A Parish Speaks for UTO

September 5, 2017
by Julia (Parish UTO Coordinator) and Mo Littlefield, R. E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church, Lexington, VA

UTO Blue BoxHow important is the United Thank Offering mission and ministry to individual Episcopal parishes? Certainly one sponsoring a successful application for a grant may place it high on its priority list in thankfulness to God. But what about other parishes that participate regularly in Ingatherings without the blessing of immediate reward?

Although the founding of R. E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church in Lexington, Virginia, occurred nearly five decades before that of UTO, as one of 56 parishes now in the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, it has maintained records of UTO Ingatherings since 1938, when our beloved Elizabeth Galt Welles was custodian. In those early days, leaders among the Episcopal Church Women (ECW) managed the program by collecting the humble offerings from parishioners and sending them to the national Triennial meetings held every three years.

In a tiny black book, Mrs. Welles handwrote the total offerings of our parish until 1943, after which time successor custodians or ECW treasurers carried on the practice. As the UTO story grew in prominence among churches throughout the country, the funds collected, meager at first, and sent united to the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (DFMS), provided for more UTO grants for mission. By the end of World War I, for instance, UTO Ingatherings grew sufficient to grant more than $1 million!

Our current parish coordinator, thankful for the continuity of record keeping in a tiny black book, recently added up the total receipts from parish UTO Ingatherings recorded over the past 78 years through December 31, 2016, to a surprising sum of $80,641.50! Witness the clear truth to the tag line that pocket change in any amount can change lives. Today the accounting of the funds runs through the parish treasury, not that of our local ECW, where the offerings are tallied, recorded, and sent to the bishop and combined with those from other participating parishes in our diocese before being delivered to the DFMS for safekeeping and investment, making possible UTO annual grants for mission around the country and the world.

R. E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church historically focuses on four distinct missions – a faithful communion for Episcopalians and others of faith, college ministry, UTO participation, and outreach to the broader local community and worldwide. R. E. Lee Memorial parishioners thank God that UTO has partnered twice with us through two grants for our parish’s community outreach mission: The Yellow Brick Road Preschool Learning Center (2002), housed originally at our church, and the Rockbridge Area Health Center (2014), which now is able to provide mobile dental care to children in elementary and middle school throughout the county.

Unique to our church, however, is its proximity to two institutions of higher education, Washington and Lee University, whose campus is adjacent to the church, and Virginia Military Institute, which is within walking distance. As a result, college ministry has been an ongoing mission since our founding in 1840. It seeks not only to nurture Episcopal undergraduates through regular Sunday worship, as choir members, or as volunteers for youth programs, but also to influence no fewer than 40 graduates from the two institutions, over the same number of years, to choose careers in the priesthood, five of whom became bishops!

While the focus of UTO grants varies from year to year, at least to some extent, our parish continues this historic mission addressing a growing, indeed desperate, need for parish priests. Nevertheless, year after year, decade after decade, at least since 1938, our parish’s missional priorities have included support for the United Thank Offering. Its two-faceted objective is spiritual enrichment through the sacrifice of thanksgiving that simultaneously matches gratitude with generosity of time, talent, and treasure.