Noisy offering helps settle high school lunch debt

Aldersgate UMC recently joined local organizations in Evansville, Indiana in an effort to help eradicate the $53,000 lunch debt amassed by local schools in the area. The church began the challenge in July and in just a few weeks exceeded their goal to raise $2,641 to pay off Harrison High School's debt.

During Sunday morning worship, young children would invite members of the congregation to take part in a "noisy offering," a tithe made up predominantly of loose change.

In a Facebook post shared on Aldergate UMC's account last Summer, just weeks before the start of the new school year, the church announced that the collection had raised "$3,330 in noisy offerings." The remaining monies from the collection would go toward paying off the lunch debts of other schools in the area that face a similar predicament.

"The whole effort to come together and pay off the lunch debt for students and families in our city created a great sense of community, " said Jamie Clark. Jamie is the daughter of Rev. Jim and Megan Clark. Jim serves as Senior Pastor at Aldersgate UMC and Megan is the Conference Assistant assigned to the South and Southeast Districts. Jamie is part of the communications team at the church. When she and Abbey Doyle, the other member of the communications team, learned about the church's focus to help amend the debt, she suggested starting a noisy offering and inviting the young children to be a part of the collective effort.

Church member empties bag of coins into offering cup. Photo by Jamie Clark

"I love the idea of kids helping kids, especially when it's something that they can so easily relate to," Jamie shared. "A lot of issues the Church helps with are things that the kids and sometimes even the youth can't understand or relate to, but school lunches are universal."

Rev. Jim Clark shared that the church had little idea that Harrison High School students were struggling unpaid school lunch debt, though they are located in close proximity to the church and the church provides breakfast for a large number of their students each week as part of an outreach program. It was not until his family shared a conversation with the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation Foundation(EVSC) that he learned of the immediate need to respond to the growing issue.

He said, "Relationships with our community — business owners and leaders — is a gigantic piece of doing ministry. Having open communication with them will help us become more aware of the things we otherwise would not be aware of."

Megan Clark shared, "I thought this was just a way for Aldersgate to help students and their families in Evansville and God said "Oh no! We can do much more than that."

Excitedly, she added "I love when God moves outside the box we originally had Him in.

"I'm happy to be a part of a church that can step up and give generously for something that affects few of them, "said Rev. Clark. "It's good to see that their hearts break for the things that break God's heart."

excerpt from a story by Leintz Belony, writer, Indiana Annual Conference

This story represents how United Methodist local churches through their Annual Conferences are living as Vital Congregations. A vital congregation is the body of Christ making and engaging disciples for the transformation of the world. Vital congregations are shaped by and witnessed through four focus areas: calling and shaping principled Christian leaders; creating and sustaining new places for new people; ministries with poor people and communities; and abundant health for all.