland’s Urban Farmers to Entrepreneurs project and other initiatives, Veronica Walton interacts with a lot of funding organizations. She says money often comes with requirements as to how the money will be used to align with the funder’s agenda.

That, she said, is what sets the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP) apart.

“We believe that people thrive when they do what they were made for, what they were born for,” Walton said Tuesday morning during SDOP’s segment in telethon.

Having the support of Self-Development of People allows the urban farming group to better address the needs of the people it serves and deepens their engagement with the project.

Walton echoed a common refrain about SDOP, one of the ministries that benefits from One Great Hour of Sharing: That it seeks to walk alongside groups striving to better and benefit their communities and address issues such as poverty and racism by letting the beneficiaries set the agenda.

The Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson is SDOP coordinator.

“This is incredible to see the bundles of potential in our communities,” said the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Johnson, SDOP coordinator. “Part of the power of what it means to be the church is to do the work of poverty eradication.”

Johnson noted it is work directly tied to the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Matthew 25 invitation to combat systemic poverty and structural racism. SDOP Associate for Community Development Margaret Mwale noted that the Urban Farmers to Entrepreneurs project is actually funded through the Presbytery of the Western Reserve’s SDOP Committee, highlighting the ability of mid council committees to identify needs in their communities and the connectional nature of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Presbyterian Youth Triennium

Presbyterian Youth Triennium director Gina Yeager-Buckley asked Presbyterians to pray for her and a team of volunteers who are planning the 2022 Triennium even during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Presbyterian Youth Triennium is a gathering for high school age youth from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church that occurs every three years.

Gina Yeager-Buckley

“We’re planning in ways I never imagined,” said Yeager-Buckley, a mission associate for formation in the Office of Christian Formation. “We’re considering major shifts and if those shifts are appropriate, like possible venue changes and schedules.”

As they consider those shifts, the Triennium team is trying to anticipate what the world will be like for teenagers in 2022.  As they study Scripture and consider possible themes for the upcoming Triennium, they’re imagining what the cries of the world might be in 2022 through politics and the church, in Creation and music. They’re also imagining how God might speak to those cries made by teenagers who are longing to be together again.

“Through all of the art, prayer, choir practices, dancing, advocacy walks and carefulness with Scripture, we hope to immerse them in Presbyterian mission,” Yeager-Buckley said, “to consider what God might be inviting them to do in their world beyond what is happening in their local church.”

Paying attention to teenagers in this way, Yeager-Buckley believes, is critical for the church. She said one way that Triennium makes a difference is that it helps congregations see how youth — who return home so excited about their faith — can have a say in what the church should be.

Yeager-Buckley said Presbyterians gifts on #Giving Tuesday, which in part support Special Offerings — especially gifts throughout the year to the Pentecost Offering — support the Triennium ministry.

“By giving to that offering they could be part of getting a teenager from their church or neighborhood to go to Triennium,” she said.  “They could be part of getting a teenager back into — or involved — in church and the life of a PC(USA) congregation.”

Young Adult Volunteers

The Young Adult Volunteer program took center stage over the lunch hour Tuesday.

Destini Hodges, associate for recruitment and relationships, interviewed four YAVs who are participating in the program’s first all virtual year. She asked them questions ranging from why they decided to participate in the virtual year to what their plans are for the future.

Carson Crawford, a YAV from West Virginia, said he decided to join the program’s virtual year because of his deep passion for service. “This feeds the service orientation of my soul,” he said. He hopes to attend seminary after finishing his YAV commitments.

“I’ve felt called to be a pastor since I was five,” he said. “I used to serve my stuffed animals grape juice and crackers for communion.”

Emma Graves, an Indiana YAV, said joining the program, even during a virtual year, fulfilled her “craving to be in a like-minded community.”

The Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program is an ecumenical faith-based year of service for young people (ages 19-30) in sites across the United States and around the world. YAVs accompany local agencies working to address root causes of poverty and to effect reconciliation. Alongside this work, volunteers explore the meaning of their Christian faith and accountability to their neighbors in community with peers and mentors.

To learn more about becoming a Young Adult Volunteer, click here, where you’ll find application forms, frequently-asked questions and other helpful resources.

1001 New Worshiping Communities

The Rev. Nikki Collins, national coordinator for 1001 New Worshiping Communities, visited with two “1001” leaders who have started new churches among people and in places where traditional mainstream churches haven’t been.

