Thursday, May 22, 2014

My Introduction to the United Thank Offering

This will appear in my parish newsletter on June 1st, but I decided to share it here.
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My Introduction to the United Thank Offering
In late 1998, I packed up my worldly goods from my Atlanta home and drove a moving truck to Philadelphia.  Not because I had a great job opportunity, but because I had friends who had given me a safety net.  Financial ignorance had wrecked my world.  I was broke, and I would have been homeless if not for those friends who found me a place to live “free” in exchange for labor.
During that time, the Episcopal Church found me, as one of my friends was a parish priest there.  I – who hadn’t darkened the doors of a church in two decades – began attending church regularly. Before long, someone gave me one of the little coin boxes from the United Thank Offering [UTO].
I took it to my tiny room, and an odd thing started happening.  While deeply grieving my great fall, I started noticing little blessings in my life.  And I began to drop coins into that box every evening when I had coins, along with some little prayer for a blessing that the day had brought.  
I didn’t realize it at the time, but that little coin box was a powerful force in teaching me the habit of gratitude.  I had been spared the horror of homelessness.  The little UTO box became the way I could give thanks with a penny or dime or nickel or (occasionally) a quarter.  And every one of those coins was bathed in a prayer of thanksgiving.  I wasn’t homeless.  I wasn’t living in my car.  I had found a faith community to support me.  I had found a place that would accept me and my two cats.  I was safe, and I was warm in that cold winter.  I saw many other people in Philadelphia sleeping on subway grates; at least I had a warm room in a house. 
Over the next few months, the Grace Stewardship Team is going to write about UTO and its “Little Blue Boxes,” into which we are invited to drop coins and say prayers of thanksgiving. We will distribute those boxes in June and explain more about what the UTO supports.
The UTO is neither a fundraiser nor a stewardship campaign, and none of the coins received will remain at Grace.  The UTO and its “Blue Boxes” invite us to give thanks to God every day for the blessings we receive.  At its base, it is an invitation to a spiritual discipline of gratitude.  

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