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Unexpected Offering: Stories in Times of Trial

Faith+Lead Coronavirus, Innovate Faithfully 1 Comment

By Karen Johnson Kretschmann

During this time of pandemic in our communities, faith leaders are working diligently to create new experiences of worship, faith formation, and fellowship. We are tapping into our technology skills, creativity, and focus in ways we never imagined. Our congregations are not shut down but, in many cases, ramped up. 

An amazing thing is happening in many faith communities. Our members are finding deep relationships and generosity in unexpected places and formats. Congregations offering online services are connecting with members they have not heard from in years or are gathering groups together who never imagined collaborating before. Though members are experiencing the devastating impact of COVID-19, many are seeking an opportunity to lend a hand and serve in ways they had not expected. 

The Message provides a telling of 2 Corinthians 8 and the situation of the Macedonians that echoes similar experiences. 

1-4 Now, friends, I want to report on the surprising and generous ways in which God is working in the churches in Macedonia province. Fierce troubles came down on the people of those churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colors: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could—far more than they could afford!—pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians.

Paul knew the power of story. He knew that we all experience times of trial, whether pandemic-sized or personal, and it is in these times that “surprising and generous” things can happen. I know many of us are sensitive to the financial and personal difficulties people are experiencing during the coronavirus shut down. However, I hear in Paul’s words and am seeing in our people right now, that it is in these times of the unexpected, when we experience tension and stress, “the pressure trigger[s] something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts.” 

This is not a time to shy away from asking for support. Our congregations need to know the offering is more important than ever to making ministry in new and extraordinary ways and reaching out and helping those in need. Now is the time to get the offering right!  Don’t remove the offering from online worship or say, “we are not taking the offering”. It is time to revitalize the offering in unexpected and enthusiastic ways—to share incredible stories about celebrating new experiences, connecting deeply in virtual spaces, providing still more needed food and personal items to our neighbors, and proclaiming God’s abundant love and generosity lived out through us. Frame the stories not as facts, but as encounters with Jesus that move us to action. Let them reveal new ways to be generous with time, talent, treasure and trust. This is the time to infuse all parts of our worship, fellowship and faith formation with the stories of our resilience and transformation.    

During these unprecedented times, reconnect with the offering in unexpected ways. Keep it sacred. Make it relational. Allow it to build deeper encounters with each other, with Jesus, and with the Holy Spirit. Most of all celebrate and give thanks, for the offering is an act of God working in, with, and through us.         

Photo by Rahul Pandit  

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Comments 1

  1. Two Examples of the Macedonian Church.

    Example One: Earlier this year we were serving at the Community Kitchen. A man – not wearing a shirt – approached me and asked if we had any shirts. I told him: Just a minute and I’ll get you one. I happened to have a box of Thrivent “Living Generously” T-shirts in my truck. I told the folks in the kitchen I had to get something out of my truck. As I was passing through the dining area to my truck, I noticed several men reaching into their backpacks, backpacks that contained everything they owned and pulling out a T-shirt to share with this man who had none. This is what is meant by the Generosity of the Macedonian Churches.

    Example Two: Some of you may know that what I do for recreation is whitewater canoeing. It is something I have done for over 30 years. In July, I went to the Carolina Canoe Club Week of Rivers. Kayakers and canoeists from all over the eastern United States gather at a campground in the mountains of western North Carolina for a week of paddling. Then every day, they sort themselves out and go paddle a river of their choice. The Carolina Canoe Club has been hosting this event since 1969, so this marked the Golden Anniversary.

    More than 500 paddlers met during the first week of July this year. Among them were two paddlers from Ireland. They had been part of a group of two dozen paddlers from Ireland who had come 25-years ago. I asked where they were going after the Week of Rivers. They said they were going to spend several days in Nashville, a day in Memphis and then go to Oklahoma.

    “Oklahoma?” I asked quizzically.

    It seems that in 1847, the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma had learned of the plight of the Irish because of the Potato Famine. They were so moved by the plight of the Irish people during the Famine they raised $170.00 for “the relief of the starving poor in Ireland.” This was 16 years after the Choctaw Trail of Tears. These paddlers from Ireland were making a pilgrimage to Oklahoma to personally say thank you.

    Today, the Irish people are still grateful for the generosity of the Choctaw people. A monument stands in Midleton’s Bailick Park as a tribute to the tribe’s charity during the Great Famine. Named “Kindred Spirits,” the magnificent memorial features nine giant stainless steel feathers, shaped into an empty bowl.

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