Giving ’til it feels good

As the end of the year approaches, my congregation is, like many organizations, in the midst of our stewardship campaign. That campaign will determine the level of financial support for our ministries in 2013.

There is much biblical support for giving to such a campaign. If you’ve been around most any church for most any length of time, you’ve likely heard many of those examples. “God loves a cheerful giver.” (2Cor 9:7) and “it is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35) spring to mind.

Our congregation is involved in many ministries for which we give thanks. Funding those ministries is another excellent reason to give to the campaign.

But how about we get a little more mundane for a moment? How about considering the benefits of giving on the giver? Inspired by an article (which, inexplicably, isn’t online) in the December issue of Men’s Health, we can say with confidence that giving to help others affects our brain, our body, and our spirit.

First, your brain: “Recent neuropsychological research shows that donating to charity activates neural activity in areas of the brain that are linked to reward processing – the same areas that are activated by pleasures like eating and sex.” [read the rest]

Plus, from the not-online Men’s Health article: “Giving to charity can activate the parts of your brain associated with social attachment, a National Institutes of Health study reveals.”

Next, your body: From the International Journal of Psychophysiology, “People who offer social support to others had lower blood pressure and stress levels.”

Giving can help to you to be healthier. And with those lower levels of stress and blood pressure, maybe even help you to live longer!

Finally, your spirit: “New research by one Harvard scholar implies that happiness can be found by spending money on others” (emphasis mine).

“Michael Norton, assistant professor of business administration in the marketing unit at the Harvard Business School (HBS), conducted a series of studies with his colleagues Elizabeth Dunn and Lara Aknin at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Together they showed that people are happier when they spend money on others versus on themselves.” [read the rest]

I don’t know about you, but I find this fascinating…and more than a little fun. So stimulate your brain, be healthier, and feel good. Consider these the good, selfish reasons for giving!

Inspiring generosity

“You ask me how I know my Savior lives? He lives…in the hearts and thus the actions of the people of Woodridge UMC!”

Ok, so maybe the old hymn doesn’t go exactly like that, but it certainly could. Rarely have I been so excited to share a story! Last week’s Administrative Council (the top, decision making body in our church) meeting – and with it perhaps the very future of our congregation – was shaped by displays of inspiring generosity!

The Backstory:

Our Small Miracles Preschool is bursting at the seams and has a long list of families waiting and wanting to register their children. They are in need of space to grow into. So they brought a proposal to Ad Council a few months ago requesting to move the small classroom known as the Yellow Room into the current Youth Room and move their office (currently in an electrical closet) into the Yellow Room.

Obviously, such a request brings with it many questions, including: Where would the youth go? What impact would a room move have on our current ministries? How would future ministries be affected? How would such a move be paid for? How can both the Preschool ministry and the youth ministry be affirmed and supported in this? What is best for the church as a whole in this?

After much discussion about all those questions and more with many youth and adults in many settings over the last few months, an agreement was reached. The current Overflow Room made the most sense as the site for the New Youth Room.

A Few of the Challenges:

  • The Overflow room is farther away from the Narthex/Sanctuary and thus from the main flow of the life of the church.
  • It is smaller than the current Youth Room.
  • It has been treated like a storage space or garage and is in need of much work to make viable.

A Few of the Potentials:

  • Getting the youth involved in creatively creating their own space
  • Injecting energy and excitement into our Youth Ministries
  • Close to the kitchen for easier WNL dinner preparation

More can and is and will be said about both of those categories. But let’s move on with the story for now…

Lori Ann graciously provided an example of what the New Youth Room could look like and an estimate of the costs involved, about $5000. Thanks, Lori Ann!

And So It Came to Pass…

The Preschool offered $2000 toward the New Youth Room improvements. But from where would the rest come? Ad Council quickly affirmed the agreement that neither Youth Council General Budget funds nor youth fundraising funds were to be used – those are needed to fund our current ministries, like retreats and mission trips.

As we groped for a solution, God’s Holy Spirit was at work.

The tension in the room rose. Ideas were proffered but none were found agreeable. The conversation began to devolve.

Then a note was passed.

As Ken, Ad Council Chairperson, looked at the note, I said (in a desperate attempt at humor), “Check the box that you like [the person who sent the note]!”

After all, what is this, Junior High?

No, no, it was instead a very mature, healthy, generous, shocking, inspiring message:

“I will pay for the remaining $3000.” –[signed by an Ad Council member who wishes to remain anonymous]

Stunned silence… Amazed applause!!

Then that Ad Council member got out a checkbook and literally wrote the check right then and there!

But the Spirit wasn’t done with us yet.

Everything Changed…

That member’s generosity paved the way for the Council to adopt the proposed room move, while acknowledging that Youth Council, along with the youth themselves and other youth ministry advocates, need more time to create an exact plan. It is understood that the $5000 is an estimate. Adjustments are possible.

The challenges involved in this move have been discussed. But more discussion and consideration of those challenges is needed, and not just by Youth Council. So included in the adopted motion is:

The church rededicates itself to supporting both youth and preschool ministries and to better including both in the life of the church.

Are those just words? Perhaps. But good, honest, well-meaning intent is present. And so are actions. In fact, I’m absolutely convinced that act of incredible generosity completely changed the feeling in the room, the tenor of the discussions that followed, and inspired others to similar generous action.

You see, the other major decision before Ad Council that night was finalizing and approving the 2011 Budget (aka General Budget, aka Operating Budget). That went pretty smoothly.

The interesting and challenging part was how Ad Council wrestled trying to make the available $8300 spread over $26,000 worth of worthy requests to add to the Budget. It is an amazing story in and of itself…but one I can’t scoop Finance on. It’s their story to tell this week. So you have to come to worship with us this Sunday, Feb 6 at 9:00 or 10:30am to hear it!

Suffice it to say that others present that night also made generous commitments of their family’s money so that the church could indeed fund some of those worthy requests, requests which will increase the ministries of the church.

For instance, WUMC is able to fund the Confirmation line item at the full $2700 requested. Why? Because at that meeting one family (who also wishes to remain anonymous) committed $2000 toward it! Amazing!

Think of it. The Small Miracles Preschool and those two families comprise three people with no direct connection to WUMC’s Youth Ministries. And yet together they gave $7000 worth of special gifts to ensure ministries with and for youth are strong in our church!

On behalf of all our young people and all at WUMC who work with them: thank you!

I give thanks to God for how good those people are. I give thanks for how good God is.

Certainly there is more to talk about, more to plan and more to do. I’m excited about all of it! But for now, let’s pause to give more thanks. All of this was possible through the hard work, hard questions, long conversations, and dedication of so many. Especially: Christine, Kevin, Kathy, Karen, Lori Ann, and all the youth who gave input. Thank you.

Now, I can understand if you’re thinking, “So what! Some people gave some money to their own church. Big deal.” And you might very well be right. In many ways, it is no big deal. And through the giving of that money not a single person was fed or clothed or visited in prison or rescued from oppression. At least not directly – our church is involved in ministries and organizations that do all those things. Yet I cannot shake the sense that something…well…holy happened in that meeting that night. In some small yet potent way God was at work in, through, with and in spite of us.

So it seems to me that the question before us all (“you, me, them, everybody…”) is:

What generous offering of time, talent, gift, service and witness is God inspiring in you?