Making Space at Christmas

Making Space at Christmas

December 19, 2011 by

Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn., launched a Christmastime capital campaign called Making Space. The goal? Raise $26,000 by Christmas in order to expand their food shelf and make changes to their building so they can host an overnight overflow shelter for homeless families.

They’re encouraging their congregation to spend a little less at Christmas so they can make some space for those in need. The church has had a basic food shelf for almost 10 years, but the need has increased in the last year and they can’t keep up. They’re going to partner with a public food shelf and work with local organizations like Second Harvest to make their operation more efficient. That will require new equipment and some minor remodeling.

They’ve also worked with Project Home in the past, an organization that asks churches to host homeless families overnight when the overflow shelter is full (making churches the overflow for the overflow—and yes, the overflow shelter is always full). But Woodland Hills’ building doesn’t meet code and they need to make changes to emergency lighting, fire detection and sprinklers before they can host Project Home again.

Enter the Making Space capital campaign. We talked with Mary Anderson, the associate care pastor at Woodland Hills who is in charge of both the food shelf and their work with Project Home:

Why are you doing this kind of outreach?

Mary Anderson: God’s heart for the poor and our responsibility to the poor is all over the Bible: there are over 400 passages that talk about it, and they span more than 3,000 verses! All through his ministry, Jesus cared for and loved people who are usually “invisible” in society, including those who didn’t have enough money to get by. So we want to follow his lead.

But as a church we don’t see these ministries as “just” outreach. They are outreach, for sure, but we’re also responding to needs in our own church body. We’re all members of the family of God, and that connection is super important in his eyes. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul encourages some level of economic equality and the fact that we can meet each other’s needs if we’re willing to sacrifice. I think there is great joy on both ends when we willingly do this. We’re a long way from fully living that reality out, but these are tangible ways that we can work on some basic needs for our “kingdom” brothers and sisters, in addition to showing God’s love to neighbors in need from our community.

What prompted you to do this campaign? Why a specific campaign and not make it part of the budget?

Mary: One reason is practical: our budget just doesn’t have much wiggle room, and these are opportunities that we don’t want to wait on.

But the other is that we want our church body to re-think how they do gift-giving at Christmas. And I don’t think we’re alone—over the last few years it seems that a number of Christians are questioning the values that we live out during this time of year. Showing love to family and friends through gifts can be great, but if we’re not careful we can get looped into the excess of our consumer culture. We’re asking our congregation to consider spending a little less money on gifts and “make space” to help support these ministries instead. Last year we did something similar with a campaign to provide clean water to people in Haiti and we had a great response. We believe it’s a good reminder about how we can live out kingdom values.

What kind of history does your church have serving low-income and homeless families?

Mary: In addition to Project Home and the food shelf, we have groups that volunteer at the Ramsey County homeless shelter for families, which is just down the road from us. We also give out gas and food gift cards to families in need and have counseling and support group ministries available for people experiencing various life problems. There are a lot of people who don’t have insurance or can’t afford to see a professional counselor.

We’re far from experts, though, so we work with other organizations whenever we can, like the Union Gospel Mission, Here’s Life Inner City and local school districts. We also share some of our office space with staff from Catholic Charities and Ramsey County who run a housing assistance program. It’s great to be able to work closely with them to meet the needs that come up.

Looking back, a lot of our church’s energy about caring for the poor was generated during a 10-part sermon series a few years ago. When you spend a couple months wrestling with these issues it definitely leaves an impact on people!

What’s the reaction been so far?

Mary: People love it. It’s a bit weird to ask for money for a capital campaign like this during services and have the congregation break into applause. The question we had from the beginning is whether our people are in a financial situation where they can afford to help us reach the goal we set. Many have been asking us if there are ways they can volunteer instead of contributing financially because they want to help but can’t afford it. And lots of families were already planning to spend less on Christmas this year, so we weren’t sure.

But early last week they counted the offering and we were shocked: we were half way through the campaign and already over our goal. Pretty cool.

Has tying this into Christmas made it more meaningful?

Mary: I think people often think about their own generosity around Christmastime, so that may help make it more meaningful to some. But from a growth and discipleship perspective the Christmas season is important too. This time of year consumerism is on steroids, and we have an opportunity to consider how far we’ve gotten sucked into our culture’s values. Don’t get me wrong—I love giving and getting gifts! But we have a chance to ask questions about our Christmas traditions too, and hopefully make changes in our lifestyles so that we’re more fully living out the values of Jesus.

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Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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