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Six-figure gift inspires Matthew 25 mission work in the Presbytery of Milwaukee

Congregations ‘answer the call to mission’ in their communities and beyond

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

At right, Joseph Fresch, mission chair of Living Hope Presbyterian Church in the Presbytery of Milwaukee, presents Karen Tredwell, executive director of the Waukesha Food Pantry, with a donation to assist in combating hunger and food deserts in and around Waukesha County. The gift — made possible, in part, through an anonymous donor’s generosity — is part of the presbytery’s Matthew 25 vision. (Photo by Michael Egly)

LOUISVILLE — “We were blessed with a $100,000 gift from a donor who wished to remain anonymous,” said Rachel Yates, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Milwaukee. “The donor wanted every congregation — no matter its size — to have $2,000 for mission.”

Leaders in the Presbytery of Milwaukee, a Matthew 25 presbytery since last September, suggested that its 41 congregations could use the gift in building congregational vitality, dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty — the three focus areas of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Matthew 25 vision.

“The donor was very agreeable with our suggestion,” Yates said. The remainder of the gift was retained by the presbytery for the same purposes.

Living Hope Presbyterian Church in Menomonee Falls, Wis., known as Brookfield United Presbyterian Church and Brookfield Presbyterian Church for many years, is a congregation of around 60 members that began in 1960 with a gathering in the basement of Dixon Elementary School.

In 2015, Brookfield Presbyterian sold its building and moved to shared space in Dickson Hollow Senior Living Community, and later that same year became Living Hope Presbyterian Church. Given its more than 45-year relationship with the Waukesha Food Pantry, the anonymous donor’s gift inspired Living Hope’s Session and Mission Committee to become a Matthew 25 church.

“We took that donation and set a goal of raising another $1,000 to be matched by our mission general fund,” said Joseph Fresch, chair of the Mission Committee. The congregation gave the donor’s $2,000 gift to food pantries in Menomonee Falls and Waukesha.

“Much to our pleasant surprise, we raised an additional $2,445, which with the donation from mission, gave us $3,445 to donate to the Waukesha Food Pantry,” Fresch said. Its efforts to eliminate food deserts in the county have included starting a twice-monthly refrigerated mobile food pantry, developing a container garden program for apartment dwellers or backyards, launching a “Teens Grow Greens” program, coordinating a twice-monthly home delivery program for homebound households and senior living communities, and working with the Aging Disability Resource Center to accept federal Senior Farmers Market vouchers at the Waukesha Farmers Market.

In 1971, nearly five decades before the PC(USA)’s vision of Matthew 25 mission, 37 youth from Living Hope’s predecessor church walked 1,000 miles in the Milwaukee Hunger Hike, raising $1,200 for community hunger relief efforts.

In a gratitude report to the donor, presbytery leaders shared a few of the ways this anonymous $100,000 gift is making a difference in people’s lives through mission projects that some of the congregations and the presbytery could never have funded themselves. The report is organized by the six “Healing Through Action” themes that have guided mission in the presbytery for the last 18 months or so:

Medical Care (I was sick and you looked after me.)

  • “The timing could not have been better,” according to one congregation. The gift came just as a mission partner, the Bread of Healing Clinic, had been given the opportunity to purchase pneumonia vaccines for patients — an unlimited supply — if they purchased an initial supply, which the $2,000 was enough to cover.
  • Another congregation used its gift to provide health care and dental care for uninsured and underinsured residents of Rock County through HealthNet, a long-time partner, while other congregations and the presbytery partnered with New York-based RIP Medical Debt to clear nearly $1 million in unpaid medical debt for people faced with choosing between paying their medical bills or providing basic needs such as food or shelter.
  • Bethesda Presbyterian Church partnered with Wisconsin-based Ventures in People to address one of Haiti’s most pressing concerns — clean drinking water — by providing water filters and education on maintaining the filters.

Housing (I was a stranger and you invited me in.)

  • Congregations contributed to Bethel House, an ecumenical nonprofit providing transitional housing to families in need in Whitewater; Family Promise Homeless Shelter locations in Rock County; and Milwaukee’s Street Angels. Three nights a week “The Angels” provide food, clothing, blankets, hygiene items and other necessities to people experiencing homelessness in Milwaukee.
  • A congregation supported the House of Mercy Homeless Center, which provided warm beds and short-term emergency shelter to nearly 700 individuals last year in addition to housing assistance, job placement and child care resources.
  • Project 16:49, which takes its name from the time period between school dismissal and the start of school the next day, received support to provide essentials, life skills, housing and other life-changing opportunities to inspire Rock County’s unaccompanied homeless youth to achieve their goals.
  • Pathfinders programs received support to assist in operating Milwaukee’s only youth-focused Street Outreach team mobile resource center, which meets the needs of young people who are chronically homeless, placing particular emphasis on serving LGBTQ+-identified youth, runaways, youth with disabilities or mental health issues who are aging out of foster care. North Shore Presbyterian Church in Shorewood more than matched the $2,000 gift from its own members.

Criminal Justice (I was in prison and you came to visit me.)

  • Chaplain Williams of the Rock County Jail ministry expressed gratitude for the “hope” the ministry’s Christmas gifts brought to those being incarcerated. “Smiles will be the fruit of your giving,” Williams said.
  • The Prison Fellowship Angel Tree and B.A.S.I.C.S. (Brothers And Sisters in Christ Serving) in Milwaukee received support for prison re-entry and recovery programs, community outreach events and other youth activities.
  • The presbytery issued a challenge for congregations and members to support pretrial relief in the form of cash bail through the Joshua Glover Justice Fund, formed last year. Presbytery commissions and congregations contributed $9,440 for cash bail relief.

Employment (I needed clothes and you clothed me.)

  • To ensure Christmas would be special in a good way, Christ Presbyterian Church in Milwaukee assisted hundreds of families struggling to make ends meet by expanding its popular  Christmas Toy Store.
  • West Granville Presbyterian Church’s Mission Team awarded its gift to the back-to-school initiative of Maple Tree School, part of the Milwaukee Public Schools. The funds provided school supplies, backpacks, incentive awards and school logo hooded sweatshirts to welcome remote students back to in-person learning.

Food Security (I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.)

  • Congregations have used their gifts to donate to hunger programs like Whitewater Community Food Pantry, Milton Food Pantry, Menomonee Falls Food Pantry, Clinton Community Outreach Pantry, Waukesha Food Pantry and the Women’s Center of Waukesha, which provides safety, shelter and support to empower individuals impacted by domestic abuse, sexual violence, child abuse and trafficking.
  • Bethesda Presbyterian Church collected funds for 11 food baskets in November and with the anonymous donor’s gift, it made a substantial cash donation for food baskets and ministry support in December as well.
  • First Presbyterian Church in Clinton used a portion of its gift to purchase seeds and to build raised beds for the congregation’s backyard community garden.
  • Congregations pooled their gifts to create a food ministry by transforming land at Kettle Moraine United Presbyterian Church into a vegetable garden. Apostle Presbyterian Church will serve as a distribution hub for the fresh produce, and the congregation at Delafield Presbyterian Church will preserve the excess produce by canning it for winter. Other congregations, including Jerusalem Presbyterian Church in Wales, will serve as gardeners and/or distribution points for this “Food for the Journey” ministry.

Role of the Church
Matthew 25:40 has this reply when the righteous ask Jesus when they saw him in need: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

To join in the denomination’s mission to assist people who are hungry, oppressed, imprisoned or poor, consider becoming a Matthew 25 group, church or mid council. Sign up at pcusa.org/matthew25.


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