New voices add to Thankoffering service
Sharon St. Aubin is part of Women of the ELCA at Zion Lutheran Church in Towner, North Dakota. At a general meeting in 2012, the officers distributed a list of projects for the upcoming year and asked each woman to place her name by the project she would like to lead. Newly retired at the time, Sharon put her name to a bigger project -- organizing the Thankoffering service. Six months later, Sharon had this to say, “I can hardly wait to do it again next year.”
Here’s how she did it - with prayer, organization, creativity, and using some helpful tips at womenoftheelca.org:
Picking a date
First, Sharon worked with the minister to select a date. At Zion, the Thankoffering service typically happens during the regularly-scheduled Sunday morning worship, using the Thankoffering liturgy from Women of the ELCA. Because the summer months were busy and November and December were full of holiday activities, Sharon selected the second Sunday in October.
Getting the word out
To get the word out, Sharon creatively combined personal invitations with announcements.First, she delivered an invitation packet to each woman at Zion, using their personal mailboxes in the church office. The invitation included a history of Thankofferings and instructions and a label for creating a Thankoffering container. Sharon found both at womenoftheelca.org. Expecting to order Thankoffering boxes, she learned that the boxes have been replaced with suggestions for making your own thankoffering container and an optional label. “That was a great asset,” Sharon wrote. To make the invitation more appealing and easy to read, she typed it in large print and used fewer words.
A few weeks after sending personal invitations, Sharon placed some homemade Thankoffering containers in the narthex with a note saying, "Take if you want. The Thankoffering Service will be in October." She also included another copy of the resource about the history of Thankofferings.
During the spring and summer, she asked the secretary to type brief announcements in the monthly newsletter and weekly bulletin.
New voices to preach, read, play, and serve
By prayerfully considering the gifts of women at Zion Lutheran, Sharon used the Thankoffering service to raise up new voices to preach, read, and serve in worship. For the sermon, she invited a young woman who had never given a sermon before. Over the summer, Sharon found herself thinking often of this woman in the congregation. Eventually, Sharon said, “I saw her in church and asked if she'd be willing to give a sermon during the Thankoffering Service.” Having never preached before, she said “Yes!” Sharon added, “She did so well at the Thankoffering Service that I hope she'll help us again this year. Now I know why God kept reminding me about her.”
Another woman did something that was new for her-- giving the children’s sermon. A retired librarian, she wasn't sure she was capable and did not want to write the sermon from scratch. To encourage her, Sharon said she put together a few children's sermon ideas. “She picked one and developed it. Her sermon was wonderful! Her voice was exceptionally clear and everyone was able to hear her. And the message stuck with the children and the adults.” Sharon noted that the woman was also concerned about keeping the attention of the 15-20 children that usually attend the service. So, to support her, Sharon arranged for another woman to sit with the children during the children’s sermon. “But that really wasn't necessary,” Sharon said, “because the children were so focused they didn't need supervision.”
After finding it difficult to recruit scripture readers, Sharon said that “something neat happened.” One woman in the congregation was known as a great reader but had rheumatoid arthritis and struggled to get to the lectern. Sharon arranged for her to read into a portable microphone from a pew in the back of the church. “It was like the voice of God coming,” Sharon said.
Sharon invited two mothers and daughters to serve as candle lighters and greeters. Special music was offered by a mother, daughter and sister.
Surprised by testimony
When Sharon read the Thankoffering suggestions at womenoftheelca.org, she liked the idea of including testimonials, but she wasn’t sure how it would work at Zion. “Believe me,” she said, “our church is conservative. I couldn't imagine anyone giving a testimony.” Yet, she credits God with encouraging two women, of two different generations, to share their stories. They each told how women of the church had inspired and encouraged them. Afterwards, many people said they were greatly influenced by the testimonies.
Sharon is looking forward to the 2013 service. This time, she has a co-organizer to help with planning.