- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

SIMPSONVILLE, S.C. (AP) - It’s a risk, to be sure, but it’s one the Rev. Michael Turner embraced wholeheartedly.

He has asked his parishioners at Advent United Methodist in Simpsonville to cut their usual Christmas spending in half and give the other half to the homeless.

Here’s the rub. The church takes in 20 percent of its $1.4 million budget in December. That’s about $280,000. What if members decide to just forgo their annual year-end donations and give to the homeless project?

Or even worse. What if the project fails all together?

“The reason I think this is going to work is because this church has been missional since it was founded in 1987,” said Turner.

Plus, he said, so many people have talked about how outrageous holiday spending - and the consumerism that drives the holiday - has become.

“A lot of people want to resist the Christmas machine, but they don’t know how,” he said.

Turner has been pastor at Advent, which has a membership of 1,800, for two years. He’s thought about a project like A Christmas Miracle Mission and decided the time was right this year. He’s done similar projects at his previous churches, most recently at Wightman United Methodist in Prosperity. Church membership when he arrived: 200.

The money was to be used to insulate and repair 16 homes of the elderly and poor. Word got back to Turner that the church was going to get a black eye over it. It wouldn’t work.

“I’m competitive enough that whoever said that was helping me,” he said.

When the collection was counted on Christmas Eve, $38,000 came in, enough to fund the housing renovations for two years.

Turner learned about such projects from the Rev. Mike Slaughter, pastor of Ginghamsburg Church in Ohio since 1979. Slaughter calls himself chief dreamer at the church and a spiritual entrepreneur of ministry marketplace innovations.

Since 2005, his church has raised $7 million to build homes and a school and to improve agriculture and health care in Darfur. He’s the author of “Christmas is Not Your Birthday,” in which he writes that overspending robs people of joy in believing in Jesus Christ.

Laura-Allen Kerlin, associate pastor at Advent, said church leaders began talking about the Christmas mission project in July. The first Sunday in September the idea was pitched to the congregation. At each of the three services, the congregation applauded the announcement.

“You could feel the energy in the sanctuary,” she said.

In his sermon that day, Turner used examples of $500, $1,000 and $2,000 in usual spending would yield $250, $500 or $1,000 for the cause. After the sermon someone said, “People spend $2,000 on Christmas?”

“Two thousand probably isn’t that uncommon,” Turner said.

The money would be used to either build a house or buy and renovate a house for the Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network to use as transitional housing for a homeless family.

To further the effort, Advent has printed brochures and dressed up a corner of the sanctuary foyer with huge boxes bearing the sign “to GAIHN from Advent.” They’ve also given members a worksheet to keep track of spending - just in case they want to spend as usual and donate a like amount to the cause.

GAIHN is one of Advent’s four signature missions. GAIHN works with places of worship to provide temporary housing in education buildings not used at night. Advent hosts GAIHN families four times a year, and members have worked on some of the few houses GAIHN owns that offer families a place to return to sound financial footing.

Kerlin said as much as the Christmas Miracle Mission is about raising money, it’s also about discipleship. Lives will be changed, she said, when people truly act on the idea of loving neighbors as ourselves.

So far, about $17,000 has come in. Turner and Kerlin refuse to say how much they expect or to set a goal.

“I’m convinced if I say a figure it will be a limiting number,” Turner said.

Building a new house would likely cost $100,000 to $125,000. Members have already promised free heating and air conditioning and electrical work. Land donation would be nice, especially in the ever-rising land values of the Golden Strip.

They would like for the house to be close by so the families could attend Advent. A few families who stayed in the church through GAIHN are already members. And they’d like the house to be the first of many.

It is an important effort since one of Greenville County’s biggest limitations with regard to the homeless are places for families to stay together. Shelters are single gender and there are age limitations on male children staying with their mothers.

On Christmas Eve at Advent, every penny donated will go toward the project. That’s six services. 1,900 attendees. Or so.

Turner hasn’t heard any negative comments. Even from the kids. Although as the 25th gets closer parents are reporting some pushback.

When Tony McDade, the executive director of GAIHN, spoke at the church recently, he said it was fitting to do a project like this at Christmas. Mary and Joseph were essentially homeless and their baby was born in a stable.

___

Information from: The Greenville News, https://www.greenvillenews.com


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