June is not that far away, and Holston Conference still has a lot of work to do before reaching its goal of saving 100,000 lives through Imagine No Malaria.
Typically, Holston raises about $125,000 for its Annual Conference mission initiative. Because the 2013 goal is eight times that amount, churches aren’t waiting to get started. When Advent begins on Dec. 2, many congregations will focus on a “different kind of Christmas” that also gives life to brothers and sisters in Africa.
Graphic: How many lives saved so far?
“We are anticipating a Christmas miracle,” said Dianna Cantler, director of connections ministries at Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City, Tenn.
Munsey Memorial will use a “Rethink Church” series, based on a book by the Rev. Mike Slaughter, to challenge members to “reclaim Christmas.”
“Each family and individual in the congregation has been challenged to not just give an offering but to make a sacrifice in order to save a life,” Cantler said. “We have been challenged to give as much toward the ‘Miracle Christmas Offering’ as we spend on gifts.”
Families may decide to buy fewer gifts, while others might buy smaller gifts and give the additional amount to Imagine No Malaria, Cantler said. “For my family, that means, instead of spending $50 on someone, I would spend $25 and give $25 to the offering.”
Munsey’s Christmas Eve offering will be devoted to the Imagine No Maria goal of ultimately eliminating death by the mosquito-borne disease in Africa, Cantler said.
Peck’s Memorial UMC, in Maryville, Tenn., will take the same approach, said the Rev. Tim Jones.
“I am preaching a sermon series based on Mike Slaughter's books, ‘A Different Kind of Christmas’ and ‘Christmas is Not Your Birthday,’” Jones says. “This particular series steers us away from the commercialism of Christmas and points us to giving to and serving those around us.”
Peck’s Memorial will take a “Be Someone’s Miracle” offering for Imagine No Malaria on Dec. 16, Jones said. Church members will be challenged to give the same amount of money to the offering as they spend on other Christmas gifts.
“I have also stressed they shouldn't spend as much as they have in the past,” Jones added. “I am asking them to get creative and give more meaningful gifts to their family and friends – by making gifts or serving in helpful ways.”
Download free Imagine No Malaria resources for Advent.
HONOR JESUS' BIRTH
At Cherokee UMC in Johnson City, Tenn., the Rev. Andrew Amodei will also use the Rethink Church series and ask members to give an amount equal to their gift-spending to the Imagine No Malaria offering on Christmas Eve.
“Last year, we gave our Christmas Eve offering to Greene County tornado victims and raised $12,000,” Amodei said. “This year we hope to give even more.”
“We will honor Jesus’ birth by participating less in the commercialism and indulgence of the season so that we can do more to honor Jesus in the season,” said the Rev. Jonathan Jonas, pastor at First Marion.
First Marion will collect their special offering on Sunday, Dec. 23. Asbury will ask members to choose the recipients of their alternative gifts by Dec. 12.
Members at First UMC in Cleveland, Tenn., will take an offering for Imagine No Malaria on Dec. 24, said the Rev. Tom Seay.
“We expect to reach our goal of 500 lives saved ($5,000) by Christmas Eve, so we are going to ask God to bless us enough to save another 500 by Annual Conference,” Seay said.
In Knoxville, Tenn., Beaver Ridge UMC will kick off Advent on Dec. 2 with an “Anti-Malaria Very Merry Christmas Concert,” said the Rev. Catherine Nance.
The concert begins at 4 p.m. and features Jean Osborne and Jo Ludwig with voices from Powell High School. A love offering will be received. “All are welcome,” Nance said.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newspaper.