When Michelle Crawford volunteered to be Network Coordinator for Episcopal Relief & Development at St. Jude’s Episcopal Church in Niceville, she wasn’t sure how best to raise awareness of the work of the organization. Then while browsing their website she came across the idea of holding a special Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday during Lent. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry encouraged the idea for Episcopal Church congregations, stating, “As the season of Lent calls us to re-examine our priorities, let’s unite in truly seeking and serving Christ in all persons, through the important work of Episcopal Relief & Development.”
Episcopal Relief & Development is an organization that for over 75 years has served as a compassionate response to human suffering in the world. The agency works with more than 3 million people in nearly 40 countries worldwide to overcome poverty, hunger, and disease through multi-sector programs. As an arm of the Episcopal Church, individual parishes encourage volunteers to serve as coordinators to raise awareness and funds for the organization in their churches.
Father Greg Hein, rector at St. Jude’s, chose the second Sunday in Lent to highlight Episcopal Relief & Development. He put together a special sermon for the occasion and used prayers written for the service by the organization. Donation leaflets were included in the bulletins. “We are a small congregation, with about 100 people in attendance on an average Sunday,” said Crawford, “so I wasn’t expecting a very large response. I was blown away when Father Greg told me we raised nearly $500 for Episcopal Relief & Development on that Sunday alone.”
Little did she know that the special service also ignited a desire in the rest of the parishioners to do even more to help. In his sermon that Sunday, Hein spoke about the lack of clean water facing many people in the developing world: “Imagine what it would be to come in and say, ‘I’m thirsty,’ and to hear, ‘There’s a well about five miles down the road. Walk down there, get some water, and bring some back for all of us,’ because that’s the nearest source of drinkable water. Episcopal Relief & Development goes into areas like that, and they provide the engineering or the money or the machinery in order to provide wells for villages that have never had wells… have never had the opportunity to stay near their homes and receive the water that is necessary.” The parishioners of St. Jude’s took these words to heart.
“Where we live, we take for granted that we can turn on a faucet and have fresh, clean water on demand. That isn’t the reality for much of the world. So my next idea was to challenge our parish to raise another $750 for the Episcopal Relief & Development Clean Water Fund,” said Crawford. That $750 would have purchased a share in a well for a developing village. However, parishioner Annabelle James was thinking bigger – she wanted the church to raise the $5,000 it would cost to fund a well in its entirety. Crawford had her doubts: “as a small parish, I really wasn’t sure we could do it, but I underestimated how much God had a hand in our fundraising. With God, all things are possible.”
Over the next six months, the congregation banded together through individual donations, fundraisers, and proceeds from monthly Fellowship Breakfasts put on by the church’s Men’s Group. Crawford and her husband Adam even made a coin-spinning “wishing well” so children could see their donations spiraling down into a collection box. She also worked with James to organize a Book and Bake Sale during the annual church picnic. Parishioners Dottie Doherty and Mary McKinley organized an ice cream social. James and her husband Bill even requested that monetary gifts from their 60th wedding anniversary celebration, held at the church, be donated to the well fund.
The goal was reached well before the Right Reverend Russell Kendrick, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, was scheduled to visit the church on October 30. That day, St. Jude’s presented Bishop Kendrick with a symbolic check for $5,000 for Episcopal Relief & Development. “This gift will truly change lives,” said Crawford. “I’m thrilled that our little church was able to meet such a big goal. I can’t take any credit for it. We are truly a congregation of loving, caring Christians who are eager to give our time and treasure to help others. But we’re not done yet – there are so many needs in the world that God calls us to meet. Our parish already has more projects in the works, and I’m so excited to be a part of it.” As the one with the initial inspiration for raising the funds, James participated in the check presentation. “This gift comes from each and every person in this church,” she said, “and it is truly a gift from the heart.”