The Importance of Birthdays

August 15, 2017
The Rev. Canon Heather L. Melton, Staff Officer for the United Thank Offering

Julia Chester Emery birthday cakes United Thank Offering UTOWhen my daughters were about to turn one, I was so relieved that we’d made it through their first year that I decided that we deserved a big birthday party to celebrate our surviving infanthood and to welcome the toddler years. I planned the party for months after choosing The Lorax as the theme; I made all of the decorations myself (thank you, Pinterest) and even had themed brunch food. One might say that it was a little over the top, especially crammed into a two bedroom New York condo, but I loved every minute of it. I even taught myself how to make one of Christina Tosi’s cakes – all eight layers of it – and I did it twice because each child deserved her own cake, right? Totally crazy, and totally born out a place of deep and profound gratitude for my girls and for the gift of making it through the first year.

I’d like to tell you that I’ve gotten less crazy about birthday parties, but it was so much fun that I’ve kept up the tradition. So even though their birthday is two months away, I find myself already working on their party. I got to thinking one day about how important birthday celebrations are and how much fun they can be. Birthdays are a time that we come together to have fun and celebrate, when we rejoice in the gift that is the person who was born that day. We give thanks for the ways they have blessed us, and we try and fill the day with love, hope, and joy to last them through the year. Birthdays can be magical.

I was thinking about all of this one day when, for some reason, my thoughts turned to Julia Chester Emery. I often find that my thoughts are drawn to my predecessor and what her life was like, especially because over the past few months, my husband and I have been looking into the history of our congregation and learning about how the Westchester Women supported Good Shepherd Mission in Navajoland for years. As I find out about those women, I continue to think about all they did and gave and made happen. Julia Chester Emery would have known these women; she may have been friends with them or simply supported them in their mission work. She lived not far from me, and she’s buried about 20 minutes from my house. I began to think about all of the ways that she has blessed me, blessed us, and shaped the Church as we know it. Did you know that she fought for the canonical status of the deaconess, which to many is part of the foundation upon which women’s ordination is built? Someone writing about Julia for a meditation on her Feast Day suggested that Julia is important to remember because she reminds us that we all possess the resources necessary to be effective missionaries (or members of the Jesus Movement): a willingness to try and the commitment to stick with something. When I read this, I realized that I want my children to learn this from Julia and to share those lessons with others while we give thanks. I wanted to find a way to celebrate all that she did and to help others learn about her and her sacrifices, dedication, adventures, and joys. What better way to do this than to throw her a birthday party?

This year, on September 25, Julia Chester Emery would have been 165 years old. The UTO Board and staff want to invite you to join us in throwing her a birthday party at your church on Sunday, September 24. You don’t need to go totally crazy, but you can. We’ve pulled together a party pack to help you get started. On our webpage, you can find photo booth props, sermon ideas, newsletter articles, bulletin inserts, and activities for children. We’ve got some great contests, and during the month of September, we’ll release special videos from some of our participants about the importance of UTO. As a part of the birthday celebration, we hope you will consider taking up a special one-time offering in thanksgiving for Julia Chester Emery and the women she worked with, who founded the United Thank Offering and shepherded it into what we have today. We hope you’ll give thanks for the AMOUNT raised since the first thank offering was collected and for the NUMBER of grants awarded since 1883. We hope you’ll help us in our goal of raising an additional $700,000 this year to support innovative mission and ministry in honor of Julia Chester Emery and all the founders of UTO. So, let’s begin planning our celebrations! Go over the top, go for understated and elegant, have a tea party, but most important, have a blast. Share your party preparations with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. We’ve even started a UTO Pinterest Board where you can find craft ideas about thankfulness and gratitude and inspirational quotes. We hope you’ll follow our boards and share some pins as you plan your Julia Chester Emery birthday celebration!