So this post got a little longer than I meant for it to, so I broke it down into two sections: Here’s What Happened and Here’s What I Learned. Feel free to read one or the other or both!
Here’s what happened:
I had climbed the scaffolding that hugs Westfield’s iconic steeple a dozen or times before, but climbing it during the early hours of October 19th I discovered my legs had turned to the same Jell-O that they were the very first time I scaled our tower. Unlike those other trips, so much depended on this one. As I climbed, I looked down to wave. I forced a smile then looked up at the next set of stairs and kept going. “Here goes nothing,” I thought to myself.
I wasn’t until I made it to the bell level, that I looked out across the horizon, and there, just over the ridge that’s the border between Connecticut and Rhode Island, I saw the sun peaking over the tops of the orange, red, and golden trees in the distance. I hauled it (cautiously!) up the next 4 flights of steps and made it to the very top of the spire just in time to see the sun make its way over the ridge.
I caught my breath for a quick second and logged onto Facebook to record my first Facebook Live of the day. Facebook Live allows you to broadcast live from wherever you are. Other users can watch you in a realtime. It’s become a great asset to our efforts and provided unprecedented access to our restoration efforts that would normally be off-limits.
While I was up on the scaffolding, there was a flurry of activity happening on the street level. We started setting up at 6am. Gary-O, from WINY 1350 AM, tapped into our phone lines (hence why you couldn’t call the church’s main number to make a donation!) while church members lugged out tables to create displays featuring our congregation’s history and the construction materials being used in the restoration. We handed out clipboards to our curbside attendants who, for ten hours straight, walked up to cars that had pulled over to offer a donation.
During the week leading up the event, I made a series of graphics to mark our progress during Steeple Stay 2016. As money went up, Pastor Jon went down (at least, that was the idea). I won’t lie to you: I couldn’t keep up. I made it to my perch about 2/3 of the way up the steeple, and texted the ground for total donations. Within 40 minutes of beginning the day, we had raised $4,000. By 9am, we had already raised more than $12,000. The day before, we revealed that an anonymous donor had offered to match all gifts made between 7am and 10 am dollar for dollar up to $10,000. Who would’ve ever thought we’d blow past that goal in under two hours? Luckily, they extended it, adding an additional $7,000. We hit that LESS THAN AN HOUR LATER. No kidding!
I called down to the donations table. “What do you think we should do?” I asked, genuinely flummoxed. We were well aware that we’d have a hard time ever replicating this level of public interest in our efforts. After a brief conversation, it was clear there was only one way forward: keep going. So we did. And so did the community. We inched closer and closer to fifty thousand dollars.
I’ll confess that it was along in here that I stopped making regular Facebook posts about our progress. Several people actually commented, wondering what the total was. This was a totally selfish move on my part. I was afraid that if people knew how close we actually were to the new goal of $50,000 in a day, that they’d think, “eh, they’ve got enough.” Which is (and isn’t) true. It is true that we raised waaaaay more than we were hoping for. It is also true that we have waaaaay more to raise to finish up this Phase of construction. Any help we could get is help that we needed. Around lunchtime, I posted this update:
From there, we decided to see where the afternoon took us. And where it took us was further than any of ever imagined. We spent the afternoon making pitches on the radio and hoping for the best. And soon, it became clear that we weren’t just going to hit our new goal, we were going to exceed it. Once we knew it was a sure thing, I climbed to the top with four confetti canon in hand. Our ground volunteers counted down, and I shot them off from the very top of our steeple–one after another. The wind took the streamers up and away–toward God in an act of gratitude.
I made my way down, and walked out of the front doors. And we cheered. And hugged. And were all a little stunned that it had happened at all, that it worked.
Here’s What I Learned:
- Sometimes, you gotta let people do their thing. I know this is a surprise to you, but I can be a little particular. I usually have a vision in my head, and I’m not always the best at communicating it before hand. So, instead of working to be more specific in those initial communications, I tend to hold tightly onto the reins. Which, for the record, is no easy task 100′ off the ground. So instead of controlling every detail, I strived to let the ground crew take care of it. And they did. They were committed to our cause, and their dedication shone through their tireless efforts. They were patient with me when I would call from above. They’d answer my questions, jump on whatever detail-oriented task I brought to their attention, and never hung up on me–which, you know, is really something!
- Don’t underestimate the value of community. One of our greatest challenges in the Quiet Corner is overcoming the pervasive and persistent narrative that Danielson is nothing but a breeding ground for impoverished, drug-addicted, and good-for-nothing folks that no one else wants. And the truth is we do have lots of people in need, people who have had hard lives and have had to make impossible decisions. And some of them have fallen prey to drugs and other hard realities. And let me be clear: we should and will help them, because the Gospel compels us to. But there are also people in our community who are generous beyond belief, who are there for you because you’re there for them. Danielson and Killingly is brimming with people like that. We might not see them in the pews every week, but they’re part of us nonetheless. They are ours, and we are theirs. And that, friends, is a gift.After school let out for the day and finishing her rounds for the day, a school bus pulled up. A student hopped off. “I didn’t use my lunch money today,” he started. “You can have it.”.
- Generosity is contagious. It was amazing to see how the momentum of the event grew through the day. Word was getting around–and as it did, more and more people stopped by.
- Don’t count anyone out. One of the great challenges in fundraising on this scale, particularly as a church, is that it’s…how would we say this in seminary…AWKWARD AS HELL. Fundraising is necessary; ministry takes money, whether it’s to be good stewards of your ministry launchpad (what we’re working on now) or to care for the “least of these.” And in our churches and communities, it’s apparent that there are lots of people in hard situations. But you know, it’s not my job to decide how generous people can be. It’s my job to give them an opportunity to witness to God’s presence in their lives–and one way to do that is to share what God has given us, generously.Some of our most faithful members look forward to Can Day every week. Each week, they collect cans and on a particular day, the haul them to Stop and Shop. This week they made three dollars. How excited they were! On Steeple Stay Day, they showed up to help our efforts. They handed our volunteers a roll of pennies, a few fistfuls of change, and a dollar bill or two. They had taken up a collection on the bus earlier that day to help our cause. With tears in her eyes, our volunteer couldn’t think of anything to say but, “thanks.” Sometimes, the gift is the opportunity to give.
- Be thankful. A little after lunchtime, I climbed to the top of the steeple to record a video. A videographer had arrived at the church with a drone, and we knew we had a once in a lifetime opportunity. We were already past our initial goal and were on our way to a new goal of $50k. But the jury was still out on whether or not we’d make it. I held up my phone and started to record. “Wow,” I began, “I cannot believe that we have raised more than $50,000 dollars in a day!” I finished up and started down the scaffolding, hoping we’d would make it. And we did. And the thing we worked hard to be through it all was thankful. We knew no one had to help us, so we were grateful every step of the way that they did.
- Not everyone will be on board. One of the church’s neighbors was excited to help collect donations. He went up to one car that had pulled over and held out the construction hat offering plate he was using. “Your church is going to hell!” the woman yelled. “Your pastor is, too!” She shouted something indiscernible about our inclusive stances before driving off. The silver lining? At least our message is getting out!
- You can’t do it alone. We certainly didn’t. And I couldn’t imagine trying.
When the dust settled and I had finally made it home after one of the longer days of my ministry, I texted my secretary. “Remember that time we raised more than $54k in a day?” I wrote. “That was pretty cool.”
I stand by that statement.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your incredible support. If you’d like the opportunity to donate to this remarkable effort, just click here!