Stewardship: Pledge Time is Now! Abundance & Generosity: Our Stories


                  STEWARDSHIP 2018 – 2019
The Path to Abundance is Paved with Generosity
    IT’S TIME TO MAKE AN ANNUAL PLEDGE! 

Pledges are welcome any time in March and April  – there will be a dedication of 2018-2019 pledges during worship on Sunday, April 8

    Pledge cards and pledging information were available for pick up at church on Sunday March 18.  Most of the pledge cards not picked up on were mailed to members and friends this past week.  If you have not received yours, it may be one of the 30 or so yet to be mailed – please see Cyndy Hall after either of the two Palm Sunday worship services on March 25 (8 a.m. and 10 a.m.), to pick up your pledge packet.
– You can link to our 2018-2019 Stewardship Brochure/Narrative Budget HERE. 
– You can link to our ONLINE PLEDGE CARD HERE.
– Church Treasurer, Bob Wolf share an overview that reflected back on the successes of the last year and the hopes, goals and vision for the year ahead.  You can see a summary of his presentation HERE.
– A specific preliminary budget document was also shared at the meeting – it is linked HERE.
If you have questions about stewardship or the preliminary budget for 2018-2019, please be in touch with Church Treasurer, Bob Wolf; Church President, Steve Hyde, &/or Stewardship Committee Chair, Cyndy Hall. Thank you!

 

ABUNDANCE & GENEROSITY:
Carrie Bail’s sermon on Epiphany Sunday emphasized the importance of giving to others and receiving God’s gifts.  Our church community is strengthened when we share our personal stories of receiving and giving God’s gifts. From now until Easter there will be time during worship for many of us to be part of this community building opportunity. Please consider offering to share your personal story with our wonderful church community.  Please contact Cyndy Hall via EMAIL or call her at (802) 985.3984.  Thank you.

 SEE BELOW FOR STORIES OF GRATITUDE & STEWARDSHIP FROM:  Dave Grace, Tony Hall, Cyndy Hall, Caroline Crawford, Danielle Rochford, Samantha Wager, and Rob Backus.

DAVE GRACE’S STORY of GRATITUDE:
As we kick off our annual stewardship campaign, each week before the offering, a member of this church will share their personal story of how they have experienced abundance through God’s generous gifts.

I’d like to start with my story. Last summer we moved into a wonderful new old home as a direct result of being part of this church. We first heard of the house from a member of this church, who is now our neighbor, saying it would be listing soon. That early tip allowed us to formulate our plan to actually sell our old place and buy this new one, as well as gave us a connection to the neighborhood in a competitive real estate market.

While we moved our possessions, families from this church organized to provide meals to us for over a week, saving valuable time and effort during a stressful period. On the biggest day of our move, another family took our kids, gave them dinner and got them to bed so we could pull off a monumental task. And last, another member entertained our kids, planted tomato seedlings in our garden, and even later planted new flowers around our yard, making us truly feel at home.

As transplants from the Midwest, we have no family in New England, let alone in Vermont, so we often struggle with the logistics of raising kids with such busy lives, but this church has become our family, and it supports and nurtures us in so many ways. We really are blessed with abundance by God’s generosity.

Now, as we head into the stewardship season, I encourage you to remember Carrie’s sermon from last week, when she asked us to think of the gifts we have received from God as well as those we bring to others. Thank you.     – Dave Grace

TONY HALL’S STORY of GRATITUDE:
As a Partner In Pastoral Care at First Church, my visits to people in the hospital, rehab centers and  nursing homes are a blessing. I have been called to do this work for many years. In this calling I see the Holy Spirit at work.  The Holy Spirit leads me to bring Good News to those in need. The Holy Spirit not only comforts me but enables me to do this work. More importantly the Holy Spirit fosters an environment for healing. Just the act of being present to another human being is powerful and palpable.  Just being present starts the healing process.While I’m not physician, the Holy Spirit helps me offer another kind of medicine; healing t  hrough listening and the power of prayer.

