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Four UM churches honored for generosity

Church receiving award, grant

The United Methodist Foundation of Michigan recently named four United Methodist churches as leaders in generosity and stewardship.

Content Editor

United Methodist churches in Michigan are finding creative ways to do ministry out of hearts filled with gratitude for all God has given them. This has translated into congregational ministries abounding with grace and transforming their communities.

The United Methodist Foundation of Michigan (UMF) recently honored four of these churches as Wayne C. Barrett Steward Leaders. This annual award is granted to United Methodist churches in Michigan that exemplify good stewardship and a culture of generosity.

Crystal Falls: Christ UMC in the western Upper Peninsula, Green Street UMC in Hastings, Milwood UMC in Kalamazoo, and Central UMC in Traverse City were recognized as leaders in stewardship and awarded $2,500 grants. Each church plans to use the grant to further its mission and vision as faith communities committed to extravagant generosity.

For Crystal Falls: Christ UMC, their Action Words of Advent campaign last year is one way they creatively seek to embody a culture of generosity. The church committed $700 to put the four Advent themes of hope, joy, peace, and love into action in their community.

Giving pie and pop during Advent
During the fourth week of Advent, focusing on the theme of love, Crystal Falls: Christ UMC member Patti Steinberg and Pastor Vicky Prewitt dropped off pies and pop at the Iron County Jail for inmates and staff to enjoy. ~ photo courtesy Vicky Prewitt

During the first week, focusing on hope, they chose the Caring House Domestic Shelter in Iron Mountain. The church set up collection cans throughout the community, worked with a local market with a round-up-at-the-register event, and gathered cash donations from other local nonprofits. They raised $2,400 for the shelter to help those fleeing violent situations at home.

The next week’s theme was joy. One group reached out to the Iron County Medicare Facility and supplied winter hats and gloves for residents when they go to appointments outside the facility. They also made gift packages for the residents who don’t have any family. Another church group brought food, clothing, personal hygiene items, and cash to the Guardian Angels Food Pantry.

For the week of peace, the church developed its own Advent calendar, which was then distributed to local senior centers, the library, and adult care facilities. They also purchased 50 Bibles for inmates at the Iron County Jail for inmates to use, along with the Advent calendars.

During the final week of love, church members went back to the local prison and brought pie and pop for the inmates and staff to enjoy for Christmas. They also supported the Iron County Foster Family organization by opening their church for them to hold a Christmas party for their foster families.

By utilizing $700, the time and passion of volunteers, and the physical space and resources of the church building, Crystal Falls: Christ UMC was able to give generously, and God honored their efforts. They were able to reach many people, many of whom are marginalized or seemingly forgotten in their communities, with the love of Jesus through their acts of kindness.

Giving generously during Christmas is also a hallmark of Green Street UMC’s mission in rural Barry County. The church asks members to distribute gift certificates for local businesses on behalf of the church during the holidays. It’s something they started during the pandemic in 2020. Their end goal was to support local businesses and to make Christmas a bit brighter for the recipient and their family, with the vast majority of these gift certificates going to people in the community that needed it most.

The church noted how this spirit of generosity, although it may seem risky, has turned into a multiplication of blessings: “When many churches were reducing the amount of their benevolent giving due to COVID-19, we increased our giving, which included distributing approximately $20,000 in Barry Bucks and another $6,000 in Hastings-area restaurant cards in 2020. And benevolent giving has increased every year since, such that we now give a tithe of our operating budget to folks in the local community during the holiday season.”

Food delivery truck
Milwood UMC’s food pantry is open twice a week and feeds some 10,000 people annually. One of the sources of food is the South Michigan Food Bank, which serves eight counties and is based in Battle Creek. ~ photo courtesy Milwood UMC Facebook page

At the heart of Green Street UMC’s mission is making disciples of Jesus Christ and feeding people, both spiritually and physically. And by cultivating a culture of generosity, the church can feed people all year. They spent twice as much on food in 2022 compared to 2021. Hundreds of people come to the church weekly for food and other assistance programs through the Food Pantry, Community Meal, and Fresh Food Initiative. They also provide weekend food to some 60 Hastings school students via the Hand2Hand backpack program.

