Excitement is building in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) office of Special Offerings. Although a mid-year increase in One Great Hour of Sharing giving in 2015 is reason enough to celebrate, the Rev. Sally Wright, associate for the Special Offerings Ambassador Program, is thrilled by the response to the recently formed ambassadors group, also known as the Leader Support Network.
Wright is working to recruit and train additional ambassadors. They will tell the stories, she says, of the PC(USA) that will encourage others to get involved with their time, prayers and, of course, money, to advance the church’s mission.
“We hope ambassadors will build relationships with 10 to 20 churches and mid-councils to promote the four Special Offerings of the church,” Wright says. “Through their involvement it gets us more involved in our local churches . . . so we can hear what’s important to them too.”
Wright says the ideal ambassador is a self-starter who is happy to pick up the phone or send an email and talk about the offerings as an “evangelistic tool” that invites others to join in the work of the church.
Ambassadors are asked to be a resource for those churches so they better understand the purpose, importance and long reach of funds donated to Special Offerings. Wright believes they also provide an important connection to the broader church.
“If someone is passionate about mission, that’s the most important thing,” says Wright. “These are people who are passionate about God’s activity in the world, for God’s people and for creation.”
So far, 25 people have signed up to be ambassadors. Wright says the program currently has capacity for another 25.
“We’d love to have ambassadors in every presbytery,” she says. “For now, we’ll work with these 50 people to ensure they have the resources they need to share their excitement about our Special Offerings and to invite people into mission.”
Several videos and print guides are available on the ministry web page, and the first in-person ambassador training retreat will be held Jan. 20–23, 2016, at Stony Point Conference Center in New York.
Topics at the retreat will include fundraising and storytelling 101 and the landscape of Presbyterian giving. Representatives from the PC(USA) office of Special Offerings will be joined by experts from the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Presbyterian Foundation to talk about principles of religious giving.
Stony Point co-directors, Kitty and Rick Ufford-Chase, will be on hand to talk about how the conference center played a central role in its community following Hurricane Sandy and how the center was both a recipient and distributor of Presbyterian Hunger Program and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance funds made available through the generosity of special offerings contributors.
Bryce Wiebe, manager for Special Offerings, says ambassador training is aimed at preparing volunteers “to go out across the country and be faithful interpreters of the offerings and to speak with competence of the work of the church.”
“Ambassador training seeks to help [ambassadors] really understand the work of the offering,” he says. “It’s about how to most effectively connect people to their story, staff, resources and to one another and to understand how to excite people about the offerings.”
Wiebe says the ambassadors will continue to play an important role in educating and involving people in the mission of the church.
“[The program] connects so clearly to who we are and how we do our best work—as a connectional church,” he says. “Research shows people are more likely to give when the appeal is coupled to what we do and consistent with the background information we share. The more leaders we’re reaching out to, the more connection there is to giving; and it builds excitement for the good work that’s being done through the offerings.”
The four annual Special Offerings of the PC(USA) include: One Great Hour of Sharing, which takes place during Lent and supports Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Presbyterian Hunger Program and Self-Development of People; Pentecost Offering, which happens on or around Pentecost Sunday and supports Young Adult Volunteers, youth ministries and children-at-risk, with congregations retaining 40 percent of the offering for youth programming; Peace and Global Witness Offering, which is traditionally collected on World Communion Sunday (Oct. 4in 2015) and supports the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and ministries of reconciliation in World Mission; and the Christmas Joy Offering, which is collected during Advent and supports the Assistance Program of the Board of Pensions as well as Racial Ethnic Leadership Development.