In 2021, gifts from the Endowment Fund of Vicksburg United Methodist Church provided $30,000 in scholarships and an additional $16,000 for school supplies for village scholars.
GLENN M. WAGNER
Michigan Conference Communications
Religious headlines in the secular news often trumpet the negative. Broadcasters and reporters have a vested interest in capturing an audience to secure continuing funding from advertisers. Negative news has a morbid appeal for a large audience. A greater truth, less often reported by commercial media, is that God is still at work transforming lives. Faithful people regularly serve in grace-filled ways to make a positive difference in their communities for the cause of Christ.
Here is one of those great religious news stories from Vicksburg MI.
Vicksburg is a community of almost 3,000 persons located 14 miles south of Kalamazoo. Vicksburg United Methodist Church, home in a building on Main Street at the heart of the village, has been engaged in effective ministry for Jesus since 1872. According to Vicksburg UMC’s pastor, the Rev. Greg Culver, Vicksburg’s hometown culture is influenced by surrounding farms and major nearby employers in the area like Pfizer, Stryker, Bronson Hospital, and Western Michigan University.
The church has been a good neighbor in the village and its ministry is valued and respected. Culver praises his congregation as a caring community that has pulled together during the pandemic, strengthened stewardship, developed its online ministry, and sustained its commitment to sharing the love of Christ with others in tangible ways. The church website further describes the church’s ministry. “We’re not a bunch of ‘super Christians’ who have it all perfectly put together. We love God and we love people. Our hearts and our minds are open to Jesus transforming our otherwise dull lives so that we can be authentically human like Him and go serve our neighbors in His name. Together, God is leading us to be a multi-generational church of Spiritual Purpose, Presence, and Power.”
Culver noted that 25 years ago Vicksburg residents Leland and Doris Weick, local business owners appreciative of the church’s consistent faithful service to others, surprised the congregation with a generous gift to start an endowment with the intent that the proceeds from their contribution would be used in perpetuity to benefit the work of education and provide scholarships for others.
Vicksburg UMC church member, Nancy Fulton remembers the transformational givers and their gift with fondness in an article about the endowment published in the Vicksburg UMC’s 150th-anniversary booklet. In this article about the Weick gift, recipients of scholarship assistance from the church are also encouraged to live so they too can give of themselves for others.
“Doris and Lee Weick gave to VUMC the largest one-time endowment donation in our congregation’s history. On December 29, 2005, we received two checks from their estate totaling $655,970.72 . . . Doris and Lee were the proprietors of the Doris-Lee Sweet Shop on Prairie Street in Vicksburg. They lived at first above the shop in an upstairs apartment . . . They worked long hours, six days a week, with shorter hours on Sunday, because they had to get out the Sunday newspapers to homes in Vicksburg. It was a favorite spot for those who wanted some ice cream which Lee made in a back room . . . They gradually morphed into a fine gift shop that was the first in the area to have Hummel figurines, Hallmark Cards, and other popular items. They were savvy businesspeople who knew how to, and were unafraid, of change. Upon their passing, they donated all the store memorabilia to the Historical Society. Today, there is a building, on the grounds of the Historical Society, bearing their name that houses all these old-fashioned items.
The Weick endowment gift to the Vicksburg United Methodist Church has been invested with the United Methodist Foundation of Michigan. The Foundation follows ethical and moral guidelines for investing in order to advance United Methodist Social principles. According to Culver, the endowment fund’s balance has grown to enable the church to share almost $30,000 per year in scholarship assistance in secondary education for qualifying young adults from the church. This year the church team, aware of the many challenges faced by teachers in the classrooms of local elementary schools during this extended pandemic decided also to provide $16,000 of “God’s money” to Vicksburg’s three elementary schools which serve children in a District 22 miles wide. These funds helped purchase needed but otherwise unfunded classroom supplies.
Pastor Culver further explained the distribution noting that for the past 20 years volunteers from Vicksburg United Methodist Church have faithfully donated time every week through the Kid’s Hope Program at Vicksburg’s Tobey Elementary School to mentor at-risk children. Kids Hope USA is a proven life-changing program through church-school partnerships which trains and equips mentors to reach kids in public schools who are in need of caring, reliable, one-on-one relationships. This program operates in 34 states and facilitates almost 1,000 church-school partnerships providing mentors each year for 15,000 at-risk students. Mentors, standing alongside teachers and parents, ensure children that they are not alone. Through the power of relationship, children build resilience and a brighter future. Currently, 15 members of the Vicksburg congregation continue to be involved with this life-changing effort.
So, $10,000 of this year’s $16,000 endowment gift was given to help with needs at Tobey Elementary. A gift of $3,000 each is earmarked for use at Vicksburg’s Indian Lake and Sunset elementary schools. Culver added, “It is God’s money. We are the stewards. We trust the school superintendent to administer the gift and the teachers to use it for the benefit of their students.”
Culver shared that the response to the gift has been gratifying. Appreciative students have shared artwork with the church and appreciative teachers and administrators have sent letters of profound thanks.
The gift was also acknowledged by the Vicksburg School Board at the start of its September 13, 2021 meeting and was covered in a story reported in Vicksburg’s South County News.
Consider all the good news of this wonderful gift. Citizens benefiting from their thriving family business in their home community found a way to share their blessings by setting up an endowment with a congregation doing good things in the neighborhood. That gift matured over decades of ethical investments continuing to allow proceeds to assist education for deserving students. Church members dedicated to helping others spend 20 years growing meaningful relationships with students and teachers as volunteers in a local elementary school. In a continuing spirit of generosity, the church makes a transforming gift to benefit teachers and students in a time of crisis when that gift is greatly needed.
When God’s people get it right, God’s love faithfully shared is a gift that changes lives for the good and keeps on giving. God’s love shared is a headline story worth repeating. Thank you Vicksburg United Methodist church for helping to make great news that really matters.