In June, Gage and Fargo United Methodist Churches implemented the "Pay It Forward" ministry, drawing on the catchphrase popularized by a movie of the same name.
On Father’s Day, worshippers at each church were asked to enter their names in surprise drawings. Nelda Shepherd handed sealed envelopes to the six people whose names were drawn. Inside each packet was a $100 bill. The recipients were directed to give away the money within 30 days to someone in need.
On July 25, "Testify Sunday," the recipients were to report what they did. Michael Shepherd is pastor of the congregations in Woodward District.
Nelda suggested options: use the $100 to launch a fund-raiser; match the amount; divide it to help several people; or give it all away at once. She adapted a longtime program by her employer to create "Pay It Forward" for the church.
Church leaders hoped the project would help people better understand the church’s financial and administrative ministries, as well as boost participation in committees.
The project was declared a great success. One recipient at Gage was a visitor; he e-mailed his report. He and his wife chose to divide the money into two equal amounts. "Each $50 has a story to tell," he wrote.
Their daughter traveled on a mission to assist orphans in Romania. The couple gave her $50 to apply to a need there. She donated the money to help a child go to summer camp.
The other $50 traveled with the couple on their full-time RV adventures. At Cuba, Mo., a sign caught their attention at the United Methodist Church. They stopped and asked the pastor about any need for the $50.
The pastor’s answer: "You were sent here!" A man needed assistance with a motel room for one night and travel costs to a job in another city.
The gift-giver told the man there was one string attached to the money: "When you can, you…"
The man finished that sentence with a firm, ‘I will pass it on.’
Another $100 recipient gave portions of the money to a mission project, to a family, and to other members of the congregation to participate in the ministry. One young woman gave the lump sum to a family in crisis so the mother would have gas money to get to work. One recipient placed his $100 in the offering plate. Another helped a struggling college student at Woodward.
In an epilogue to the "Pay It Forward" story, a Gage church visitor in August presented $100 to Rev. Shepherd to assist another pastor battling cancer. And a love offering was received at the Fargo church for the same purpose.