Part of a stewardship emphasis, the series offers a multitude of voices and perspectives from the Western North Carolina Conference. We hope it will inspire readers to consider their own faithful responses to God’s blessings.
Today’s contributor to 30 Days of Gratitude and Generosity is . . . YOU!
Friends and colleagues opened their hearts to reflect on the role of gratitude in their lives. They told us about the ways they were inspired to respond to God’s blessings.
Today the series concludes with a call to action. Consider how you might express your own gratitude and return thanks, perhaps in the form of a tithe or planned gift. As always, the Foundation is here to help. Together may we celebrate what God has done in our lives, and gratefully invest in the life and mission of the Church.
Donna Johnson, our Controller, joined the Foundation team in 2018 after working in financial management in local churches. A Charlotte native and proud graduate of App State, Donna and her husband, Elando, are the parents of Elijah and Ethan. Donna writes:
In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus heals 10 men who had leprosy. Once healed, only one of those men gave thanks. In verses 17 and 18, Jesus asks, “Were not all 10 cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”
The older I get, the more thankful I am, not only for extraordinary blessings, but also ordinary, day-to-day ways that God sustains me. I never want God to wonder where my praise and thanksgiving are. I want to be like the man who, once healed, came back and praised God in a loud voice.
Susan Cothern, our Chief Operating Officer, joined the staff in 2017 as director of client relations. Today in the COO role, she keeps the office running smoothly. If it happens in our building, Susan was most likely involved in some way. She writes:
I was so blessed that the values of gratitude and generosity were taught to me at an early age by my parents. Not only were my parents charitable, but they also shared with my brother and me where they gave and WHY each particular charity was important to them.
Fast forward to a high school economics project whereby my teacher gave me a homework assignment to create a budget on what I thought was clearly too little money… After I struggled to make my budget work with all the expenses we were given – mortgage, car payment, groceries, utilities, etc. – I took it to my parents for their review. Upon one quick look at it, my dad said, “You aren’t done. You didn’t allocate 10% for charity.” WHAT?! I remember having an incredulous reaction that there was no way I could make the budget work with 10% less to put toward the mandatory needs, but my dad made it clear that it wasn’t optional. I HAD to figure it out. And I did.
That exercise not only left a tremendous impact on my own charitable practices, but it also directly led to my attraction to nonprofit work, 20+ years in higher education philanthropic development, and now, a heartfelt passion for the financial ministry work we do at the Foundation.
In the changing landscape of philanthropy, I hope children continue to witness, and be taught about, the value of passing along the blessings with which we have been bestowed!
Rev. Dr. Bill White, Jr. serves as Director of Equity and Justice Ministries for the Western North Carolina Conference. Bill has been in ministry for 35 years and served as a senior pastor for 26 years. He is married to Stephanie Lawrence-White, Ph.D., and has a young adult daughter in college in Philadelphia. He writes:
Gratitude is a feeling and expression of intense appreciation and sense of value for something, someone, or an experience. It is based on the belief that the blessing we receive is not guaranteed and should not be taken for granted.
Gratitude is the springboard for generosity, when we give from a gracious heart, humble spirit, and a place of love for the Giver of the blessing/gift. When we give thanks to God for our gifts, we remember that we are blessed, so that we can be a blessing to others.
I’m grateful for a loving family, close friends, ministry colleagues, and for the opportunity to work with those who are committed to being instruments of equity and justice in creating the Beloved Community.
Rev. Holly Cobb McKim has served as pastor of Hudson UMC since 2014 (Hudson is off U.S. 321 near Lenoir). Holly and her husband, Rev. Dana McKim, have two adult children. Holly writes:
On my first visit to Haywood Street Congregation in Asheville, I expected to work in the kitchen, serve a meal or work in the clothing closet — something to help the “guests” who would come in that day.
It turns out that I was the guest! Our unhoused neighbors did all the work while I sat at a table and shared fellowship. I saw how Haywood Street provides a vessel for unhoused neighbors to serve as they feel led by their faith in Jesus Christ. They gave generously in Spirit, in service, in love. What a beautiful picture of the kingdom of God! May God pour generosity over you from an unexpected source this holiday season.
