MOUNT DORA (FBW)—First Baptist Church in Mount Dora is reaping benefits of last fall’s Project Twenty 35, a money giveaway that “made no earthly sense,” according to Pastor Thomas Jamieson.
The project was named for Acts 20:35, in which Jesus is quoted as saying, “It is better to give than receive.” Jamieson, pastor since 2007, said the project’s purpose is two-fold—to meet financial needs in the community and the congregation, and to introduce tithing in a “soft-ball approach.”
Last summer every member of the congregation over age 12 received an envelope of money from the church. Two envelopes contained $500; five contained $200; 10, $100; 20, $50; and the rest $10, $15, and $20. Six hundred envelopes were distributed.
Church members could not keep the money and could not spend it on themselves or their families, and when they gave away the cash, they had to tell the recipients they were giving it in Jesus’ name.
“We knew that giving away the church’s money would not be taken lightly,” Jamieson said.
On that same Sunday, the pastor asked worshippers to come to the altar if they or a family member had declared bankruptcy or lost a job. About 75 crowded the front of the sanctuary, praying for one another, he said. The number reflected the financial state of the central Florida community in which the building industry downturn erased jobs of craftsmen, landscapers and plant nursery workers.
“I had not planned to do that altar call, but God interrupted the order of service, and we are so glad that He did,” Jamieson said. “It was totally spontaneous.”
Some church members immediately gave their envelopes of cash to those at the altar, although at least one recipient later wrote to Jamieson that she felt led to add the gifts she had received to her $10 envelope, and give it someone else, he said.
Each of the $500 envelopes went to young teenagers, and the exercise in generosity “absolutely changed their lives,” he said. One 13-year-old, whose own family finances were stretched, gave the money away to more needy families. Her mother told Pastor Jamieson the experience had given the family courage to begin tithing.
Some members of the congregation put down money for the person behind them at the gas station or grocery store. A woman had tried for years to share Jesus with her niece, and the young woman was uninterested. However, after her aunt donated her cash envelope for her niece’s needs, she listened to her testimony.
“This was one of the most positive and memorable things we have done in a long time,” Jamieson said. “It went against the grain, and was a complete act of faith for the church.”
Like its community, First Baptist has experienced its own financial need, according to its pastor. After having to borrow money to meet the budget last year, the church cut the budget this year by 18 percent, and church staff and members tightened their belts to save money, including cutting the church utility bill by 25 percent and taking over chores that formerly were contracted out.
Church members now do the church lawn work, and clean the church’s 53 bathrooms. More than 1,800 manhours have been given by church members in renovating church facilities, Jamieson said.
“Like everybody else, we are doing more with less money. Our people knew the church was hurting, so they were happy to help,” he said.
Jamieson happily told Florida Baptist Witness the church is “in the black” for the first two months of 2012, and the church has several more tithers since Project Twenty 35.
The church’s cost cutting has not affected its generosity to its community. Spurred by memories of his teaching kindergarten in rural north Mississippi, Jamieson led the church to center a ministry to the needy around the schools in and around Mount Dora.
Each year, First Baptist hosts a Teacher Appreciation Sunday that attracts hundreds of visitors. The church service on that day includes prayer for each teacher, and lunch is provided afterwards for all teachers. Each teacher receives gifts for themselves, and cash to spend on needy children in their classrooms. Some church gifts have paid for immunizations, extra clothes, and groceries for needy families, Jamieson said.
Before Thanksgiving, the church asks local schools for the names of its 25 most needy families. In 2011, 109 families received the makings of Thanksgiving dinners. Then at
Christmas, the church receives from the schools the names of three needy families who are adopted by Sunday School classes, church families and choirs.
Last Christmas, 23 families—with 82 children—received gifts from First Baptist members. Those making Thanksgiving and Christmas deliveries prayed with each family.
“Our area has had an exceptionally hard time,” Jamieson said. “The Scripture says to help people in need wherever they are—not just those in the church.”
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