They weren’t just kidding around at First Presbyterian Church of Decatur, Michigan.
When the Rev. Will Christians, pastor of the 125-member congregation in southwest Michigan, introduced Leonda Shroyer, chair of the church’s Christian education committee, to the Presbyterian Giving Catalog, she and the whole Sunday school program really got moving.
“When I first became familiar with Presbyterian Mission in general and the Presbyterian Giving Catalog specifically,” Christians said. “I found out that Presbyterian giving has a greater ability to provide substantial assistance through mission giving and worldwide partnership than many other organizations.”
Now in its second year, the Presbyterian Giving Catalog — available in print and online — is filled with gift suggestions that are designed to make a difference in the world. The gifts range from $10, which will provide agricultural tools to a family in a developing country, to $2,000, which will assist a community advancement program in Washington, D.C.
All gifts given through the catalog go to ministries supported by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s four Special Offerings. They are combined with other gifts and used where they are needed most by one of the ministries supported by these Offerings.
The resource also includes tools to help Christian educators, Sunday school teachers, and pastors engage their faith communities in conversations about generosity and alternative giving, which is just what Christians and Shroyer did.
“Leonda started collecting a Sunday school-wide offering as an attempt to develop ownership for the kids and help them understand that their giving, however small, could make a huge difference for others,” Christians said. “After a full year, when we saw how much we had raised and that we were only a few dollars short of the $178 price for a pair of goats, that’s what we decided. We also chose goats mainly because so often in developing countries taking care of goats is the responsibility of children. Since it was the children of the church who had raised the money, it seemed especially fitting that it was ‘a kid to a kid’ gift.”
Because the church naturally wanted to recognize the children’s patience and their singular accomplishment, a “Blessing of the Goats” litany was planned as part of a Sunday service in September 2014.
“To make sure the kids wouldn’t forget to come, we told everyone, ‘It would be very ba-ba-ba-bad if you missed it’,” said Christians.
When the kids arrived at the church that morning, there was a pair of stuffed animal goats sitting on the chancel, which many assumed was the surprise. After several children gave a minute for mission about the Presbyterian Giving Catalog, explaining how the goats would improve the lives of a family in need, Christians pronounced a blessing.
“Instead of blessing the stuffed goats, however, out from the back of the sanctuary came a real live goat from a local farm,” said Christians. “So we all gathered around this surprisingly well-behaved, large adult goat and said a prayer together that the goats that we purchased would become a blessing for others just as God has been a blessing to us.”
Although the details have not yet been decided, Christians said he hopes to use this new Sunday school year’s offering toward another similar mission through the Presbyterian Giving Catalog.
“Hopefully, through our collective efforts,” he said, “we can help members and friends of our church to better understand and appreciate the many forms of mission outreach of our denomination.”