Recently, I visited a member of our church in the hospital.  That day found my friend looking all her 90 years; a bit frail and reticent.  As we talked her story unfolded. The details rolled off her tongue as I listened and asked questions. She told me her story from day one to the present. The more we talked the more animated and engaged she became. I could see a change in her demeanor. Her eyes twinkled, she laughed and her salty personality was restored. I could feel her love for her children, the pride in her accomplishments and  see her gratefulness for friends and First Church. Her vivid memories were a tonic for her soul.

After we prayed, I told her how meaningful our time together had been to me. “Let me tell you something” she said. “All day I have prayed someone would come to visit me. All of a sudden, here you are. My prayer has been answered !”

That’s when I knew the Holy Spirit was among us. That’s when I knew we both had been healed.    What a gift.        – Tony Hall

CYNDY HALL’S STORY of GRATITUDE:
As we continue to think about ways God’s generosity is experienced in our lives, I’d like to share a short story.

Twenty years ago when I was teaching in Bridport, the school received a grant to fund after school clubs. Naturally, I offered hiking. I scheduled two afternoons, one for K-3 and another for 4-6. I taught 6th grade so I knew what I could expect of the older kids. But kindergarteners? It had been a long time since I had dealt with that age group. And sure enough, trying to get everyone ready for our walk was a challenge; eat a snack, bathroom time, shoes tied, find the missing jacket or hat, arguments about who’s first. I thought we’d never get going. Finally we were out the door and safely across the road to a sidewalk. Things evened out, although there was the constant “slow down” for the beginning of the line and “walk faster” for the dawdlers. Soon we were on a quiet dirt road lined with trees. Suddenly a little hand slipped into mine. At that moment I felt a surge of well being. To be so trusted and loved unconditionally was a surprise. Every time I remember that moment, I feel uplifted. That small child may have taken my hand to find comfort for herself, but in so doing, she comforted me. That’s the wonder of this circle of God’s love.

A trusting hand, a smile, a word of affirmation; these are some of the ways we allow God’s generosity to flow through us. It only takes a couple seconds, but the impact is great and long lasting.          – Cyndy Hall

 

CAROLINE CRAWFORD‘S STORY of GRATITUDE:

When I was asked if I would be willing to share a few thoughts about my experiences with God’s abundance and generosity, especially as it relates to First Congregational Church, I thought, “Where do I start?”

My name is Caroline Crawford and I have been attending First Congregational since 1997—so, for much of my adult life. In those 21 years, I have experienced innumerable moments of generosity, both from individuals and from the church in general.

I am a people person, so for me, the moments that stand out are as interactions with people, about people. I think about Bruce Hewitt, who sold me my first house, and Nancy McClellan, who was the midwife present when my daughter Elizabeth was born, and Jamie Polli, who was in a play—It was “Lend Me a Tenor”—with me back in 1999. Developing relationships with these people, and countless others, within the church has brought me a depth of relationships that comes with seeing people week after week, year after year, that just isn’t possible with so many other social interactions.

In many ways, First Church has helped me raise my children—in the nursery, in Sunday School, in youth groups, in Super Bowl sub sales. Many of you have been coming here long enough to remember my son Carl’s lively contributions to Bob Lee’s Word of God for All Ages—and now at this very moment, he’s working at the security desk in the midway and helping to prepare the coffee for coffee hour.

My daughter Elizabeth was born six months after her father, my husband Alan, passed away, and the way that this church came together when I had her baptized here, by Adrienne Carr, ably assisted by Nancy McClellan, was a bright light for my whole family. And this morning Elizabeth is at work with the high school youth planning Youth Sunday in two weeks.

God’s abundance and generosity, as manifested in this church, has revealed itself again to me just in the past week or two. I am an outgoing person, but I always sit in paralyzed silence during the prayers of concern and celebration—I just can’t bring myself to open my mouth and speak of things so close to my heart in a group setting—unless I’m at a podium, I guess. But I filled out one of those blue pew cards two weeks ago, letting the church know that a beloved aunt had suddenly passed away, and that I had to travel unexpectedly to Florida to help my parents while my father was having some surgery.

The outpouring of support from this church has moved me deeply. I had phone calls, emails, and mail reassuring me of the church’s support and prayers. And it moved my parents too—and through that outreach, my mom discovered that she’s attending the same church in Naples Florida that some of our snowbird members attend, and she’s hoping to connect with them.

My question was where do I start, and now it is “where do I end?” I’ll end with the invitation to consider for yourself how this church exposes you to God’s abundance. I am grateful to each one of you for being part of my overflowing cup here.

– Caroline Crawford

DANIELLE ROCHFORD’S STORY of GRATITUDE:

My name is Danielle Rochford and I have been a member of First Church for almost five years now.  I initially started coming here on Wednesday mornings for bible study. It was important to me to find a church that was opening and affirming, welcoming, and not just tolerant but accepting of others. The only church that responded to my email inquiry was First Church.  This made my decision rather easy.
Cindy Hall asked me to speak today to share my story of gratitude. I’ve just shared my gratitude of finding a faith community that accepts me for me. However, this is about gratitude towards a community that has become my chosen family.
Two years ago, January 31st, my father passed away.  My father died from complications with Parkinson’s Disease; there had been a sudden decrease in his health and his death was unexpected.  I was feeling empty at 4 AM that Sunday morning in the Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. I remember thinking on my way back to the motel that I was going to miss church that day. I didn’t grow up UCC and the task of finding a church that morning seemed daunting. Exhaustion enclosed me as I entered my motel room; I informed a few people about dad’s passing before I fell asleep after a long night.
I woke up later that day feeling alone, numb, and in need. As I started considering options for pastoral care while being four hours away from the church my cell phone started ringing.  Lucy Samara was on the other end of the line. She let me know that the church heard of my father’s passing before 10 AM service.  I was told that my family was being held in prayer and I was asked if there was anything the church could do right now. I can’t remember what Lucy and I spoke about, that whole day is still a blur to me, but what I do remember is that Lucy spent a significant amount of time talking to me. That following week, while I was still miles away, Rev. Sally May embodied our welcome of “who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here” by coming to me via Facebook pastoral care sessions.  Space was held, where space needed to be held, where it was most meaningful to me.
Returning to church after my dad’s death initially was anxiety-filled.  I am a very private person and I dreaded constant questions surrounding dad’s death.  Yet, pardon the cliché, home is where the heart is. I did not just re-enter a community, but I was surrounded by love and grace by my chosen family. In the year following my dad’s death chosen family unconditionally supported me in ways that my estranged family was unable to. Through condolence cards, conversations, hugs, and the question “how are you doing?”  I am grateful for a church family that cares so much about me, who wants me to take a place at the table, and who continues to support me in my aspirations.
– Danielle Rochford