In the “Making Church Accessible for All” conversation, the Rev. Dr. Bethany McKinney Fox of Beloved Everybody Community in Los Angeles and the Rev. Dr. Christopher Benek of  CHVRCH+, which is  a virtual reality platform for churches, shared what they have learned in their communities with people who are often invisible in communities of faith.

McKinney Fox (far right) with members and friends of the Beloved Everybody Community in Los Angeles. (Contributed photo)

Because Beloved Everybody Community describes itself as a community where people with and without intellectual disabilities share leadership and participate together in faith and leadership, McKinney Fox said people think they are like a “disabled church.”

But in reality, she said, they have integrated space where all kinds of different people worship together and share leadership with people whose gifts are often not recognized or even seen.

“We often as Christians think of people with disabilities as objects rather than co-laborers in the gospel,” she said.

For Benek, who designed the setting of the first virtual reality church community after the First Miami Presbyterian Church building in Miami, Florida, where he is head of staff, the results of having a CHVRCH+ fellowship in VR space have been “pretty astounding.” People from six continents have joined their community of faith through virtual reality.

And with 2.2 billion gamers in the world, Benenk said CHVRCH+ needs more churches in their space.

Recently, Benek said a person in CHVRCH+ told him, “Once COVID is over, I’d like to be baptized.”  But the person also had questions about how this might work. “I live in Europe and you are part of the PC(USA). I don’t live in the USA. What does that mean?”

“Technology stretches our imaginations to have these conversations” he said. “People who are often disenfranchised need us. They’re responding to the message they’re hearing.”

Israel-Palestine

Luciano Kovacs, coordinator of World Mission’s office of Europe and the Middle East, interviewed Dr. Jad Isaac, general director of the Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ).

Isaac spoke about how his organization stays focused and motivated in light of the difficult situation that Palestinians face today in Israel-Palestine.

“One can lament. One can curse the darkness but that doesn’t help,” he said. “I like to be able to light candles in the darkness. Small, beautiful interventions that alleviate poverty, that help people become more resilient. I sleep very well at night when I see the accomplishments we are making. It’s part of God’s will to help the poor and the marginalized and we are fulfilling this mission in a little way.”

Luciano Kovacs

The two spoke about the balance between responding to critical hunger and poverty and advocating for justice.

“Promoting resilience and helping the marginalized can only lead to helping the Palestinians to be able to live in dignity, assist them in achieving their rightful self-determination and ending the occupation in the long term,” said Isaac. “These are large goals, but at my level I can work toward small goals, little interventions here and there, like helping with home gardens, water collection, hygiene and increasing agricultural production. These are small things, but they can make a difference in the lives of the marginalized, especially women and children.”

Kovacs asked Isaac what the people his organization serves want U.S. Presbyterians to understand and how they can accompany Palestinian partners.

“I would love for them to know we have nothing against the Jewish people or the Jewish religion, but religiousizing the issue will cause great unrest in this region,” he said. “We have to fight for justice. Justice for Palestinians is in the best interest of Israel and its security. I would like to see Israel as good neighbors to Palestinians, but we will never accept Israel as our occupiers and we as their slaves.”

Founded in 1990, ARIJ is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable development in the occupied Palestinian territory and the self-reliance of the Palestinian people through greater control over their natural resources. ARIJ works specifically to augment the local stock of scientific and technical knowledge and to introduce and devise more efficient methods of resource utilization and conservation, improved practices and appropriate technology.

Starry Black Night

The voices of women and people who are Black are often ignored in the church, the Rev. Lee Catoe said, which is why Black women are the focus of a new Advent Devotional from Unbound: An Interactive Journal on Christian Social Justice.

Catoe, Managing Editor of the journal from the Presbyterian Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, and Destini Hodges, Interim Coordinator of Young Adult Volunteers, took time during Tuesday’s telethon to introduce “Starry Black Night: A Womanist Advent Devotional.”

At Hodges’ prompting, Catoe clarified some terms noting that “Womanist” means the devotional comes from the perspective of “Black people who don’t identify as male” and noted that the devotional is centered on the Revised Common Lectionary.

“I just want to thank you for lifting up the voices of people who look like me … oftentimes we are very oppressed,” Hodges said. “Thank you for giving a wide range of womanists a platform to express their theology, especially during these times of multiple pandemics. Their voices and their laments need to be heard during this Advent season to show that we are stronger together in solidarity.”

