Most congregations receive offering 50 days after Easter
By Pat Cole | Presbyterians Today
When First Presbyterian Church of Homewood, Illinois, celebrated 150 years of ministry in 2008, it wanted to both cherish the past and embrace the future.
As the congregation looked toward opportunities, it decided one focus should be at-risk children who were being served by the nearby Jones Memorial Community Center.
During the anniversary year, members of First Presbyterian converted a random collection of children’s books into a functioning library at Jones Center. Karen Maurer, a retired early childhood educator, volunteered in that project and continues to serve in the tutoring program.
She tutors a third-grader who struggles to add two-digit numbers, but she also works with a gifted first-grader. While she and the first-grader were playing Shut the Box, an old-fashioned wooden game, he showed her a new dimension of the game. She had learned it as an addition game from her grandchildren, but he surprised her by demonstrating that it can also be a subtraction game.
The commitment the congregation made to children during its anniversary year continues 10 years later thanks to the steady stream of volunteers like Maurer who freely give their time.
Maurer says providing moral and emotional support alongside academics is crucial.
“Most aren’t from great home situations, and they often come to the tutoring program after a stressful school day,” she said.
Another Homewood member, Chris Dederer, led a children’s choir and taught piano classes for nearly a decade at Jones Center.
“I sought to lay a foundation in these children’s lives and give them an opportunity to see a positive male role model,” said Dederer, a professional church musician. “I’m not sure how many of these kids have that in their lives.”
Nancy Jo Dederer, pastor of First Presbyterian, says congregations open themselves to the “joy of ministry” when they decide to serve where children are. “It’s not about getting members,” she emphasized. “It’s about sharing the love of Jesus Christ.”
Making a local impact
The children served by Jones Center benefit not only from the time and talents of First Presbyterian members, but also from Pentecost Offering gifts that the congregation directs to the center. Each congregation may retain 40 percent of the offering for local ministries that help children at risk, ministries with youth and/or young adult ministries. Ministries of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that address these needs receive 60 percent of the offering. While the Pentecost Offering can be taken anytime, most congregations receive it on Pentecost Sunday, 50 days after Easter.
The offering focuses on the age range that Christian educators and others call “the first third of life.” They see this opening chapter of life as critical for faith formation and for developing the skills and maturity that lay the groundwork for future achievement.
The Young Adult Volunteer (YAV) program, one of the national church’s ministries supported by the offering, prepares future leaders for the church and challenges them to lead a life of deeper discipleship.
During her year of service at Casa del Buen Trato Hovde (Hovde House of Good Treatment), a shelter for young survivors of sexual abuse and domestic violence in Huánuco, Peru, Kristen Young saw lives transformed and experienced transformation herself.
Young remembers the face of Diana, who came to the shelter scared and refusing to smile. As the days passed, Diana’s somber countenance began to brighten as she experienced the warmth and acceptance of the shelter staff. Young was especially moved when she saw the delight Diana took in her newborn son. It was a moment, she said, that gave witness to the opening words of a song frequently sung at the shelter: “The Spirit of God is in this place; the Spirit of God moves in this place.”
Young saw the Spirit move when teen moms who were raised in abusive homes learned to be caring and conscientious parents. She saw God at work as shelter residents graduated high school, went on to further study, and took steps toward independent living.
“I am so grateful for all of the support, encouragement and generosity that made it possible for me to serve as a Young Adult Volunteer,” Young said.
Young completed her year of YAV service in 2017, but she continues to see the Spirit move in her home in Hawaii. Thanks to a grant from the Presbytery of the Pacific, Young is involved in a 10-month internship working with Micronesian youth at Lanái Union Church in Lanai City, Hawaii.
In her ministry, she is inspired by what she learned in Peru.
“God is not just in church,” she said. “Much of the time, we find God outside the church.” She stresses the need to work for the kind of world God wants and urges the youth to nurture their relationships with God and others.
Faith in the world
Because of the forces of globalization, today’s youth readily see both the vastness and the connectedness of God’s world. How do they make sense of their faith in such an environment?
That was one of the primary issues addressed at Faith in 3D, held on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend last year. Amid the international showcase at Walt Disney World’s Epcot, more than 2,000 youth from three denominations, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), saw a snapshot of the world through the lens of faith.
Through a special arrangement with Disney, the youth entered the park before it opened to the public. “We had discussions with the kids about what it means to be a Christian in the global world and to be a global citizen,” said Adam Bowling, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Morganton, North Carolina. “We talked about what it means to love your neighbor and what does ‘being a neighbor’ mean. We discussed international mission partnerships and partnerships with mission co-workers.”
Nurturing a beloved community and working for nonviolent change, themes that permeated King’s life and ministry, were woven throughout the programming.
Mason Streppa, a high school junior from First Presbyterian in Morganton, said he was struck by the relevance of King’s message for the present day. “What he said back then (about racial justice) is still very much on the minds of people today, and it is still being heard today,” he said.
Streppa’s involvement at Faith in 3D set him on a course that led to his ordination as a youth deacon for mission and outreach. Prior to his ordination, he went to Guatemala on his first international mission trip and discovered that what he had learned at Faith in 3D proved helpful. “At Faith in 3D, I could stick my foot in the water of foreign cultures,” Streppa said. “When I got to Guatemala, things started coming back to me from Faith in 3D about the different cultures, languages and food.”
Bowling has taken three youth groups to Faith in 3D since 2009.
“The preaching is always excellent, and it provides a witness to Dr. King’s legacy and the plan and dreams God has for you,” he said. He has seen youth reorder their priorities and even change career ambitions after attending Faith in 3D.
“From childhood through young adulthood, ministries supported by the Pentecost Offering are making transformation possible,” says Bryce Wiebe, the PC(USA)’s director of special offerings. “The Pentecost Offering helps put children, youth and young adults on a course to reach their fullest potential with a foundation based in their faith. Gifts to the Pentecost Offering make a difference now and in the future.”
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Pat Cole is a communications specialist with the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
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