Ezra’s account of rebuilding the temple can serve as a biblical framework for the task ahead
by Mark Koenig, Administrative Services Group | Special to Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Wilson Kennedy began serving in Ministry Engagement and Support as the Associate Director for Special Offerings and Appeals on Sept. 25. In this role, he will lead the team that promotes and interprets the four churchwide Special Offerings, the Presbyterian Giving Catalog, Direct Mail, and Digital Fundraising.
“The interview team was struck by Wilson’s ability to articulate a vision for this work,” states the Rev. Dr. John Wilkinson, director of Ministry Engagement and Support, “as well as his leadership and management experience. We are excited to welcome Wilson to our team and look forward to the way he will share his gifts to help us advance our work.”
Kennedy grounds his understanding theologically. “Bringing together our offerings is one of the most essential things we do as Presbyterians. Not only is it undergirded by Scripture and our confessions, it is a fundamental practice of a Reformed ecclesiology,” Kennedy said.
The book of Ezra provides a biblical framework for Kennedy. Ezra recounts the return of people from captivity in Babylon. As they lay the foundations for the new temple, people weep remembering the old temple and its destruction. At the same time, people cheer for the hopeful future represented by the temple that is coming into being.
“There is an inherent tension in a cacophony of shouts of joy and wails that feels very familiar to many of us Presbyterians right now,” Kennedy said. He understands that. “Special Offerings and Appeals sits firmly in the middle of our holy noisemaking, so it is our call to speak across the denomination so that all Presbyterians might know of and join in all the transformative, faithful, and groundbreaking work this is happening.”
Kennedy views the programs of Special Offerings and Appeals, including the Presbyterian Giving Catalog, “as catalysts for congregational vitality, personal spiritual enrichment, and an opportunity for faith formation across all ages. Hopefully, these programs will aid in the work of discernment and help congregations, mid councils, and individuals understand the work Christ is calling them to undertake, and to coalesce their gifts with faithful people across the denomination to make a major impact and to be the church together!”
Learning more about the programs of Special Offerings and Appeals and building relationships with pastors, sessions, mid council leaders, and colleagues in the national offices will be important tasks in the first year. To this end, Kennedy asks for invitations to speak to congregations and mid councils either in person or online. He states, “I want to experience how Special Offerings and Appeals are impacting your ministries across the church!”
Significant anniversaries will occur during Kennedy’s first year. The Presbyterian Giving Catalog celebrates its 10th anniversary. One Great Hour of Sharing celebrates its 75th anniversary in 2024. The Peace & Global Witness Offering marks 40 years helping Presbyterians in all the councils of the church work for peace and justice. For 25 years, gifts to the Pentecost Offering have supported children at risk, youth and young adults. The Christmas Joy Offering completes the menu of General Assembly mandated offerings.
Kennedy begins his ministry at a time when the Special Offerings Review Task Force is at work. Every four years, the Presbyterian Mission Agency “is required to provide a task force for the review and evaluation of the Special Offerings and the recipient ministries and the consideration of new Special Offerings purposes in light of established criteria.” The task force will bring a recommendation to the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board “for the pattern and distribution of Special Offerings for the next four-year cycle (2026-2029). The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board will then make a recommendation to the 226th General Assembly (2024).
The current Review Task Force has an additional mandate. The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board voted that the task force “consider a comprehensive reshaping of the Pentecost Offering, the Peace & Global Witness Offering, and the Christmas Joy Offering in order to develop a unified vision within each offering that more closely aligns with the Matthew 25 call to action.” The task force has been hard at work conducting interviews and will hold its first in-person meeting in October.
This year also brings the transition of Between 2 Pulpits, once a weekly livestream on Facebook, into a podcast to support the work of Special Offerings and Appeals. The podcast will highlight the impact congregations make through their participation in the Special Offerings and support of the Presbyterian Giving Catalog. Between 2 Pulpits will feature ministries and missions funded by their gifts, as well as provide encouragement, ideas, and resources for congregations of all sizes to further the church’s ministry in the world. The first episodes are currently available. Listen and subscribe to Between 2 Pulpits on any of the usual podcast platforms.
Kennedy is well equipped to take advantage of these opportunities, bringing a wealth of experience to his work. Kennedy has served the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as a youth minister before going to seminary, as an associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia, and as general presbyter of Cherokee Presbytery in north and northwest Georgia. He has been an elected member of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and a Young Adult Advisory Delegate to the 220th General Assembly (2012). He currently serves as a member of the Next Church leadership team. In addition, Kennedy is completing a certification in religious fund-raising through the Lilly School of Fund Raising at Indiana University.
Over the course of his service, Kennedy has supported and resourced all types of churches including large urban ones, small rural ones, and immigrant communities. In that experience, he observes, “I have seen the work of our Special Offerings and Appeals at work in my ministry when disaster has struck, peacemaking opportunities become paramount, and through support of youth and young adults, among so many other wonderful experiences and opportunities.”
Acknowledging the challenges that face the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Kennedy also recognizes the possibilities before the church. “The denomination is evolving every day into a community of energy, intelligence, imagination, and love that truly brings every person to the table and values their voice. I want to be part of that work, leading our Special Offerings and Appeals into a space where all Presbyterians joyfully and abundantly contribute to the work God is doing through our church in the world.”
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