Among the many revelations I’ve had over the past decade in my ministerial experiences in Effingham County are the following truths: (1) there are many people with real needs in our community, and (2) I am incapable of discerning exactly who they are.
If you have ever spent time in a church office, then you can witness to the phone calls that come in from people asking for financial assistance. And you can attest to the many other physical needs that are brought to your attention in letters and emails. Some of them are heart-wrenching.
So, there is often a dilemma in many a church office. Are we called to assist others in need to the extent we can? Yes, we are (see Matthew 25:31-46). Are there people with legitimate needs who contact us? Yes, there are. Are there people who abuse a church’s sense of responsibility and are less than honest about their need? Yes, that happens as well.
Therefore, churches may feel the need to choose which side to err on. That is, do we give to all who request assistance, accepting that some may not be truthful and sincere about their need? If we do so, then we run the risk of misspending the church’s money — something to be taken seriously. Or do we not give to anyone, thereby defaulting in our Christian responsibility to some in legitimate need?
Of course, a middle-road option — that we evaluate the need and then give to some — is at the heart of the dilemma. You see, when all is said and done, I simply cannot discern who has a legitimate, real need and who doesn’t. I can’t speak for other churches, but I clearly do not have the resources set up to evaluate such need. The local United Way does. Therefore, we at Bethel Lutheran choose to not err on either side; we choose rather to give to the local United Way monthly.
United Way of Effingham (technically the Effingham County Service Center) provides financial support to organizations and services to individuals. Bonnie Dixon, area director of United Way of Effingham, recently reported that our local United Way gave to 104 organizations in 2013. Those local organizations supported our Effingham neighbors in four categories (called “focus areas”) – education/youth, economic independence, health/wellness, and basic human needs.
What I love about our local United Way is that, first, they have the resources and the processes set up to evaluate the needs, ensuring that those with most critical needs are served first. Indeed, it is a two-fold evaluation process: The United Way evaluates the needs of the organization, and that organization evaluates the needs of the individuals requesting assistance.
Second, our United Way also gives to other organizations not on our radar — good organizations without much voice or fundraising campaigns that serve people with legitimate needs. Without the United Way, we might never hear of them and those they serve may never receive assistance.
In addition, beyond the financial support to 104 local organizations, our United Way also provides services to individuals. For instance, most churches have congregants who are — or know people who are — unemployed or underemployed. The United Way provides support for them so they can find gainful employment, or to prepare them for a better job. Those are things which, as much as I would like to, I just can’t do.
Occasionally, I hear those in churches comment that they would give to the local United Way if it were not for the fact that one of the organizations United Way supports is Planned Parenthood — a group that supports abortions. That is simply false. Every local United Way is different. Each United Way works hard to be locally sensitive and relevant, and ours in no different.
Many, if not all, of the advisory board members for the United Way of Effingham are Christians. Certainly, they all respect the long tradition of Christian values in Effingham. Our local United Way does not support any organization that promotes abortion.
I see our local United Way as a godsend. In Bonnie Dixon and the advisory board members, we have friends and a voice. If churches are to be Christ’s hands in the community, we can thank the United Way for lending us their hands. In doing so, they are helping us fulfill our mission.
The Rev. Dr. Bob LeFavi, installed member of the Society of Ordained Scientists, is pastor at Bethel Lutheran Church, Springfield.