in the congregations
Miracle Sunday works its magic
When the Right Reverend Billy Bob invited the First Universalist Society in Franklin, Massachusetts, to put their money in the holy pail, they did so—with gusto. The congregation, with 230 adult members, raised $200,000 in one Miracle Sunday morning to build a new religious education wing. The April service featured not only the Rev. Billy Bob (a.k.a. congregant Bob Kinney) and testimonials from church members, but also renowned UU choral director Nick Page who led the choir and congregation in enthusiastic singing. While the Rev. Billy Bob cajoled his audience, a group of children dressed as fairies, angels, and wizards went around collecting the money. After an hour and forty-five minutes, the congregation had reached its goal of $200,000. The gifts ranged in size from $100 to $20,000 .
Miracle Sundays, also called “Commitment Sundays” and “Celebration Sundays” are fundraising church services which provide an alternative to the traditional person-to-person stewardship drive. Often these services feature testimonials and music. Although not common, they have been used successfully by UU churches.
The Rev. Carol Rosine said she got the idea from an evangelical minister twenty years ago. “He had just raised enough money to build a church and explained that you just kept passing the plate,” she recalled. “I said it would never work in a UU church.” Rosine began to think otherwise and put the idea forward when her congregation urgently needed to add RE space and didn't have three years to spend on a capital campaign.
One of the important things, said Rosine, is to have a clear purpose for the money. “At a recent congregational meeting there was a unanimous vote to move ahead with the construction of a new RE wing,” she said. “We felt like we had a mandate.” Another crucial element is an attainable goal. “We had been through an earlier fundraising campaign for our sanctuary building and had raised around $450,000 so I knew that we could do this.”
Although the service might have seemed spontaneous, it was carefully planned. A committee sent out several letters to the congregation explaining what was going to happen and urging parishioners to come prepared with their checkbooks. Rosine also preached on the subject in advance. Kinney was tapped to serve as master of ceremonies, and Page agreed to lead the music. The entertainment factor was key in making the event a success said Ed Szymanski, congregation president. “It's important that people have a really good time.”
Construction of the new wing is scheduled to start this June. “Miracles really do happen, even in UU churches!” said Rosine.