Pictured Above: Bethel’s two Giving Trees in the church’s lobby, ready to receive donations!
For the deacons at Bethel CRC, their annual World Renew Giving Tree at Christmas time has been a meaningful and tangible way to equip and empower their congregation to love God and others. Like many churches, Bethel had begun to utilize the World Renew gift catalogue each year, encouraging their members to purchase much-needed items for people living in under-developed countries. These gifts go beyond just meeting practical needs: they also support the local economy and artisans where they are purchased, they eliminate the cost, burden, and environmental strain of shipping items overseas, and have so many other benefits!
Yet Jean DeBeer – former deacon, current World Renew Ambassador, and local Diaconal Coach for Diaconal Ministries – wondered if their church could also do something closer to home.
Each year as the deacons prepare the offering schedule, they aim to balance their support between both local and global causes. Locally, and in particular, the church was supporting Lighthouse (an organization dealing with addictions and mental health challenges), The Bridge (a Christian ministry in Saskatoon’s inner city), and a Women’s Shelter called Interval. The church’s youth group and a couple of other members had already begun connecting more intentionally with The Bridge, but for these and other local causes, the church was only collecting offerings for these agencies. The deacons realized there was an opportunity to go beyond just ‘writing cheques’ to deepen the church’s relationship with these agencies.
“We wanted to encourage our congregation to be generous both locally and globally and find ways to use their gifts and passions in ways that would contribute to the partnerships we were trying to establish with a few local organizations,” shared Jean.
Unfortunately, with the ongoing pandemic, this made it a bit more challenging.
Thinking “Local” at Christmas
Jean proposed adding a local “giving tree” to the deacons and they were eager to give their blessing on this valuable ministry. “One thing all three of these organizations needed was clothing and accessories for the winter: hats, scarves, mittens and so on. The Giving Trees ministry was a perfect way for our church to accomplish all of these things!”
A volunteer from the church helped Jean put up the two trees at the beginning of Advent; one with World Renew ornaments and gift tags and the other, named the “Out of the Cold Tree”, adorned with handmade toques, hats, mitts, socks. The congregation was encouraged to hang items on the tree or place them in a barrel beside (once the tree got full!). While the World Renew tree stayed up only during Advent, it was decided to keep the local tree up until after Christmas as these organizations tend to get a lot of ‘attention’ and assistance during the Christmas season but the needs continue throughout the cold winter.
The response from the congregation was inspiring, but not completely surprising. The donations came from many people, not just a few members, for both of the Giving Trees. The knitting club in particular helped fill up the local tree!
“Despite the difficulties many in our church were going through, with the pandemic affecting people in various ways and the farming community struggling, I wanted to create an opportunity for our church to still bless others in our community. No matter what is going on, people always want to help and this affirmed that!” In total, the deacons collected 26 pairs of socks, 68 toques, 2 neck warmers, 1 shawl, 12 scarves, 13 pairs of mitts/gloves, and 1 jacket for their “local” tree.
Once the giving campaign was over, Jean helped to package the items up for the local organizations and included a card with their donations. How thankful the organizations were, Jean remarked! None of them were aware that the church was doing this for them.
Youth Leading the Way
Before the concept of a local giving tree was even conceived, the youth group at Bethel were already planning a season of serving at The Bridge. Lisa, one of the church’s youth leaders, had already committed their group to making and serving meals at The Bridge’s Kids Club on Monday nights! “We currently have a small number of youth, so last year we focused on activities that take advantage of that,” Lisa shared. “Having a group of 5-6 kids help out at The Bridge was great bonding time! At the end of the year, I asked for feedback and all the kids wanted to include making dinner at The Bridge on this year’s schedule!”
Lisa has been encouraged, seeing God at work in this partnership. “After serving a few meals at the Bridge with our youth, I learned that there were two other ladies in our congregation serving weekly helping in their kitchen, not connected with each other. It really is amazing how God works, placing ideas on our hearts. Our small congregation now has many small connections to this organization bringing the love of Jesus Christ to Saskatoon’s inner city.”
[Our “local” Giving Tree] is one way we as a church are growing our relationship/involvement with our surrounding community.”Jean DeBeer, deacon
Moving forward, Jean would like to see the church include these local organizations in the pre-planning of the local Giving Tree and work WITH them – at Christmastime and throughout the year, like the youth group are doing.
“Sometimes we assume what people need,” Jean said. “In order to build deeper and long-lasting relationships, my hope is that we can ask them what is needed and that our deacons can find ways to bless these agencies other times of year and in different ways! Getting our church more ‘invested’ with the Out in the Cold Giving Tree – this is one way we as a church are growing our relationship/involvement with our surrounding community.”
- What is YOUR church doing this Christmas? Share your Christmas community connections plans with Erin, our Communications Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org. She’d love to post them here on our blog or on our social media channels (Facebook and Instagram).
- Not sure how to ‘help’ this Christmas? Here are some previous articles from our blog: