By Brett Hetherington*
People tend to throw around the word “blessing” often without thinking deeply what that word means. Among the definitions given is “a thing conducive to happiness or welfare.” The people of Wellington First United Methodist Church (Firelands District) have recently been given the opportunity to truly be a blessing to many in their community.
Just before Christmas an anonymous friend of the church gifted the church with $30,000 because the donor wanted to help the people of Wellington. “This person is always generous and always gives us something around Christmas, but never this much,” said the Rev. Paul Wilson. “They wish to remain anonymous and do not want to be applauded or recognized for it in any way. They are just living out being the body of Christ.”
With the gift being so large Wilson and church leadership initially thought about investing some of the money with the giver’s blessing. But Wilson shared that a chance encounter changed those plans.
“I ran into that person at the grocery store. They said ‘why are you doing that? Let’s just spend it now!’”
The first part of spending the gift was to travel across the street from the church building to the utility department where Wilson asked about helping pay off overdue bills for Wellington residents.
“We thought there would be a bulk of people who needed help and there was. I went to the utility company directly and they gave me a list of 21 families and said, ‘whatever you can do to help.’ Within a week or so we had spent about $10,000 or so on utilities to catch people up on their bills,” said Wilson.
The church has also been able to aid someone who needed new tires for their car as well as assisting someone who is dealing with health issues and is moving back home to be closer to family. Shopping trips have been planned to help restock the local middle school clothing closet as the church tries to figure out how to help children in the community more directly.
They are also considering reviving one of its outreach ministries that has gone dormant.
“We used to have a gift card ministry where we would hide a $25 gift card in someone’s shopping cart or on a store shelf for someone to find and use to help them with their groceries,” shared Wilson.
This gift has brought with it a certain level of notoriety, as TV and newspaper outlets each shared the church’s story. “It has been a blessing,” said Wilson. “It has also been a little chaotic learning how to spend the money in the right way. We have had to turn people away because the gift was given with the purpose of being used to help the people of Wellington.”
And help they have. At the time of this interview the church has been able to bless 32 different families because of the generous gift, with more lined up to be blessed and plans in place to do even more with the money.
Wilson describes Wellington First UMC as a very generous church overall, even recounting how not long after he arrived a decade ago a smaller church in Republic, OH (a drive of about an hour from Wellington First UMC) needed $1,500 to install a ramp for its building. “Half of their church members couldn’t come in for the Christmas Eve service! So, we started a fundraising drive and contributed almost $1,000 ourselves and supplied the manpower and womanpower to build it. This has always been a generous church inside and outside.”
Wilson is encouraged to see how the spirit of generosity continues to flourish in the church even during the COVID-19 pandemic. People are giving even more than before in donations to the church food pantry and in other areas to help people. “Giving in the last two and a half years has increased for people who do have the ability to give and know that they are blessed to bless. That’s given me hope,” he said.
Wilson went on to recognize the generous spirit of his congregation, sharing how it has been a blessing to the community, and how they – as well as this generous gift – have allowed him to be a blessing to others.
“When the people recognize the source of their blessing, recognize the source of their gift which is God, they are able to share it. When they think it is all because of them they are more likely to keep it to themselves. This is Christianity 101: we are blessed to bless. I’m just lucky to be the one actually handing out the check or card for someone else.”
The Conference Communications team would like to share other stories that highlight ways that each of us is answering the call of Bishop Tracy S. Malone to reach out to our communities in creative ways. Please e-mail your ministry story to EOC Director of Communications Rick Wolcott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.