Mount Joy embraces generosity
Local churches stimulate givers to benefit community
What happens when churches ask their members to give even more? Is there a resounding thud as the idea falls flat, or do people embrace the plan, opening their hearts and wallets?
Leaders of a church in Pennsylvania launched a Year of Contagious Generosity, and what happened next surprised a lot of people.
Money raised benefited the local fire department, school district and helped rebuild a community playground.
Planning for the Year of Contagious Generosity started in the spring of 2014, when Mount Joy Mennonite Church paid off its mortgage.
“We wanted some way to mark that,” noted Pastor Karl Landis. “We had a sense that something should happen, but hadn’t landed on what that should be.”
The pastor was talking in his office with a longtime member, and the conversation headed toward how the congregation’s generosity could help the community. “We talked about continuing to raise building fund-type money – a capital campaign – but give the money away to organizations in the community that could benefit from it,” Karl said.
A communitywide effort
Karl thought it was important to include other local churches in the effort. He didn’t want it to be strictly Mount Joy Mennonite supporting good, local causes. But that part came a bit later.
First, “We adopted a three-part challenge for our congregation, from mid-November 2014 to mid-November 2015.”
The challenge included contributing money (known as the Giving Project), volunteering time for community organizations (the Compassion Project) and figuring out ways to help in members’ own neighborhoods (Adventures in Generosity).
For Adventures in Generosity, “We encouraged people as families, as small groups, to listen to the Holy Spirit in their neighborhoods. To say, ‘This is an opportunity for me to be generous – let me step into that,’” said Karl. “We would measure the impact by storytelling, not money.”
Modesty prevailed, and church members were reluctant to share what they had done, so “we invited people to write on cards what other members of the congregation had done, and we got a huge response.”
The goal for the Giving Project was $100,000, or “the approximate amount of annual giving to the building project in the latter stages,” Karl said.
Karl talked with members of a local pastors association. “I said it would be great if we could give money away and say it was from the churches of Mount Joy, rather than just our congregation.”
Other congregations contributed to the effort – Brethren in Christ, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and United Methodist.
Cross Roads Church (Brethren in Christ) got involved when the Year of Contagious Generosity was only a month or so from drawing to a close – after paying off a debt of its own.
Doug Bender, Cross Roads lead pastor, invited Karl and Marshall Meador, the “lay champion” for the Year of Contagious Generosity at Mount Joy Mennonite, to present information to the Cross Roads board.
In spite of the short time frame, the board surprised Doug – and Karl and Marshall of Mount Joy Mennonite – by setting a lofty fundraising goal.
“I thought, if we could just give a few thousand, that’d be great,” Doug said. “Maybe $5,000, or even $10,000.” Board members set a goal of $65,000. “I had no clue how we could ever pull that off,” said Doug.
He said the idea of raising money to give away in the community was new to his congregation. In the past, any year-end surplus likely would have gone to mission work or debt reduction.
Cross Roads ended up raising about $55,000. The total was slightly short of the goal, but “still way beyond my expectations,” Bender noted.
When all was said and done, the Giving Project generated well over $100,000.
“From all of the participating congregations, the total we gave away was $185,075,” Karl said.
Some of that went to help rebuild the Kids Joy Land playground in Mount Joy Borough Park. The playground was built in 1993 but destroyed by an arson fire in 2012.
Volunteers from the community, including a number from Mount Joy Mennonite, built new play structures. “We challenged people to give away time as well as money,” said Karl. “We gave money to help with the project but also volunteered our time for the community build. We wanted to put our labor where our money is.”
What's on your wish list?
As for the fire department and school system, “We went to them and asked if they had any items on their wish lists of around $20,000 to $50,000,” said Karl. “We were guessing at how much we might be able to raise.”
School officials decided they wanted their donation to help with a stadium project.
Likewise, the Fire Department of Mount Joy was overjoyed to receive assistance. The fire station, built in 1980, badly needed updating. “They’d been raising money, but didn’t have enough,” explained Karl.
“Thanks to the generosity of our community members, organized through the churches of Mount Joy, we were able to fund the second portion of the building renovation,” the fire department reported.
The project included updating office spaces, meeting spaces, a gym area, lounge, kitchen and bunk room, along with bathroom, electrical and plumbing upgrades.
The department said the work would not have been possible without the churches’ donation and, in February 2017, held an open house to showcase the renovations for local residents. On its website, the department specifically said it wanted to “welcome members of various churches in the Mount Joy area.”
Mount Joy Mennonite Church also helped pay down the mortgage of a sister congregation composed mostly of immigrants.
Ultimately, the Mount Joy generosity campaign should be measured by more than how many dollars went where. New relationships have been formed and nurtured – and that can lead to empathy and mutual understanding that strengthen a community.
Doug is grateful for the experience, which he believes expanded his congregation’s horizons. “This whole thing walked us down an avenue we hadn’t walked down before.”