Contributors to the devotional include PC(USA) national staff such as the Rev. Dr. Rhashell D. Hunter, Director of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, and the Co-Moderator of the 222nd General Assembly, the Rev. Denise Anderson, as well as leaders from around the country such as the Rev. Amantha L. Barbee, pastor of Oakhurst Presbyterian Church in Decatur, Georgia.

“It was a great experience writing, and to be honest, I struggled, because there was so much that could have been written from our perspective,” Hodges said. “I was like, ‘What is the one thing people need to hear?’ Even through the pain, there is a message of passion and hope in my devotion.”

Catoe and Hodges noted that most Tuesdays they are hosting the online talk show “Just Talk Live,” which is on hiatus until the new year.

Everyday God-Talk

During Tuesday’s 12-hour telethon, hosts Destini Hodges, interim coordinator of Young Adult Volunteers; Bryce Wiebe, director of Special Offerings; and Lee Catoe, managing editor of the journal “Unbound” —  highlighted a number of ministries,  including Everyday God-Talk.

Hosted by So Jung Kim, associate for theology in the PC(USA) Office of Theology & Worship, Everyday God-Talk aims to create monthly episodes of theological conversation that are both relevant to daily matters of living and to the God-Talk guest’s profound theological concern.

Simon Phillips uses dance and movement as a means of prayer and meditation. (Screen shot)

During a morning session an Everyday God-Talk video: “What would Mister Rogers say about COVID-19?” was shared.  This episode shared conversations from two earlier conversations Kim had with Jeff Eddings, 1001 New Worshiping Communities associate for Coaching and Spiritual Formation. Eddings grew up in watching the late Presbyterian minister and television host Fred Rogers — and later attended the same Pittsburgh Theological Seminary where Mister Rogers was theologically trained.

You can read an earlier story highlighting the two-part Everyday God-Talk conversation, watch both videos here, or watch  all of the pre-recorded segments played during Giving Tuesday here beginning Wednesday.

Other Everyday God-Talk segments featured during the telethon included the Rev.  Michael Gehrling, associate for 1001 New Worshiping Communities, and Kim reflecting on dance and movement as worshipful expression. Watch this video of Gehrling, an intermediate West Coast Swing dancer teaching Kim three basic dancing steps.

An evening segment highlighted  professional dancer Simon Phillips teaching Kim and Gehrling about hip-hop  as way to express gratitude for the global community within the Christian church.

Vital Congregations

Leaders of the PC(USA) Vital Congregations ministry introduced an opportunity for presbyteries and churches to join the third wave of VC training in 2021.

The Rev. Carlton Johnson is associate for Vital Congregations.

In announcing that Vital Congregations is accepting applications now for the training, which begins in April, the Rev. Carlton Johnson, associate for Vital Congregations, said that they are moving training to a digital management learning system. This will help presbyteries monitor and analyze their churches’ progress.

“This also allows us to accept a limited number of individual churches who are ready for our training to move forward with presbytery approval,” Johnson said. “While they — the presbytery — discerns if and when a greater number of congregations will be ready to apply for a future wave of training.”

The Rev. Dr. Kathryn Threadgill, coordinator of Vital Congregations, said she is excited about the changes in training that are coming in 2021, and is grateful for all of the gifts during #GivingTuesday and for the support given to Vital Congregations throughout the year.

“Thank you! What a blessing you’ve been, as the PC(USA) seeks to be God’s vital church,” Threadgill said.

Earlier in the “Celebrating Congregational Vitality with Vital Congregations” segment, the Rev. Dr. Barbara Smith, transitional director of Presbytery Ministries for Newark Presbytery and Stated Clerk Warren McNeill spoke about their experiences of going through VC training as a pilot presbytery in 2018-2019.

According to Smith, one of the ways the presbytery kept the Seven Marks of a Vital Congregation alive — a key part of VC training (see section 2) — is through the presbytery grant application process. To qualify for assistance, a given church project must include at least two of the seven marks, she said.

“We hope the denomination as a whole will see the breath of life in Vital Congregations,” McNeill said. “Especially in a time of COVID-19, we need to be creative in the ways we are doing church and being church.”

To hear more about the success Newark experienced going through the VC pilot initiative, watch the pre-recorded segment, which will be available here beginning Wednesday.

Building congregational vitality is one of the three foci of the Matthew 25 vision, along with dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty.

The telethon’s prerecorded segments can be viewed here.


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