Mystery envelopes serve community

By Amanda Wells 

Sending congregation members out into the community with envelopes of $20, $50 or $100 to give away generated a huge reaction in Papakura.

The initiative at Papakura East Presbyterian was part of the Rev Geoff New’s study towards a doctorate in ministry, which required creating an innovative mission project.

The subsequent project had only two rules. The first was that people couldn’t give the money back to the church; they had to use it to make a difference in someone else’s life. The second was that they had to link up with at least one other person in the congregation to combine their envelopes.

Not having many rules and regulations was important, Geoff says. “It could easily become tied up in bureaucracy and then it would lose its magic.”

A lot of trust was involved, he says: the church leadership trusted the congregation, with no system of accountability for the money; and people had to trust each other to pool their resources and decide on a project together.

Geoff says he discussed the proposal with the session and the board of managers,
with both groups quickly becoming supportive. “I was expecting a two-hour discussion but before I’d even finished putting the proposal, one of the elders was moving it.”

The money came from a proportion of offerings that Papakura East sets aside and distributes four times a year to Christian organisations and ministries; generally it totals about $5,000 a quarter.

Before giving out the money in May this year, Geoff preached on the Parable of the Shrewd Manager (Luke 16), which ends with the phrase, “you cannot serve both God and money”. There is a sense of urgency in the parable concerning living life and the use of limited resources, Geoff says, and he asked the congregation to imagine what they could do with $20, $50 or $100, before reaching behind the pulpit and pulling out two baskets of envelopes.

Anyone older than 13 was invited to take an envelope when the baskets were passed around.

“People were stunned… it was pretty quiet at the end of the service, rather than the usual buzz.”

Geoff says some people really struggled with whether they would take an envelope, and many felt a weight of responsibility in deciding what to do with the money. There was a strong sense that because this money was from someone else’s offering to God, it must be used wisely.

Envelopes were taken by 191 people and the money was used in a myriad of ways: a bigger vehicle was hired for a family holidaying with a wheelchair-bound son; a doctor’s appointment was paid for; bike helmets were bought for children of a refugee family; a solo parent was given money to buy shoes for their child; money was given to a person in debt after an expensive vet bill.

Responses ranged from tears to feeling overwhelming to heartfelt expressions of gratitude. One person said, “Your thoughtfulness came at a time when I was very low. To know there are good people such as yourselves caring makes things look brighter”. More than 90 percent of the recipients had no connection with Papakura East.

Rather than the money being used to seed some kind of programme or project that could be continued, “one off” innovative mission might allow for the ongoing gift of gratitude. “I think we’ve discovered a new culture,” Geoff says.

Papakura East has been doing mission-oriented projects for many years. “What this did was bring into focus that each of us has ministry in our own lives Monday to Sunday. People are already in the mission context just by being alive and by knowing Christ.”

Rather than expecting the community to come to a particular programme at the church, this was about meeting them where they were, Geoff says.

“It challenged us about discipleship and what it’s really about.”

After the project, people were asked to report their experiences and feedback anonymously via a questionnaire. People were keen to repeat the experience, with a few adding qualifications or suggesting minor changes, Geoff says.

Eight people shared their experiences with the congregation during a Sunday service. “It’s become part of our story now.”

If any other parish is considering a similar innovative mission, Geoff says his advice would be “don’t burden it with a whole lot of rules and regulations”.

“People are already in mission situations but they don’t always know it. They are already ‘dwelling among’.”

Back to top ^