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One Great Hour of Sharing: Offering provides hope for half a century Linda Unger, Mar 22, 2011
PHOTOS COURTESY OF UMCOR
UMCOR projects in Sudan include building and equipping classrooms such as this one in Yei.
By Linda Unger Special Contributor
On April 3, United Methodists will have the opportunity to do a world of good through One Great Hour of Sharing. The annual churchwide offering on the fourth Sunday in Lent underwrites the United Methodist Church’s ministry of compassion to survivors of disaster and extreme need, by providing the funding that secures the “nuts and bolts” of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
For 50 years, United Methodists have supported One Great Hour of Sharing to ensure UMCOR has the funds needed for administrative costs—to keep the lights on and the phones ringing at headquarters. That means that when donors give to designated programs, such as Japan or Haiti relief, those funds go directly to the relief and development field. UMCOR’s ministry makes a visible difference in the lives of people in more than 80 countries.
‘Goodness of life’
It is no coincidence that the One Great Hour of Sharing offering takes place during Lent.
“Lent is the season of repentance, self-examination, and awareness of the hurts of the peoples of the world,” according to the denomination’s 2008 Book of Discipline. “One Great Hour of Sharing calls the Church to share the goodness of life with those who hurt.” The programs that One Great Hour of Sharing makes possible by underwriting the cost of keeping UMCOR’s computers humming in its New York City and Washington, D.C., offices include those that make enduring headlines and those whose headlines fade before the ink is dry. Many never even make it into print—yet they address needs that are urgent for those affected by them.
You may never have heard, for instance, of the “miracle tree,” an African tree called moringa oleifera that’s also known as “Mother’s best friend.” Moringa’s properties can meet a family’s nutritional needs, care for them medicinally, and even purify water. For decades, UMCOR has played a pioneering role in Africa in the promotion of Moringa as a food supplement source. The tree is actively cultivated now in Liberia and Ghana, and a large-scale promotion has just been launched in Sierra Leone.
Also in Africa, UMCOR’s Hospital Revitalization program is training health boards in annual conferences across the continent. Not the stuff of headlines, yet the significance of this effort is nothing short of strategic. It will guarantee the independence of Methodist health institutions in Africa and allow them to secure and determine their future in direct service to local needs.
Because One Great Hour of Sharing covers UMCOR’s cost of doing business, the organization’s Armenia field office can offer a safe haven to women, children and men who have been trafficked in Eastern Europe. In post-Soviet countries such as Armenia, this criminal and abusive practice is on the rise. “Alisa” is one person who found refuge and support through UMCOR Armenia’s human-trafficking prevention program. A single mother, just 20 years old, Alisa was coerced into prostitution. She managed to escape after she saw the UMCOR program’s hotline number slide across a TV screen on a news ticker. She wrote the number on the palm of her hand and eventually called. Not only did she find safety at UMCOR’s shelter but, thanks to this program (which is unique in Armenia), Alisa also received help reintegrating into society and caring for her child. The trafficker was arrested.
When United Methodists “share the goodness of life” through One Great Hour of Sharing they allow 100 percent of all program-specific donations to be used entirely to address those, like Alisa, who hurt. UMCOR does not use funds from the Advance for Christ and His Church to meet overhead costs.
Origin of the offering
One Great Hour of Sharing became a churchwide offering by action of the General Conference of 1960; the first observance in Methodist churches took place in 1961. The origin of the offering, though, is ecumenical and dates back further.
In 1946, Presiding Bishop Henry Knox Sherrill of the Episcopal Church called on members of his denomination to raise “one million dollars in one hour” for those whom World War II had left hurt, homeless and in need. For three years, the response met and surpassed all hopes.
In 1949, leaders from several Christian denominations joined together to expand the effort and formed an ad hoc committee to raise funds for their separate relief and development works. In a joint statement they declared: “This nationwide united effort by America’s Christians has an importance far beyond the practical goal of fund raising. For this great joint program will not only strengthen the vitally important relief and rehabilitation work of the churches overseas but will also prove to all the world how great is the power generated when Christians unite in a common cause.”
The churches sponsored a radio broadcast aimed at raising funds for refugees and orphans in Europe and for those surviving amid famine in China. Gregory Peck and Ida Lupino were among the celebrities of the day recruited to participate in the broadcast, which was called “One Great Hour.”
The enduring title, One Great Hour of Sharing, came a year later. By then, a group of 21 Protestant denominations had agreed to hold the offering on a common date, with each managing the appeal within its own denominational structure.
The Methodist Church became involved early on, although the offering did not become an institutional part of the church for another 12 years. When it did, One Great Hour of Sharing took the place of the Week of Dedication. Also a Lenten observance, the Week of Dedication began in the early years of World War II, just after the founding of UMCOR’s forerunner, the Methodist Committee on Overseas Relief. When the United Methodist Church was formed from the union with the Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968, One Great Hour of Sharing continued, as the Evangelical United Brethren were also early participants in the offering.
Today, One Great Hour of Sharing is one of six churchwide Special Sundays with offerings authorized by the United Methodist Church. It is the principal giving channel that underwrites UMCOR’s mandate to carry out the church’s relief, recovery and development work both abroad and in the United States. UMCOR receives no apportionment funds nor does it receive money from the World Service Fund, which supports overseas missions.
Although the church still holds to the tradition of Lenten observance of One Great Hour of Sharing, United Methodists can now contribute to it or to UMCOR’s undesignated fund at any time of the year.
Thanks to One Great Hour of Sharing, UMCOR is able to respond to increasingly complex emergencies and to remain where it is needed for as long as necessary, usually long after media attention has withdrawn.
In recent years, these emergencies have included the Indian Ocean tsunamis of 2004; Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 and the Deepwater Oil crisis last year on the U.S. Gulf Coast; the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S.; and the crises in Darfur (Sudan) and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to name only a few. At press time, UMCOR was gearing up to provide aid to those affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunamis in Japan.
UMCOR field offices are in locations embroiled in some of the most challenging situations on earth: Haiti, Sudan, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Armenia, Georgia, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. Their ongoing presence brings reconstruction, nutrition, water, education, renewed livelihoods, dignity and hope.
Over the past year UMCOR Sager Brown and UMCOR West relief-supply depots expanded their capacity to respond to emergencies at home and abroad through their collaboration in a nationwide relief-supply network. In just the last six months of 2010, UMCOR depots shipped health, school, birthing and other material resource kits valued at almost $4 million to people in need.
And, of course, there is Haiti. And Pakistan. After the devastating earthquake in Haiti last year, generous United Methodists channeled almost $44 million through the Advance to UMCOR for relief and recovery work in the scarred Caribbean nation. And when floods overwhelmed fully one-fifth of Pakistan last summer, donors supplied more than $721,000 through the Advance to help survivors there. Every cent of those funds is going directly to support relief and recovery programs in Haiti and in Pakistan, respectively. This was only possible because of One Great Hour of Sharing.
Designated relief giving overall soared in 2010, thanks to the “extravagant generosity,” as UMCOR head the Rev. Cynthia Fierro Harvey puts it, of United Methodists and others.
The same period, however, saw a marked decline in giving to One Great Hour of Sharing, by about 13 percent; the annual amount of the offering diminished by smaller percentages over the two preceding years. Although programming has not faltered, it will be difficult to maintain at current levels if personnel and other resources should need to be scaled back.
On April 3, One Great Hour of Sharing will, as it has for half a century, call United Methodists to “share the goodness of life with those who hurt.” When you respond with your offering, you claim UMCOR’s ministry of hope as your own.
Linda Unger is the staff writer for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).