A little less than a year ago when my tenure at First Congregational UCC of Webster Groves began, one of my first tasks was to sit in on the Benevolence meeting, in which a small group of church members distributed the funds raised at the Benevolence auction. The church was distributing not only $15,000 that was calculated into the budget, but an additional $15,000+ that had been raised at this auction. The funds went to local not-for-profits like Every Child's Hope and Webster Rock Hill Ministries, an area food bank. I was so delighted to sit in on that meeting and send $30,000 out into the community to serve, feed, and heal God's people. That's a lot of money for a medium-sized congregational church. I left that meeting feeling so full of hope and excitement for the next year when I would be serving this church.
I continued to watch the church serve the community in such beautiful and healing ways. I saw the congregation's support of one another through adoptions and births, deaths and illnesses, retirements and career moves, and so many other life joys and struggles. I saw the congregation's awesome outreach through the UCC's Mission: 1 campaign. We walked in the 4th of July parade with WG-CARE (Webster Groves Clergy Alliance for Racial Equality), and watched a Green Team develop and help the congregation to understand how taking care of God's planet is essential to our faith. I experienced the long-lived traditions of giving handmade gifts, making sandwiches for those who are homeless, visiting homebound members, and housing other area ministries. I could go on and on...
Well, on Saturday I had the glorious pleasure of attending this year's Benevolence auction. I went full circle around the church's year to see where all the money that we sent out into the community had come from. I learned a few things while I was there, like that the auction started when the church was going through financial turmoil and wasn't able to give as much out of their budget as they used to (a problem many of our churches are seeing in the midst of mainline decline) and that it's possible to turn the church fellowship hall into a fun and classy night out with dinner and wine (and I'm not just saying that because I'm a full-time mom and full-time student and any night out would do at this point). The auction items ranged from artwork by church members to antiques and collectibles to sports memorabilia to stays at members' vacation homes. There was a silent auction and a spoken auction (something I've never experienced before). It was so much fun, and what a great treat to see the way that the whole church-- members and staff-- worked together to pull it off.
I didn't take photos while I was there. I was thinking of waiting to post until after stealing a few photos from church members, but I've got too many other blog posts pending to put this one off (I still haven't written about my thesis!) What I did take a picture of is this precious little ice cream table that we won at the auction for Evelyn and her sweet little friends to sit at and eat ice cream and color on a beautiful summer morning. Obviously, she's a little small for it now, but isn't she precious?
And we took a picture of all three of us right after getting home. E was so ready for bed.
And of course, had to share this photo of my little silly pie doing a back-flip so she can see her daddy.
I could just go on and on about how proud I am of this congregation and the way that they are serving Christ in this community. They are truly an inspiring vision of what it means to be Christian in 2012. It's going to be hard to leave in a few weeks, but I can guarantee I'm bringing with me so much of what I learned from them. They'll always be such a huge part of my work in God's Church.