September 2012
Practicing Generosity

Brick by Brick

How do you get people to say yes? First you say yes. 

When we hear of a tragedy near or far, we all want to help. Our first response is to want to write check. And that’s good. But as leaders, we can’t stop there. Leaders have to teach and inspire and bring others along in the mission. We are leaders in our Church. People are counting on us to help. When you stand up and lead, others will follow.

Last year, in the Diocese of Ohio, we explored what it means to be Episcopalian through acts of service. Joining the Episcopal Church’s “Rebuilding Our Church in Haiti” (ROCH) campaign, we began to help rebuild earthquake ravaged Holy Trinity Cathedral in Port au Prince brick by brick. We weren’t laying bricks. We were raising money by having people “buy bricks.” 

The intention was to do something in which everyone could participate. Most people have $10. Rather than going for large donations, we wanted large numbers of people to buy a $10 brick. Our goal was to sell a brick for each of the 7600 communicants in the diocese. We raised over $86,000. 

Our diocese was loaded with resources. Under the leadership of Terri Mathes, who led the Rebuilding Our Church in Haiti campaign  for the Episcopal Church Foundation, coordinators at the diocesan and parish level received training, materials, and ideas for raising funds. With that framework in place, people began to put their own mark on the project in each parish.

Here are just a few of the creative ways congregations participated:

  • Church of Our Saviour, Akron has a well organized outreach group with adult and teen leaders. They built a Lego Cathedral representing the earthquake damage and the new church to come. They held multiple events to engage all ages and interests of the parish and used press releases to engage the local community. 
  • Some people were inspired to try new things. Wendy Wilson Walker, a self avowed noncrafty person, of Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland, went to the craft store and bought materials. She surprised herself by building a beautiful representation of the cathedral to use as a talking point and visual reminder for people in the campaign. Mike Booth, St-Michael's-in-the-Hills, Toledo, had his first foray into cooking. He made and sold “Brownie Bricks.” At one point, Mike had about 40 pounds of brownie batter going in his kitchen! 
  • St. Luke’s, Cleveland, is a small inner city mission based church. Many of their parishioners are on some form of government aid. For the children of the parish, the notion that there might be someone poorer than them was surprising. They were even more surprised to find out they could help! The children held a walk-a-thon. With the help of some adults, they asked people for contributions at their parish and another small local parish. Women from St. Matthew’s, Brecksville, 20 minutes away, heard about the walkathon at an ECW meeting and were inspired to sponsor the kids. The children were thrilled and empowered as the pile of model bricks stacked up against the walls of the church basement grew, marking the money they raised. 
What did we learn?
  • Find the compelling story and tell it, over and over again. Include two or three specific ways that people can help. 
  • Ask others to get involved, a lot of others. Some people will jump in with just the story. Others respond to a direct ask. People who say yes are your leaders. In spite of self doubt and busy schedules, somehow they feel called to do this. We were able to equip them with resources and set them free. 
  • Let people lead according to their gifts. When parish coordinators were set free with resources to tailor the program to their church and their skills, their creativity helped them be on fire and inspire others. 
  • Cheerlead, affirm, and share stories all along the way. Every week, parish coordinators sent me updates on what they were doing and how it was going. I would turn that into a quick weekly email to all the coordinators to share their stories and inspire one another. Mike Booth was inspired to make the “Brownie Bricks” after reading about a youth group doing it in another part of the diocese. 
  • Build momentum. Every two or three weeks another email went to clergy and lay leaders with the growing list of parishes involved and some of the cool projects and pictures. With the support of diocesan staff preaching about it on visitations, we were able to recruit 68 parishes to join the effort. Small struggling parishes were invigorated by the notion that people could buy a $10 brick and make a significant difference for the people in the church in Haiti. When people hear about something successful, they want to be a part of it. 
  • Get support: There were days where I felt overwhelmed, frustrated, or disheartened. I called Terri or the other diocesan coordinators to get perspective and a boost. Other days I reveled in amazement as the Holy Spirit blazed a spirit of connection across our diocese. 
Through intense and frequent communication, and lots of story sharing, the Holy Spirit lifted us up and brought us together to help rebuild the church.

Elizabeth McKay Moosbrugger is an active member at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. She served on the vestry for six years including four years as clerk. She currently serves on the Standing Committee for the Diocese of Ohio. When she is not volunteering for the church, she is on the faculty for CREDO, has a small feeding ministry, and is a life coach. She recently received the "Transformational Stewardship Award" from TENS for her work as Diocesan Coordinator for Rebuilding Our Church in Haiti campaign for the Diocese of Ohio.

Apostle in Stewardship video:
Grateful and Generous Hearts by John H. Westerhoff, III 
Rebuild Our Church in Haiti campaign materials 

March 25 Brick by Brick eNews

March 31 Brick by Brick eNews:

This article is part of the September 2012 Vestry Papers issue on Practicing Generosity