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Showing God’s Grace in Tangible Ways

July 13, 2020 by Emily Enders Odom

When the Rev. Dr. Fairfax Fair began her ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Pasadena (Texas) in suburban Houston on December 1, 2019, she had a few scant months to see church members before the global pandemic shut everything down.

But there was one thing that she saw right away and knew with great certainty — this was a mission minded and generous congregation.

“Almost immediately upon my beginning in Pasadena, the congregation was engaged in the Bethlehem Market, an alternative market for Christmas,” Fair recalled of her arrival last year on the first Sunday of Advent. “This church is very eager to show God’s grace in tangible ways to people both in the Pasadena community and in the larger world.”

A month before COVID-19 moved worship and committee meetings to online and other platforms, First Church’s Mission and Outreach Ministry was able to introduce a new project, the Presbyterian Giving Catalog’s “Links of Love.”

Links of Love, a simple activity in which individuals, congregations and mid councils were invited to create paper chain links for every gift they made through the Presbyterian Giving Catalog, was originally intended for display at the 224th General Assembly (2020) in Baltimore. When this year’s historic online assembly rendered the paper chain almost entirely virtual, the project, with its initial goal of reaching 1,000 feet, was extended beyond the assembly with a revised goal of Presbyterians collectively building a paper chain to encircle the entire world — nearly 131.5 million feet measured at the Equator.

“I did some research, and when I saw that the Links of Love program had started back in September, and that in our Bethlehem Market members had already given refugee food baskets, kitchen kits, and gardening tools through the Presbyterian Giving Catalog, the project seemed like a good fit,” said Bonnie Keith, a ruling elder who serves on the committee. “Since the Bethlehem Market covers many missions, we thought focusing on one gift from the catalog was the best idea. The garden well looked like something we could accomplish given our size and the time frame. The rest is history.”

Before the start of virtual worship in March, $400 had already been raised for the project by offering the congregation an opportunity to purchase “shares” at $10 each — each share becoming a signed link in the church’s growing paper chain — to fund a garden well. Then, while staying safe at home and worshiping through YouTube, additional gifts brought the garden well project to $1,025. Finally, during a Zoom meeting of the Mission and Outreach Ministry, it was decided by vote that the ministry’s budget would make up the difference for the garden well project, using funds previously earmarked for a local mission project that had to be canceled because of the stay-at-home order.

“When we took the funds that were previously allocated to serve our local high school and put them instead toward reaching our goal for the Links of Love project, it was a way that we could continue to be the church, and show that the church is not the building” said Fair. “That’s important to us.”

Fair said this is not the only mission project the church has done since it went into shutdown. “We raised $5,800 for a local food bank, and donated countless pounds of food and fresh produce to the Pasadena Community Ministries,” she said. “It’s great that this congregation recognizes that God has blessed us and that we can continue to be a blessing to other people. Even when we are not able to gather physically, we can still take up a Sunday offering, and we can continue to make a difference in the world close by and in another country with the Links of Love and the water well.”

First Church’s 24-foot long paper chain — representing each share of the garden well that was bought before and during the pandemic, plus the gardening tools, kitchen kits, and refugee food baskets that were purchased during the Bethlehem Market in December — arrived at the Presbyterian Center in late May.

While the future of many church activities is uncertain, the church’s future certainly isn’t.

“I cannot imagine that we won’t do the Bethlehem Market again, and the Presbyterian Giving Catalog will always be a part of it,” said Fair. “Our Mission and Outreach Ministry picked the garden well as a project that was an attainable stretch for us, and something that we thought people would be excited about. The same kind of thing will motivate the identification of future projects that the church will want to get behind and support.”

This was originally published for Presbyterian News Service on July 13, 2020.

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