KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- On Wednesday, the Rev. Stephen DeFur had a westbound five-and-a-half-hour drive on his to-do list. His mission was to deliver $19,344 to a congregation in Dresden, Tennessee.
The money was received during the Christmas Eve offering at Cokesbury United Methodist Church, a gift for a town devastated by a tornado on Dec. 10.
Cokesbury’s Christmas offering was one of many given by congregations throughout Holston Conference as they chose special beneficiaries to share the love exemplified by the Christ Child.
Cokesbury designated its offering for First United Methodist Church of Dresden after learning the church was destroyed during a Dec. 10-11 tornado outbreak involving nine states, causing numerous deaths and major damage.
“We called and spoke with the pastor and learned that while there were no reported fatalities in that area, much of the town was leveled in the storms, including the church building,” said Ashley Cross, Cokesbury director of communications. “We decided to support our fellow Tennessee United Methodist church with our offering, knowing that doing so would directly impact the community in a positive way.”
DeFur, Cokesbury senior pastor, drove from Knoxville to Dresden on Jan. 5 to present the check to church leaders at a trustees meeting, Cross said. First Dresden UMC is currently worshiping at nearby Pisgah United Methodist Church.
“He stayed for the meeting to offer his support. Our offering was given undesignated so the leadership of First Dresden can use it as they see fit, whether that is to contribute to building repairs for the church or to provide direct support to their community,” Cross said.
Other Holston churches also designated their Christmas Eve offerings to help survivors of the December tornadoes, which hit western Kentucky especially hard. Grove United Methodist Church (Radford, Va.), St. Paul United Methodist Church (Wytheville, Va.), and Kodak United Methodist Church (Kodak, Tenn.) gave their offerings to disaster relief through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
Memorial United Methodist (Clinton, Tenn.), Pleasant View United Methodist Church (Abingdon, Va.), and State Street United Methodist Church (Bristol, Va.) also directed their Dec. 24 offerings to UMCOR.
At four worship services on Christmas Eve, Church Street United Methodist Church received a total offering of $4,400. The gift was shared with a ministry the congregation reaches out to throughout the year: the Wesley Foundation at University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
“The decision to support the Wesley Foundation with our Christmas offering is a way that our church family is able to demonstrate our commitment to student ministry and our trust in the connectional nature of our church,” said the Rev. Tim Best, associate pastor.
Church Street has had a long relationship with the university next door, Best explained, but over the last year “has worked intentionally with Rev. Briggs to cultivate a full partnership in ministry.” The Rev. Mary K Briggs is director of UTK Wesley Foundation.
“I pray that both the members of Church Street and the students at the Wesley Foundation will be transformed by our relationship together,” Best said.
Also in Knoxville, Concord United Methodist Church took a Christmas Eve offering to seed the opening of a new thrift store with visibility on the city’s heavily trafficked Kingston Pike. According to Missions Director Jane Currin, the store will be “self-sustaining while meeting community needs locally and still serving with our partners, Morgan-Scott Project and Elk Garden School Community Ministry.”
The Rev. Wil Cantrell says Concord has received more than $50,000 for the offering so far.
“This is our largest Christmas offering in recent memory,” he said. “The vision … is to transform our tradition of holding twice-annual rummage sales into an ongoing everyday ministry to bless the underserved and working poor in our community through building relationships and providing needed items at an affordable price.”
Other Christmas offerings targeted the needs of Bishop Mission Initiative in Bishop, Virginia, a community outreach of Alexander Memorial United Methodist Church. Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church (Johnson City, Tenn.) and the six churches of Asbury-Keywood Parish in Clinch Mountain District designated their offerings to help feed, clothe and educate people in an impoverished area.
At First United Methodist Church in Dayton, Tennessee, offerings were received during Holy Communion to support the church’s food pantry as well to aid Blazing Hope, said the Rev. Layne Pennington.
“Blazing Hope is a local ministry which houses females who were rescued from human trafficking,” Pennington said. “They are provided a home, counseling, food, and life-skills training.”
Beaver Ridge United Methodist Church (Knoxville, Tenn.) gave its Christmas offering to a local ministry, Camp in the Community, while Bluff City United Methodist Church (Bluff City, Tenn.) directed its offering to Heifer International.
At Second United Methodist Church in Knoxville, the decision was made to help Bridge Refugee Services with an offering that came in at $2,093, says the Rev. Charla Sherbakoff.
“Our Advent worship series was 'Come Home for Christmas,'” she explained. “We learned a few weeks before the beginning of Advent that 40 or so families from Afghanistan and more families from several places in Africa are making a home in the Knoxville area. They are fleeing persecution.”
Sherbakoff said she and her congregation remembered the Magi gave gold to the Christ Child, which may have helped the Holy Family flee persecution from King Herod to find a safe place to live.
“We wanted to use our gifts to help people today settle into a new home,” she said. “How could we not reach out?”
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Holston Conference includes 850 United Methodist congregations in East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and North Georgia.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.