Helping our fellow humans improves the health, happiness and often the longevity of those who volunteer. However, the blessing can work both ways, as Sharon Connole-Key can attest as both a recipient of and donor to the Christmas Joy Offering.
“The experience of receiving generosity has empowered me to do for others,” Connole-Key says. Battling advanced thyroid cancer since 2001, she was facing the growing medical bills that come with treating long-term diseases. Like so many Americans, she didn’t know where to turn. “No one should have to choose between food and medicine.”
Sharon sought counsel from her pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Liberty, Missouri. “It is hard to ask for help,” says Connole-Key. Together they found help through the Board of Pensions matching grant and the Income Supplement and Housing Supplement programs, funded by the Christmas Joy Offering.
“This is more than a physical blessing, but a deeply spiritual one for me,” says Connole-Key. Retired after serving as a lay worker for 24 years, she considers her gift a blessing to be shared. “I believe in paying forward by giving and tithing to the Christmas Joy Offering to help someone else. It is truly a gift from God.”
Traditionally collected by Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations during Advent, the Christmas Joy Offering also supports education and leadership development at Presbyterian-related racial ethnic schools and colleges including the Menaul School and Stillman College.
When Siya Gu came to the United States from her hometown in China, she could never have imagined where her journey would end.
“When I first arrived, I was nervous and scared, because I had no idea what would happen, what to expect,“ says Gu. The education she received at Menaul School was unlike anything offered in China. “At Menaul, I was able to experience an amazing one-on-one relationship with my teachers and my advisor, which really helped me grow and flourish during my time there.”
After two years at Menaul, Gu’s journey is taking her on to a Christian college where she will study sociology, thanks in a large part to her academic experience at Menaul. She attributes the opportunity to explore her faith to really learn who she is as an individual and where her passions truly lie.
Doreen Kayla, a student at Stillman College, grew up in Kenya. Her childhood was very different than that of her classmates. She experienced the height of the violence of the Kenyan crisis, where an estimated 800 to 1,500 men, women and children were killed and 180,000 to 600,000 displaced.
“To be honest, that part of my life is really difficult for me to relive. It’s painful, and I’ve tried to put that behind me,” says Kayla.
Still, she admits this difficult part of her life is where she learned to be a blessing to others. “However little we had, we gave in an effort to save a life. After all, God calls us to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper, so that’s just what I did.”
Kayla is studying psychology at Stillman. “I’ve grown to love this field. My studies continue to give me insight into some of the social issues that I’ve personally experienced in my life. With this new insight, I’ve decided to focus on pursuing a career in the mental health field, with the hope of helping as many people as possible.”
Helping people is what the Christmas Joy Offering is all about. Just ask Rev. Thomas “Tom” Gard and his wife Laurel.
Laurel Gard has multiple sclerosis and is dependent on her husband to physically transport her from the chair into the car and vice versa.
Through a Shared Grant contributed to by the Presbytery of Minnesota Valleys, the Synod of Lakes and Prairies, and the Board’s Assistance Program, they were able to purchase a used van and have it converted to accommodate his wife’s wheelchair.
Tom Gard learned of the assistance program through his executive presbyter. “It is a great example of Christians working together, sharing, and all those things that we aspire to do,” he says. “More people should know about this program, and how their gifts to the Christmas Joy Offering help make this possible.“
“It really is a beautiful thing.”
History of the Christmas Joy Offering
Presbyterians have long celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ by giving generously to an Advent offering. The Christmas Joy Offering dates back to the 1930s when the former Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) began an offering to supplement inadequate retirement income and provide supplemental medical insurance for former ministers, missionaries, church workers and their families. It was first officially called the Joy Gift in 1949.
In the former United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (UPCUSA), a Christmas offering was first taken in 1960. It was called the White Gift—possibly named after a regional tradition elsewhere known as the White Elephant Gift—and its funds were used for general mission and world relief. In 1964 the name was changed to the Christmas Offering, and receipts provided support for health and welfare concerns related to children. The emphasis on global work with children continued until 1973, when the offering was used to assist former servants of the church who were living on inadequate pensions. In 1974 racial ethnic education was added, and in 1979 nursing home care assistance was also included. Funds were distributed evenly between the Board of Pensions and racial ethnic education.
In 1988 the PCUS and the UPCUSA offerings were joined into one offering, the Christmas Offering Joy Gift. It was agreed that neither the Board of Pensions nor the racial ethnic schools would suffer in the merger of the Joy Gift and the Christmas Offering. In 1989 the offering was renamed the Christmas Joy Offering, and in 1991 the 203rd General Assembly changed the distribution of funds to 50 percent to the Board of Pensions and 50 percent to the Presbyterian racial ethnic schools and colleges.