Avalon UMC members use talents to give extravagantly


By Kara Witherow, Editor

Five times 125 always equals 625.

Or does it?

For the members of Albany’s Avalon United Methodist Church, five times 125 equals nearly 5,000.

On Sunday, October 2, Avalon UMC pastor Rev. Dennis Lanning preached a sermon on the parable of the talents, reading from the book of Matthew.  Following his message, Rev. Lanning gave everyone in attendance a $5 bill. He passed out 125 bills, totaling $625, and challenged the congregation to use their $5, along with their talents, abilities and gifts, to multiply what they had been given.

Commissioning them to “go out and make money,” Rev. Lanning gave worshippers six weeks to add to their $5.

More than just a fundraising effort and a kickoff to the church’s stewardship campaign, Rev. Lanning said the project, dubbed “Extravagant Giving,” was designed to help people think about and realize the talents they have and how they can use them to best glorify God.

“This gave us an opportunity to think about what we do with what God gives us,” he said.  “It also gives us a wonderful chance to talk about our faith.  Some of them really took off with it.”

Tim Dix, Avalon UMC’s former youth pastor, is one whose $5 gave him an opportunity to share his faith.  Dix, who regularly bought doughnuts for teachers at a local school, used his money to buy additional doughnuts. While dropping the doughnuts off in the school’s teachers’ lounge, he was able to share his faith and talk about the Extravagant Giving project. Through God’s grace and the conversation with Dix, a man gave his life to Christ.

Ida Fowler was able to share about the campaign and her faith at her local Dollar General store.

For Fowler, an Albany native who has been an Avalon UMC member since she was a 17-year-old high school senior, the initial struggle of trying to decide what to do with her $5 was tougher than sharing her faith with strangers.

“The pastor gave us all $5, and when I got home I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, what am I going to do? I don’t have any talents,’” she said.

Fowler’s husband, who died unexpectedly in June, loved her sunflower seed bread. She quit making it in the months following his death, but a few days after receiving her $5, Fowler found herself in her kitchen, making the bread.

“I was making the bread, holding the measuring cup, all the time thinking about what I was going to do,” she said. “The Lord said, ‘What do you have in your hand?’ It gave me the idea of making and selling the bread. I thought, ‘I might not make a lot of money, but I can make it and sell it.’”

After deciding to make and sell her special bread, Fowler headed to the store to buy bags of sunflower seeds. When the cashier made a comment about the multiple bags, it opened the door for Fowler to share her faith.

“The young man at the register looked at me and said, ‘You must like sunflower seeds!’ I said that I do but that I make bread with them. I was able to tell him about what we’re doing at church and how we’re trying to multiply our talents.”

He asked her to bring a loaf back to him later that week, and when she did, she shared her story and faith with two other store employees.

“Extravagant Giving has been wonderful because it’s opened the door for me to not only multiply my money but to also talk about the Lord and what He’s done, and that’s been a wonderful thing,” Fowler said. “You can’t out give the Lord.”

That Wednesday evening Fowler took four loaves of bread and a few jars of homemade scuppernong jelly to the church’s Wednesday night supper. At $3 a loaf, they sold quickly.

She was also able to encourage a friend who was struggling with deciding how to use her talents.

“I was talking to a friend one day who said that she didn’t have any talents at all and that there was not much she could do. She didn’t know what to do with her $5. I was able to share with her and tell her that I had felt the same way, but it was as if the Lord spoke to me. I make bread and jelly, and it doesn’t bring in a lot of money, but the thing that hit me in all of this was that it’s more than just about multiplying our money. It’s all about recognizing the gifts that God has given us and how we use them and the opportunities that we have when we use them to talk about Him.”

After making and selling bread for about three weeks, Fowler gave $150 to the Extravagant Giving offering.

“Some (talents) are great and some are small,” she said, “but whatever you do, as Colossians says, you do as unto the Lord.”

Part of the fun of the Extravagant Giving project was the fellowship with other church members. Long-time friends learned about one another’s hidden talents.

Debbi McCarthy made monogrammed dog scarves. James Ivey made wooden birdhouses and casserole dish carriers. Another sent an email to his “faithful friends” and received $141 in gifts and donations. The choir will perform a musical program in January and ticket proceeds will be given to the campaign.

Like Fowler, Dot McClain likes to bake.

McClain invested her $5 in cake ingredients. Well-known for her southern-style cakes, McClain took orders for red velvet cakes and lemon cheesecakes. She turned her $5 into $150.

“So many times people think, ‘There’s nothing I can do to raise any money,’ but most of us can do something,” she said. “Doing something like this is where the rubber meets the road. It’s something that you can physically do to show your faith.”

On November 13, six weeks after Rev. Lanning passed out $625 in $5 bills, Avalon UMC hosted Good Measure Sunday.  When the offering was received more than $5,000 was given.

God’s math really does add up.

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