Material History of American Religion Project

What happens to the Money?

As we’ve noted elsewhere, American church-related institutions have long struggled with raising money for their work. In a country without an established church, religious institutions do not have guaranteed incomes. Instead, they need to convince members and friends that their work is worthy of support.

Here is yet another fund-raising pitch, this time for Church World Service, the relief arm of the National Council of Churches. This article, written in 1965 for the International Journal of Religious Education by John W. Abbott, the director of the Interpretation and Promotion Section of the Division of Overseas Ministries of the National Council, solicits funds for the annual One Great Hour of Sharing offering. The offering, begun in 1949 and now collected every spring, is funneled through denominational mission boards, who send some of the money on to CWS, which uses it for disaster relief.

As an editorial note points out, the article tells "about some of the things accomplished by the dollars we give," a common technique in such pieces. Note how Abbott encourages giving by talking about specific recipients of CWS aid, which helps to personalize the giving and make the need more concrete. This makes the offering an emotional and spiritual response to need, rather than a calculated response to a political situation.

There seems to be no end to emergencies in one section of the world or another which call upon the generosity of Christians for relief. Since the appeals for help usually require immediate response, the denominations, through their own organizations and through the interdenominational agency Church World Service, try to provide emergency assistance, in the way required, anywhere disaster strikes overseas. In addition, there are some rehabilitation projects of a long-term nature. The following information about the channeling of contributions will help ministers arid teachers answer questions coming to them about the use of money given for relief in One Great Hour of Sharing and at other designated times.

What happens to gifts given in One Great Hour of Sharing or other denominational relief appeals? How can we be sure that gifts of money, food, clothing, or other vital necessities in a program of relief, rehabilitation, and inter-church aid are used wisely, efficiently, and in a spirit of Christian stewardship? These are valid questions. Let us approach them by following the course of several such gifts from local community to area of need.

On Sunday morning, a five dollar bill, designated for One Great Hour of Sharing, is placed on an offering plate in a local church in Peoria. That same week, a scarcely worn set of men's work clothes (no longer usable, because its owner's waistline has expanded) is deposited in a clothing box in a church in Salem, Oregon; a school girl's dress, now outgrown, is taken to a community collection center in Savannah, Georgia; and a warm sweater is given to the United Clothing Appeal in Framingham, Massachusetts.

The same week, a farmer in southern Indiana, a participant in the "Friendship Acres" project of CROP, decides that next year he will increase his acreage devoted to raising food to be given through the Christian Rural Overseas Program to the hungry people of the world. A women’s group in eastern Texas decides to pack medical supplies to be taken to the nearest Church World Service center, newly established in Houston.

The five dollar bill, along with similar gifts given by other parishioners is deposited in a bank in Peoria by the church benevolence treasurer and shortly forwarded through the regular denominational channels to the relief and rehabilitation executives of the denomination. Together with gifts given in other churches, the five dollars is applied toward five projects which the denominational executives feel are significant and are among the greatest immediate needs.

One dollar is sent as a part of the denominational donation to the Share Our Substance program, where it helps to establish a new soup kitchen for needy refugee boys and girls in Hong Kong. The dollar will buy many hundreds of cups of milk, because the government supplies the powdered milk from excess American supplies, and Church World Service has mainly expenses of distribution. The second dollar (along with the rest of the denominational appropriation) is designated for the work of the Christian Committee for Service in Algeria. There it becomes a part of a financial gift to make possible a tree planting project, which is covering the hillsides of Algeria with newly planted trees. These trees are painstakingly set out by needy persons under a "food for work" project in which they are paid for their labor with food to feed their families. A third dollar is appropriated to the World Council of Churches which uses it for its service program, aiding refugees fleeing from oppression in Eastern Europe to find a new life in the West. A fourth dollar goes for educational training for a young Christian from Africa, destined for significant leadership in his country and being aided in an ecumenical scholarship program carried out through Church World Service and the World Council of Churches.

The fifth dollar is used by the denomination for some of its own relief projects carried out in line with the particular confessional and missionary concerns of that group. Every cent of the five dollar gift is accounted for by the denomination, which desires undesignated gifts in order that those aware of need may use the money appropriately.

The men's work clothes, given in Salem, are taken to a nearby community collection point where they go to the CWS Clothing Center in Modesto, California. Men's work clothes are always in great demand, and shortly this particular suit, requiring no cleaning or mending, is sorted, baled, and prepared for shipment. The CWS office in New York is notified of the availability in Modesto of a bale of men's work clothes, and soon the suit from Salem is on its way to Korea, where it will he worn by a worker engaged in a project of reclaiming marginal swamp land for productive farms by the building of dikes. In addition to receiving the suit, the worker who wears it will have the knowledge that he is standing on his own feet by earning the food with which he feeds his family.

The girl's dress from Savannah is taken eventually to the CWS center in New Windsor, Maryland, where it is baled together with other girls' clothes and prepared for shipment to an ongoing program of clothing distribution in South America. It is loaded on a ship and begins its journey, hut soon finds its labels changed. A serious hurricane occurs in the Caribbean, leaving thousands of people homeless and without clothes or livelihood; and the clothing shipment, of which the dress was a part, is transshipped to Haiti for distribution to those who can still hear the rushing sound of wind, rain, and water as they fled their homes and sought shelter.

The sweater, given in Framingham, goes first to a CWS clothing collection center in New York and eventually to New Windsor, where it, too, is processed and shipped to the Near East to provide desperately needed warmth for young Arab refugee woman about to assume the responsibilities of parenthood.

The farmer in Indiana, as he begins to sow the seed on his Friendship Acres 'or CROP, receives a report from the CROP office in Elkhart, indicating that food given from his farm the previous year has gone to aid the children of a me-room school in the village of Skala m the mountain ranges of central Greece, where CROP food helps to provide the needed nourishment.

The medical supplies from Texas soon go to Indonesia where they provide health-giving assistance to people on the island of Bali who are homeless, because a layer of volcanic lava covers that once was their farm.

Each of these gifts, sent by Christians in the spirit of stewardship, becomes part of a world-wide fellowship of sharing; for, in practically all areas mentioned, additional help is received from Christians in Germany, Britain, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and from countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Church leaders are becoming increasingly aware that we no longer can speak of "giving countries" and "receiving countries." Wherever possible aid is distributed on the basis of need, without reference to race, creed, or political belief, through the indigenous churches of the countries overseas. Each of these churches desires to stand m its own feet and assume its full stature as part of the body of Christ.

Therefore, no church can be assumed to be entirely lacking in something to give; nor can any church, including those in the United States, be assumed to be unable to receive because of their country's affluence.

It may come as a surprise to many persons that through the "Fellowship of the Least Coin" offerings, received throughout Asia as a result of the work of the East Asian Christian Conference, funds are appropriated each year to be sent to aid those in need in the United States. Dope addicts in Harlem and victims of racial strife and violence are among those who have received help from Asian Christians.

It is, thus, most important, as we interpret the meaning of worldwide ministries of relief and rehabilitation, we avoid any semblance of a kindly, paternalistic benevolence, which demeans the receiver and creates undue pride on the part of the giver.

Within the providence of God all who have are responsible to share what is theirs with others. It is in a spirit of privilege that we look out upon the world, and express gratitude to God that we may share in the spirit of the Master for whom compassion was a way of life.

John W. Abbott, "What Happens to the Money?," International Journal of Religious Education 41:7 (March 1965), 8-9.

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