Because of their outstanding leadership in the community, Green Street UMC was recently recognized with the Community Impact Award by the Barry County Chamber of Commerce.

Milwood UMC in Kalamazoo lives into its culture of generosity through its twice-weekly food pantry, which gives out some 10,000 meals each year, and its sharing of produce and extra food with the neighborhood. This year, they also began a supplemental feeding ministry—Little Free Pantry—that gives a space outside for neighbors to share what food items they have.

An openhearted spirit can be found in other areas of Milwood’s mission and ministry. Nearly every month, they have a free event open to the community. They have free movie nights at a Kalamazoo theater, which are tied to upcoming sermons. To begin Lent, they host a free Mardi Gras jambalaya dinner with live music. Other free events include a trunk-or-treat in the fall, a block party with tacos from a local business, quarterly fine arts concerts, a live nativity and petty zoo around Christmas, and a neighborhood day camp that had 40 children for their second year. The church also gives summer camp scholarships for older children.

The major project that embodies Milwood UMC’s care for the children in their community is the new playground built for two- to five-year-olds. This gift was intended for the children in their neighborhood and at the two preschools the church hosts.

The generosity of spirit found within Milwood has translated into increased financial giving. The church noted that it has increased its budget for the second year in a row, increased the number of givers, and increased household giving.

Traverse City: Central UMC lives out its mission—“Together in Christ . . . Reaching Beyond Our Doors”—through its intentional investment in outreach ministries. They have committed to putting 18% of their annual budget toward various initiatives, including a refugee ministry coordinated by their missions team, their community feeding ministries, and a significant investment in newcomer housing and community garden infrastructure improvements.

Justice issues related to housing and immigrant welcome are two areas that show how Central has reached beyond its doors with acts of generosity.

People marching to end homelessness
Traverse City: Central UMC has been an advocate for ending community homelessness for many years. On December 21, 2022, members of Central’s outreach ministries and Central youth joined in the longest night memorial walk to remember the 10 community members who died during the year while homeless. ~ photo courtesy Traverse City Central UMC’s Facebook page

In 2021, Central agreed to make improvements on a piece of property that included a community garden they were already invested in and a run-down home with no purpose. Because of the housing crisis in the Traverse City area, Central partnered with Habitat for Humanity to make significant improvements to the house and property.

Central’s commitment to refugee welcome dovetailed with this property renovation. Their mission team connected with the local Ukrainian community and a migration ministry project to identify families needing safety and a new start in the United States. First, the missions team worked to resettle an Afghan family, which chose another housing option. Then Central welcomed a Ukrainian family to Traverse City, and the refugee family moved into the renovated and furnished home.

In very different ways, each of these four congregations has created its own culture of generosity, and each was awarded $2,500 grants to continue their mission as Wayne C. Barrett Steward Leaders.

This award was established by the United Methodist Foundation of Michigan board following the retirement of Rev. Wayne Barrett as president and executive director. Stewardship education was Barrett’s passion, as he served more than 1,000 congregations with programs and consultations in planned giving, capital funding, and stewardship development.

Rev. Dr. David S. Bell, president of the foundation, commented, “Wayne was a legendary leader of the foundation for many decades. His passion for the local church and its generosity ministry was unmatched among his peers. We are so pleased to honor his legacy. Moreover, this award allows churches to seed or accomplish some ministry that they otherwise might not be able to consider. We are amazed at the creativity and innovation of church leaders who apply for this award.”

The award is presented to those who embrace a larger view of church finances. The award is meant to recognize those leaders that look beyond budgets and building projects. The foundation wants to hear stories of serving, giving, and investing in the community. They want to see how a church encourages others to see God’s generosity and love.

Application for the 2024 Wayne C. Barrett Steward Leader Awards will open next year with a deadline of March 15. Please find out more information on their web page by clicking here.

Last Updated on July 25, 2023

The Michigan Conference