By Bill Norton
RALEIGH, NC – What would happen if a church “imagined” during Advent what Jesus might want for his birthday?
That is exactly what members of the Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh did. Their Christmas Eve offering, designated for Imagine No Malaria, grew to $100,000 after all the gifts were counted.
“Throughout Advent, we tried to imagine things Jesus wanted for his birthday: families avoiding eviction, full bellies for children here in Raleigh and around the world, warmth on a cold night for those experiencing homelessness, and lives being saved by helping to eradicate Malaria,” said Renae Newmiller, director of Missions at Edenton Street.
Responding to mission is not new to the 4,000-member congregation in downtown Raleigh. In 1831, their pastor, Melville B. Cox, resigned from the pulpit and became the first American Methodist missionary sent to Africa. For over 200 years, Edenton Street has bucked the trend of many downtown churches and has grown by reaching out.
The church’s Vision Team summarizes the ongoing journey. “It is inviting all to encounter Jesus, preparing believers to deepen their dependence on God, caring for those who are hurting, and sending ordinary people into the world equipped to do extraordinary things,” said the Rev. Ned Hill, Edenton Street’s senior pastor.
With checks continuing to be received by the church in early January, Rev. Hill put the offering for Imagine No Malaria at least at $100,000.
“The response was most definitely more than we could have imagined,” said Newmiller.
In addition to having “imagine” as the theme of the Advent sermon series, the church’s Mission Possible publication in December announced that the Christmas Eve offering would be for Imagine No Malaria. Members were asked to consider “instead of another sweater or tie, consider giving this life-saving gift in honor of the healthy people on your Christmas list.” If a member would be out of town on Christmas Eve, they were urged to send a check to the church for Imagine No Malaria.
During four weeks leading to Christmas, the congregation was asked to imagine needs locally and globally.
“More than $24,000 was collected for our Doorstep Ministry, the Backpack Buddies food program closets at an elementary school went from bare to overflowing, A total of 60,612 Stop Hunger Now meals were packaged for impoverished children in third world countries, hundreds of blankets, coats, hats and gloves were brought to the church and distributed to people sleeping in homeless camps around Raleigh, and $100,000 was raised to combat Malaria,” said Newmiller.
While we imagined we could make a difference, God’s vision, as always, was much bigger than ours. As we enter 2013, our hope is to continue to imagine how we can be a part of God’s kingdom here on earth.” Newmiller said.
“This is just another extraordinary example of how the Imagine No Malaria key message of saving lives ignites the generosity of faithful United Methodist. I am personally thrilled by the compassionate response of this congregation and their willingness to respond globally and locally, said Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, chair of Globabl Health Initiatives.”
Imagine No Malaria is an extraordinary ministry of The United Methodist Church, putting faith into action to end preventable deaths from malaria in Africa. The first expression of the United Methodist Church’s Global Health Initiative, Imagine No Malaria is an integrated effort that has become a model for collaboration among annual conferences, local churches, and multiple general boards and agencies of the church. The goal is to raise $75 million by June 2014. For more information, visit www.ImagineNoMalaria.org.
* Bill Norton is the North Carolina Conference director of communications and editor of the North Carolina Conference Christian Advocate.