Preparing tax returns may not be at the top of anyone's list of spiritual gifts, but when Bruce Hiner studies the latest Internal Revenue Service tax laws, the United Methodist pastor believes he is learning new ways to preach the Gospel.
“I have discovered I can talk to someone about their taxes and be pastoral,” says Hiner, a volunteer with the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. “I do this by showing grace and kindness, expressing the love of God even when I’m speaking the language of the IRS.”
Knowing your neighbors
Likewise, Dan and Melissa Molnar signed up as VITA volunteers as a ministry outreach, answering their pastor’s question, “What does the community need?”
Now in their 12th year, the Molnars are among other Muldraugh United Methodist Church members who spend tax season meeting with area residents to complete and file tax returns on their behalf through VITA.
The IRS supplies training and software and the church provides the building. A number of people from the community volunteer alongside church members.
“The bottom line is that this is a fantastic way to get to know our neighbors,” Dan Molnar points out.
“We prepare income tax returns free of charge but the why we do it is much more important,” Dan Molnar says, adding that the service benefits not just the people but also the community by providing financial stability.
One in five Muldraugh, Kentucky, residents lives below the poverty level, Dan Molnar explains, adding that many of the tax payers who use the VITA program qualify for credits.
“Their tax return represents the single largest payment that our tax payers will receive each year,” he notes. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to acquire the things that make life more bearable: a car repair or a new car or college tuition, a new washer, all the things that make life a little easier.”
Melissa Molnar has numerous memories of people she’s helped through the years, but one stands out.
“I have one young mother who forever stays in my mind,” she says, sharing that the woman was filing that year for the first time on her own because she was no longer with her child’s father. When the return was completed, the refund was approximately $11,000.
“She burst into tears,” Melissa Molnar shared. “She had expected a couple of thousand dollars. Her refund was half of what she made in a year.”
Being a part of VITA, says Dan Molnar, “allows us to put our faith into action and to do what surely must be pleasing to God.”
“Because we are serving His people,” Melissa Molnar interjects.
Serving the community
Two years ago, Hiner, pastor at Hodgenville United Methodist Church was recruited to help with the county’s new VITA program. He signed on thinking it was a “great opportunity to get to know people in the community who I wouldn’t otherwise have met.”
Through his VITA work, Hiner has connected people with the church’s food pantry and laundry ministry.
“I serve the community as well as the church,” he says.
Chuck Martindill spent a career as a certified public accountant, but his work with personal tax returns only started when he became a volunteer with the AARP’s Tax Aide Program 16 years ago.
“I saw an ad about the program needing volunteers,” he says. Although his CPA specialty was retirement plan compliance, he thought, “That’s something I can do and I should do it. It helps people.”
Now, the member at St. John’s United Methodist Church oversees six tax preparation sites and works with people ranging in age from teenagers through seniors.
Martindill’s work has made him something of a celebrity in the town of 2,000 where he lives.
“I can go to the grocery store and people stop me and ask me questions about their taxes,” Martindill says. “This is definitely not a hobby. This is a ministry.”
Crystal Caviness works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact her by email or at 615-742-5138.