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Minnesota congregation anticipates successful Christmas marketplace despite COVID-19

Oak Grove Presbyterian Church continues to faithfully support the Presbyterian Giving Catalog

by Emily Enders Odom, Mission Engagement & Support | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Oak Grove Presbyterian Church’s Alternative Christmas Marketplace is pictured in December 2019. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — When Dr. Seuss’s iconic Grinch famously declared that he must stop Christmas from coming, Sue Powers would hear nothing of it.

Pandemic or not, Oak Grove Presbyterian Church’s annual Alternative Christmas Marketplace would go on last year as usual.

Just not in the usual way.

For many years Oak Grove’s Mission Committee, on which Powers serves, has organized an Alternative Christmas Marketplace in the 500-member church’s social hall on the first Sunday in December.

“Sponsoring a Christmas Marketplace was an opportunity for our members to support organizations that were not necessarily part of the Mission Committee’s budget,” said Powers, a retired special educator who grew up in First Presbyterian Church in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, attended college in Iowa, and later relocated to Minneapolis for graduate school and professional opportunities. “In many instances, the purchases made by our members were to be Christmas gifts for friends and family.”

Powers said that “mission” was the reason she joined Oak Grove 13 years ago.

“Thanks to my parents, I’ve always had that compassion and interest in mission,” she said. “Whenever people visit our church, mission is one of the first things they hear about. If we were back to worshiping in person, they would immediately be handed a mission brochure as they walked in.”

Powers explained that the church’s funds are currently allocated through the committee to local, regional and international non-profits. These are organizations that serve people in need of support in the areas of education, housing/shelter, hunger, health/well-being, economics, racial equity and justice and LGBTQIA concerns.

2016 was the first year that Oak Grove, a Matthew 25 church, discovered the Presbyterian Giving Catalog and introduced it to the members of the congregation.

Now in its eighth, record-breaking year, the 2021-2022 Presbyterian Giving Catalog — which is available both in print and online, in English, Spanish and Korean — is filled with a wide variety of gifts that provide real and positive impact around the world, including aid for refugees, access to clean water and helping to end hunger.

“Because Oak Grove has such a strong commitment to racial justice, the Giving Catalog gave us an opportunity to select gifts that give people dignity, such as a Mzuzu drill and a sewing machine,” said Powers. “Not only can gifts like these be put to good use, but they also take away the idea of ‘white saviors.’ Having taught in inner city schools, I have a special place in my heart for the poor, the struggling and the disenfranchised.”

In 2020, because of the pandemic, Oak Grove was not able to hold its traditional, in-person Christmas Marketplace, an event that regularly turned the church’s social hall into a “hub of activity” as members sought meaningful gifts to share with family and friends.

“Our church crafters made beautiful greeting cards, sewed doll clothes, shared woodworking projects and original drawings and paintings,” Powers explained. “Those more comfortable in the kitchen made candy, baked breads and cookies that were for sale. Others donated gifts to be part of a silent auction or gave scholarship money to Clearwater Forest, the Presbyterian church camp in Minnesota. For years, we offered opportunities for members to buy animals for Heifer International and fabric art from Pakistan, to name just a few. We invited donations specifically for Kiva, which is already a part of the Mission Committee’s budget. The youth made cinnamon rolls and other gifts to earn money for their mission trip.”

When it became a reality that the marketplace could not proceed in the usual way, Powers knew “it was time to think creatively and get busy with the planning!”

Oak Grove Presbyterian Church’s Christmas Marketplace mailing. (Contributed photo)

“2020 would be the year for us to make the changes necessary for a successful fundraising event in spite of the pandemic,” said Powers. “We did it by sending out an order form to our families, along with other materials they would need to continue their Christmas giving.”

Due to the risks associated with COVID-19 and the delta variant, because Oak Grove is not yet resuming in-person services, the church will once again conduct its Christmas Marketplace by mail. Powers and her committee colleague, Sara Egan, are more than ready to lead the effort with the full support of the church’s pastoral leaders, the Rev. Bart Roush, pastor/head of staff, and the Rev. Mary Koon, associate pastor.

“Because the response to last year’s event was amazing, we are hoping our members will receive this opportunity with the same amount of enthusiasm in 2021,” Powers said. “Last year we raised almost twice as much money as our previous alternative gift markets had raised.”

Powers said that because there was a surprising benefit to the mail-in Christmas Marketplace — namely that it gave families a chance to sit together at home, apart from the commotion, to study the giving possibilities — she fully expects the church to continue to mail packets even when in-person events resume.

“We got a great deal of positive feedback from our families,” she said. “They liked having the extra time to discuss the options as a family in the quiet and comfort of their home without feeling rushed. Many thought it a great opportunity to teach their children and youth about our world and the need for and importance of sharing with others.”

As soon as in-person activities are safe again, Powers hopes to organize a “Links of Love” activity with the church’s children and families in conjunction with the Giving Catalog. Links of Love is a churchwide initiative designed to recognize the power and impact of individual gifts when they are joined with others by having churches create a paper chain to visually represent Presbyterian generosity. For each gift to the Catalog, congregations are encouraged to add a link and construct a paper chain. A downloadable video demonstrates just how easy it is to use Links of Love to organize a festive holiday activity.

Whatever the future may hold, Powers knows that Christmas is coming. And quickly.

“It’s time to get busy,” she said. “With this year’s mailing, we don’t know what to expect, but we pray for the same overwhelming response from our faith community as we continue the work of Jesus and express our appreciation for the gifts that we, the children of God, have freely received.”

Now is the time to unite with thousands of others using the Presbyterian Giving Catalog to support the ministries closest to their hearts:  feeding the hungry, comforting the brokenhearted and sharing our faith with young and old. Give today by clicking here.

For further information on hosting an alternative giving market with the Presbyterian Giving Catalog, click here.


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