Thursday, August 21, 2014

Blessed to be a blessing

By Fred Burgess, Carlisle UMC

Carlisle United Methodist Church has come up with an unusual twist to tithing. Many leaders of religious organizations, including United Methodists, urge members to consider contributing one-tenth of their income to God as outlined by the Bible. This summer Carlisle UMC leaders decided this tithing concept can work both ways, electing to contribute one-tenth of an unexpected windfall to Carlisle.

“We were unexpectedly blessed as a church with a gift of $1 million” from the estate of a former member, said the Rev. James VanZandt, lead pastor.

“One of the ways we believe our church can show our thankfulness to God for this unexpected blessing is to tithe, or give back, 10 percent to the community in which we have been planted. “To our great joy, we get to give away $100,000.”

It was split among fifteen community organizations: Carlisle CARES, Project SHARE, the Samaritan Fellowship, the Salvation Army, Safe Harbour, the faith-based youth sports program known as Upward, the Todd Baird Lindsey Foundation, Carlisle Senior Action Center, Maranatha-Carlisle, Hope Station, the YMCA’s “Strong Kids” campaign that offers discounted program fees and scholarships for at-risk youth, the YWCA’s Grandview Afterschool Homework Club, ARC of Cumberland County, Carlisle Fire & Rescue and Union Fire Co.

The checks were mailed or hand-delivered last week.

VanZandt declined to provide details about how the $100,000 was split among the organizations or to identify the benefactor. But he did say he was stunned by the size of the bequest. “It’s not often I open a letter and a $1 million check falls out of the envelope,” he said. “I took a picture of the check just to show my wife.”

He said he had an inkling that the law firm’s envelope contained news of an estate bequest, but he said he expected it to be a disbursement letter stating that the church would get a much smaller sum from someone in the future. This was the largest lump-sum estate gift he’s seen in his career, he said. He went into the Carlisle UMC files to see if he could find whether the church had gotten any advance hint about the size of the gift. There he found a copy of the benefactor’s will, which said the church should get the “remainder” of the estate after specific sums were disbursed to other beneficiaries. “No one at the church knew ‘the remainder’ would consist of a million dollars,” the pastor said.

A three-member subcommittee of the Carlisle UMC Leadership Council spent about six weeks coming up with a recommendation outlining which community organizations would get which portions of the $100,000. The full council then voted unanimously to follow the recommendation. VanZandt said the intent was to support five organizations the church regards as partners “as part of our mission to build bridges to the community.” The others are “organizations that we recognize make an immediate positive impact in the health and welfare of our community and wish we could do more to help.” The donations were made in the same spirit shown by the original benefactor – with no strings attached, the pastor said.

The letter that accompanied each check included the following: “We believe that part of our mission as a church is to bless the community of Carlisle and do our part to make it become the best it can be. We believe your organization has the same objective.” Those organizations’ leaders were quick to express appreciation. “We can’t say thank-you enough,” said Union Fire Co. President Amy Myers, who opened the envelope from the church. “I saw the check and read the letter and said ‘Wow!’” She and Carlisle Fire & Rescue President Randy Uhrich both said their organizations don’t normally get donations of that size. Both also said it’s premature to say what will be done with the church contributions, though Uhrich pointed out his organization’s “Heavy Rescue” apparatus is due to be replaced in 2016 at an anticipated cost of $700,000, not including equipment.

VanZandt said the other $900,000 of the late church member’s bequest is being set aside for now, pending a decision about a permanent home for the congregation. Carlisle United Methodist Church was formed through the July 2013 unification of the former Allison, First and Grace United Methodist congregations. The new congregation’s initial home is the former Grace UMC at the intersection of West and Pomfret streets.
The decision about a permanent home is to be made by summer 2016.

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