Risk-taking church experiences windfall
BY MELISSA LAUBER
To celebrate the birth of a savior and live out the lessons of the previous year, the congregation of Wesley Freedom UMC in Eldersburg took a leap of faith. They had no idea they would land in such an interesting place.
Last fall, the congregation engaged in a sermon series based on Bishop Robert Schnase's book on the "Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations."
"We asked ourselves what we could do that was radical, passionate, intentional, risk-taking and generous," said the Rev. Bill Brown. "We thought, ‘why don't we do something with the Christmas Eve offering. We could give some of it away.'"
Some members were initially concerned about taking money away from the church budget at the end of the year - especially the suggestion that 50 percent of the money become a gift to others. Traditionally, the congregation received $20,000 in the collection plate at Christmas time.
At first we considered tithing 10 percent of our Christmas Eve offering and realized it was easy to trust that God would provide when it wasn't a lot of money, Brown said. "Half of a large number isn't as easy," but after some discernment the church's finance committee and church council came to the conclusion that they couldn't give anything less than 50 percent.
They designated the money to Escape Ministries and The Shepherd's Staff, two Carroll County social service agencies to whom the church refers people in need of assistance with rent, emergency shut-offs and food.
Some in the congregation joked that "we've been passing the buck, so now it's time to pass some bucks," said Brown. But even knowing the money would help others didn't make some people less nervous about having enough to cover the church's bottom line expenses.
"But this was something we did because it's who we are. Choosing to give was a definite sign of God's wonder. God's work is going on here," Brown said.
That's why the pastor was delighted, but not shocked, when $40,000 came into the collection plate for the Christmas Eve offering.
"God provided. Above and beyond our expectations, God provided," he said.
The congregation burst into spontaneous applause when they heard the amount collected. The members agreed the offering is a reflection of the theme verse the church has adopted for the year, Ephesians 3:20, which states: "Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine"
"This collection was not a one time thing," Brown said. "We know God is at work in us and can do more than we can ask or imagine. We are different already because of this step of faith. I can only see us building upon it."
Wesley Freedom UMC is "building community where people discover, deepen and demonstrate their Christian faith." Learn more about their ministry at www.wesleyfreedom.org.