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Bringing new meaning to ‘re-gifting’

Local church challenges congregants to give

By Linda Gracey

lgracey@altoonamirror.com

Zion Lutheran Church in Hollidaysburg has given new meaning to the word “re-gifting.”

When the church observed Epiphany the weekend of Jan. 11 and 12, Pastor Dave Bowman’s sermon focused on the meaning of the day — a celebration of the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. Not only did he ask the congregation to think about epiphanies or God moments in their own life, but challenged them to be part of other people’s epiphanies — or how others see God at work.

During his message, he invited a member from each household to come forward and take an envelope at random from a basket. The envelopes contained checks for either $100, $250 or $500. They were signed and completed with the except of the “Pay to the Order” line. It was blank.

“People’s eyes got really wide” when they opened their envelopes, Bowman said. “They didn’t hear much of my sermon after that. Their minds were in overdrive. They were processing that the church was giving money to them.”

“I was flabbergasted by that amount,” said Denny Rodriguez, who along with his wife, received $500. “It took me off guard, I was not expecting it.”

The envelopes also contained instructions on what to do with the checks. They had been given to the church families to give away.

Bowman said a total of $30,450 was distributed to 116 households, including two visitors. About a third of the money was from Christ Second Lutheran Church in Altoona. When the church closed a number of years ago, it gave a donation to Zion Lutheran Church with the request that the money be designated for ministry in the community. The other two-thirds came from Zion Lutheran Church. The project, known as Joyous Generosity, previously had been approved by Zion’s Congregation Planning Council.

Bowman was inspired to do the project after reading about a Lutheran church in Texas doing a similar one with $100,000 in the “Living Lutheran” publication, and a member of the congregation, who shared a story in the Washington Post with him about a Lutheran church in Cincinnati that gave its church members $60,000 to give away.

Although the church members were to bless someone else with the money, the church gave them no stipulations as to how to do it.

They could cash the check to buy supplies, use it for seed money for their project or write the name of the recipient on the blank line and give it to that person or organization. On Feb. 15 and 16, the members shared what they did with their unexpected gift by responding to three questions that came with the initial instructions.

They were: How did you decide your project?; What did you do?: and How did this project make a difference in your faith life?

When considering where the money should go, the members were asked to pray to determine where they felt called to make a difference.

“The discernment process was eye-opening,” Bowman said. “They had to specifically look for needs around them — what organizations, individuals spoke to them.”

For some families, the decisions took a couple of weeks with discussions around the dinner table while others knew where it was to go the minute they got the check, Bowman said.

If they were able to give the gift face-to-face, the church members were to explain how Joyous Generosity came about. It became an exercise in evangelism, Bowman said.

Rodriguez recalled going through the process and how overcome he was at first by the opportunity for everyone to make their own decisions without any pressure from the church.

“We didn’t take the matter lightly,” he said about he and his wife’s prayful consideration. “We wanted to make sure we made the right decision.”

Rodriguez said they divided their gift with $300 going to The Door in Bellwood and $200 going to the American Rescue Workers in Hollidaysburg.

He said The Door assists teenagers by letting them know they are loved, providing a meal and helping with homework, and the American Rescue Workers helps people in need.

Joyous Generosity “increased my faith,” Rodriguez said.

He said he got inspiration from James 2:16, a Bible verse that says what good is it to merely wish someone well without doing anything to satisfy that person’s needs.

Roger Johnson, a professor at Mount Aloysius College, used his gift of $100 to illustrate what it means “to pay it forward” while giving his students an opportunity to express their experience with generosity in a writing assignment.

Johnson said he and his wife talked for a few days about how to give the money away before coming up with the idea.

Each one of his 13 students was given $10 (the Johnsons added $30 to their initial gift).

“They were as intrigued as I was when they got the money,” he said. “The professor was handing out $10 (to everyone). Some of them sat there stunned.”

While some students were familiar with the pay it forward concept, others were not. They had a class discussion about giving and how research indicates that happiness increases through acts of generosity.

Once the students gave the money away, they wrote about what they learned or any insight they gained.

When it came to giving the money away, “nearly all of them did something personal,” Johnson said. “It was really quite moving.”

He said a number of the students added to the $10 to enrich their gift. Some of the students took a friend or roommate who was having a tough day out for lunch or dinner and needed more than $10 to cover the cost.

Many said the assignment made them feel good and in a few cases, the recipient of the gift was interested in helping someone else.

Bowman mentioned some ways, the members helped others in his sermon on the weekend of Feb. 15 and 16.

Church members helped organizations that help the hungry and the homeless as well as housing providers, medical research and children’s programs to name a few.

“From Hollidaysburg to Altoona to Pittsburgh to Africa we have spotted need and spread the light of Jesus Christ,” he said.

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