SAMANTHA WAGER’s STORY of GRATITUDE

Good morning! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Samantha. I am a third generation First Church member. Faith and God have been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I have many things to celebrate in my life and I have endured challenges as well. Through these trials and tribulations, God has been ever present. Even in those times when it is hard to understand His plan.
When I was 15 years old, I lost my step-father after a long and courageous battle with cancer. Eight months later, I lost my father, unexpectedly, to a heart attack. To say that this was a challenging time for me and my family is a huge understatement. We all experienced the same tragedy, yet we each handled the losses differently. For me, as a 15 year old, I believed with great conviction that the passing of my fathers was part of God’s master plan. How else could I cope with such profound loss?
Even though I had faith in God, the losses were, and still are, very painful. For milestones like birthdays, graduations and weddings, that feeling of loss seems to be exacerbated. On the third anniversary of my step-father’s death I was a freshman at UVM and my heart was feeling exceptionally heavy. It was a beautiful day in October: sunny and calm. As I walked from my dorm on East Campus to chemistry lab on main campus, I said a prayer to God – “God, please, give me a sign that daddy is here with me”.  Almost instantaneously a big gust of wind came along and blew the bright red and orange leaves from the maple trees swirling them around me. When my stepfather was sick he told us that the leaves falling from the trees were kisses from heaven. So I thought, was that it God? Was that my sign? I took a few more steps and came to the intersection of Main Street. I looked up as white transport truck rumbled by. On the side of the truck were big black letters that read, “J. Clark Communications”. My step-father’s name was John Clarke. In that moment, I knew with absolute certainty that God was walking beside me, listening to me and answering my prayers.
This is just one testament of God’s generosity in my life. Now, God’s generosity is not always so obvious. Like most of us here today, I have struggled with obstacles in my life that have rocked my faith. At one point, more recently than I would like to admit, I nearly lost my faith altogether. But God’s love is hard to shake. By surrendering to His will and by giving my hopes and fears to Him, I have received God’s unconditional love. As it says in Proverbs 3:5, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
So I have learned to, “Give it to God” and in doing so, I bear witness to His generosity. It is evident in the big things: the birth of my child after struggling with infertility; finding my soulmate in my husband, Derek; a sign from God written on a transport truck. And I recognize it in the small things: the beautiful sunrise on my drive to work; a smile from my daughter; the leaves falling from the trees.  I have learned that even in the most challenging and dark times, I must keep my heart open to God’s love and I will receive His abundant generosity.
Thank you.
Samantha Wager

(Rob Backus is pictured here – in the center of a Faithful Friday activity that provided hand-warmers and healthy snacks to people in need in our community. He is wearing a hat.)

ROB BACKUS’S STORY GRATITUDE:
I was approached recently and asked to say a few words about stewardship. I accepted the challenge. It is a challenge because I find it much easier to say many words!
I am going to talk about why I give to this church. Stewardship is obviously more than money, it is all our gifts and it is taking responsibility for this congregation, both its present life and its future life. But in this season I am talking about why I support our church’s budget.
I want to develop my understanding of what it means for me to be Christian and I want to know how to live out that understanding. I cannot do this alone. I have to do it in community. It is in community that I receive the wisdom of others which illumines the dark spaces in my perception and it is in community that I find the support to live a Christian life in a country that I find increasingly hostile to the life of the spirit. Because of this understanding I have, as an adult, always sought to find that community wherever I live. In Burlington that search brought me to First Church.
Being in church every Sunday that I am in town and listening to, and thinking about, a sermon is another, and very important way for me to learn and to grow. I learn from someone who has the time, the opportunity, and the education, to talk to me about the ancient texts whose messages are the basis for my religious convictions.
Worship always comes back to trying to understanding how Jesus wants me to live in the world. Jesus was clearly an activist and an agitator. Crucifixion was not for the meek. To me this means that I have obligations beyond myself and beyond my family. It means to me that I must act in the world. Acting as a member of a community of faith is much more powerful than acting alone, and safer. By safer I mean that when I work with others I get feedback, I learn and am better able to see my errors and to correct them.
I also understand that part of my acting in this world is to support others in their lives of faith, development and understanding, particularly families with children.
I cannot do any of what I have just talked about on my own and all of it takes my support of the church’s budget to happen. And so, I support our congregation’s budget by prayerfully considering what it is I can do and should do and what feels good to do.
I also give because of joy. In the first hymn we sang “oh what wondrous love is this.” It is here that I feel that wondrous love. Sometimes when I am sitting in a pew I intensely feel the love of Christ and I feel the love of the congregation. That fills me with joy and out of that joy I give.
One last reason I support our church’s budget is that I believe that what we do here is important. I am talking about the work we do in the communities that lie outside the doors of this church but even more I am talking about the gospel we preach. It is a gospel that calls each of us to take responsibility for how we live and for our faith lives, and never cede that responsibility to another, not even a charismatic preacher. It is a gospel of love, acceptance and affirmation. It is a gospel that says we each have the God given right to be who we are and be loved for who we are. It is a gospel that seems to me to have only one test – am I acting out of love and lovingly? It is a Gospel the world needs to know about, and it is worth supporting.
– Rob Backus

 


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