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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Michigan church makes the most of its gifts


Stewardship focus inspires and energizes a congregation

January 6, 2019

The Presbyterian Church of Okemos radically transformed its approach to stewardship. Presbyterian Church of Okemos

In just a little more than a decade, the Presbyterian Church of Okemos, a suburb of Lansing, Michigan, has gone from being a congregation that rarely talked about money to a church where even younger members understand the power of pledges, bequests and endowments to multiply mission and as a means to commit their life to being a part of a faith community.

With help from the Presbyterian Foundation, the 500-member congregation established an endowment in 2010. Stephen Keizer, the Foundation’s vice president for ministry relations, worked with the endowment committee to develop policies and procedures and a plan for promoting contributions to the endowment.

Rob Carlson, pastor of the Okemos church, says it took less than a year to raise the first $100,000 for the endowment, and now the fund is up to $350,000.

Chris Doemel made a substantial bequest to the congregation. Presbyterian Church of Okemos

In early 2015, 43-year-old Chris Doemel, who had joined the Okemos church 15 years earlier and served as an elder and eager participant in the music program, began talking with Carlson about making a significant gift to the church and remembering the church in his will.

“Often, we think of legacy giving as something we don’t push people to consider until they’re over 65,” Carlson says. “Chris was 43 years old and wanted to do something for the church that had meant so much to him.”

In November 2015, Doemel was diagnosed with melanoma. By the time he died in March 2016, he had arranged to leave half of his estate to the church. His bequest included a $100,000 donation to the congregation’s endowment, $300,000 for a permanent fund to benefit the church’s music program, and an undesignated gift of nearly $1 million.

Carlson says Doemel, who worked in the tech industry, initially wanted to make his gift anonymously. But Carlson convinced him that telling the congregation might challenge others to consider planned giving.

Just before heading for the hospital, Doemel told the church’s session, “What I’m giving is just a fraction of what I’ve already been given.”

Bill Given, chair of the congregation’s stewardship committee, says the emphasis on planned giving was part of this past fall’s stewardship campaign. So was an “impact budget,” showing the amounts allocated for programs with a summary of the past year’s accomplishments as well as goals for 2019.

“It’s very important to be open and transparent and engage the congregation” in discussions about budget and finances, and the commitment of church members’ time and talent, Given believes.

“I think people realize that our church has been very fortunate, and now we need to serve our community and the world in need,” he says.

“We’re not going to sit on this money — we’re going to put this money to work,” Carlson says of the church’s investments. The congregation has been very involved in education-related programs, and members are invited to suggest other projects to fund with interest from the endowment.

For example, the church started an English as a second language (ESL) program when the area saw an influx of refugees. The English classes grew into a Global Institute of Learning, now based at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Lansing, which prepares immigrants to pass the GED exam.

The Okemos congregation has also supported efforts to provide computers to Head Start students and college scholarships for young people living in local subsidized housing.

The Okemos congregation is an example of how a church can be inspired “to do bigger and better things” with its money, Keizer says. A permanent endowment can expand a church’s mission in the present and into the future. “What it allows the church to do above and beyond its annual operating budget is huge,” he says.

Keizer believes an emphasis on planned giving is important, not just for the financial health of a church but also for the spiritual vitality of members. Making a legacy gift can be a significant part of a person’s faith journey, leading to a “new level of discipleship.”

That’s why he insists that teaching members about planned giving is “something all churches should do.”

Eva Stimson for the Presbyterian Foundation

Today’s Focus:  Stewardship Focus

Let us join in prayer for:

The Presbyterian Church of Okemos Staff

Rob Carlson, Pastor/Head of Staff
Alice Fleming Townley, Parish Associate
Marlene Brewbaker, Organist
Sue Schnackenberg, Director of Children’s and Youth Ministries
Laurie Horstman, Administrative Assistant
Connor Koppin, Choir Director

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Vicente Guna, OGA
Suzi Gwinn, ILP

Let us pray:

God, as you sow seeds within our hears, let us also reap love by supporting those who need our help and serving others as Jesus did. Amen.

Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, January 6, 2019, the Epiphany of the Lord (Year C)