For many the Blue Box is a natural part of their memories. I was raised Presbyterian, and 30 before hearing of the United Thank Offering. Of course I was thankful for my blessings and aware of the needs of others, especially in my teenage years as a volunteer for the blind and at an inner city day camp. I almost saw it as an extension of the Girl Scout oath “to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people at all times.” I just never formally equated thankfulness with “doing unto others.”
Then I became an Episcopalian. Like many converts, I became an extremely active participant in the church, first as a choir member, then as the ECW president of my parish. It was then I learned about the United Thank Offering and those Blue Boxes. Suddenly we had one on the top of our refrigerator; when I thought of it, I’d drop in a coin or two. I have to admit that often it was more of an afterthought than a prayerful offering. Even when I became the ECW president for the diocese and went to Triennial Meetings and voted on UTO grants and listened to countless UTO speakers at churches and luncheons, I still dropped in those coins as an afterthought. But not anymore.
In February 2000, while serving as ECW National President, I had the incredible experience of representing ECW for a whirlwind trip to the Philippines. Four of us spent a week among those generous, loving people and I learned what United Thank Offering really means.
Everywhere we went we visited churches, large and small, built with UTO grants. We listened to stories of life before UTO, we saw Sunday School classrooms and ate in parish halls refurbished or built with the United Thank Offering. We even visited a hospital in the mountains which was the only medical facility for hundreds of miles. Built in the 1920’s, it hadn’t been updated since.
The woman who showed us around had given birth to her children there, and was proud that “the Episcopal Church through the United Thank Offering is here to save lives at St. Timothy’s.” We who take modern medicine almost for granted were aghast at the incubator made of a glass-framed box with a light bulb; the operating room with only natural light in the ceiling; and the delivery room containing a single table with a bucket at the end. But without UTO, these people would not even have these, and they are unbelievably grateful.
The highlight of our trip for me was the same afternoon we toured the hospital. We were the guests of the ECW of St. Ann’s, a little church perched on the side of a mountain. All 86 women of the parish came, which was impressive in and of itself. But even more incredible was the group of elderly women, the youngest in her 80’s and the oldest 95, bent over from years of working in the rice paddies, carrying umbrellas against the heat, and walking 6 hours down one mountain and up the other to see us and to say “thank you.” It was probably the most humbling moment of my life. Those women expanded their circle of thankful people to include me. I shall never forget them.
Now, when I put my coins in that box on my refrigerator with prayer and thanksgiving, that offering is a place and it has a face. As it joins the offerings of others at each ingathering, it becomes many places and many faces. And now I am grateful, every day.