Rev. Craig Allen is senior pastor at Midway UMC in Kannapolis and spouse of our own Annalee Allen. Craig worked as a journalist for many years before he was ordained as an elder. The Allens have two grown daughters and live in Mooresville. Craig writes:
I experience gratitude most profoundly in the smallest, almost forgettable moments – hearing the random song of a bird, seeing the silhouette of a spider’s web caught when the light is just right, smelling the aroma of the morning’s first cup of coffee. I’m frequently reminded in those small moments of the infinite creativity of God, whose loving goodness gently provokes us to find meaning and joy in each day. God gives us all that we need for an abundant life, most especially those vital relationships that shape who we are as God’s children.
Kim Ingram is WNCC Director of Ministerial Services and Conference Secretary. Kim writes:
As a child, I was required to write thank-you notes for gifts received. I was shaped to notice the kindness of others and to return it as often as possible. I send a lot of notes and cards. As I express gratitude, I am also acknowledging God’s generosity, goodness and grace given to me and revealed through others. When I give, not only do I reflect God’s love, but I also feel like I’m part of bringing God’s kingdom on earth.
Members of the Foundation staff wished you a Thanksgiving of peace and fulfillment. The staff writes:
We are grateful to you, our friends and partners, for sharing the journey of faith with us. You welcome us into your churches, your homes and your lives. You respond to God’s call in ways that inspire us. On this day especially, we give thanks for the ministries we have the great privilege to support, and the grace-filled people we meet along the way.
A prayer: Lord, as we enter this season of Thanksgiving, we ask that you keep our hearts ready to pass on a spirit of gratitude to all others we encounter.
Michael Grose is a retired banker who lives in Gastonia and attends Myers Memorial UMC. He writes:
Thinking about gratitude brings to mind its interconnection to many of the fruits of the Spirit, particularly generosity. I’m grateful to have grown up in a loving home. I’ve always had a good job, plenty of food, clothing and shelter. I’m grateful for Jesus’ love, mercy and grace, and for the hands and feet of those around me. They are the instruments of Jesus.
Karlah Burton is a lay leader at St. Matthews UMC in Greensboro. After attending a Creation Care Summit, Karlah was inspired to establish a Green Team at her church. The next year, she became a certified United Methodist Earthkeeper, a role that underscores her passion for environmental stewardship. She writes:
I am grateful for “The Giving Garden” at St. Matthews UMC. Since 2020, our community garden has donated hundreds of pounds of fresh produce and flowers – sharing the light of Christ. Each year, the garden operation has worked toward greater efficiency. We make improvements in crop selection and the growing process in an effort to better serve others. Having joined the church in 2007, I know it is the spirit of the Lord leading us in the ministry of Earth care and advocacy.
Dr. R. Mark King is WNCC Conference Treasurer and Director of Administrative Services. A native of Charlotte, Mark has been a clergy member of the conference since 2000 and has served several appointments in local churches. He writes:
In my many years of ministry, I have led dozens of stewardship campaigns. The tendency is to promote the good of the church and its needed support. But I found the more endearing approach is to urge thankfulness to the generous blessings from God. Stewardship is about our need to give, not the church’s need to receive. My own personal practice of giving is having my bank send a weekly check to my causes. I am grateful for the opportunity. And I am grateful that our Lord has so blessed me to be a blessing to the church and others.
Revs. Meredith and Brad Hinton co-authored today’s message. Meredith has led youth ministry all across Western North Carolina. Brad serves as a Firefighter/EMT and also as the Chaplain and a Ski Patroller for the Appalachian Ski Mountain Patrol. They write:
We are grateful for Davidson UMC — the relationships we have formed and the community we found. Serving DUMC has been a reminder to us that relationships and connection are foundational for generosity. God’s generosity toward us in love is the relational training ground for our ability to give back to God and others. Generosity flows through love. The amazing church we get to serve is a place we love.
Carl Martin is an IT support specialist in the Conference office. Carl worked in IT engineering with Lowe’s for 17 years prior to joining the WNCC. He writes:
In March 2020, my wife, Gloria, and I made the decision to relocate to Mooresville to be closer to our daughter, Kristal. At that time, many towns were implementing social distancing measures. Naturally, we had concerns about how we would adjust to our new community, especially given the circumstances.
We quickly realized that we had become part of a community that truly exemplifies gratitude and generosity for one another, and that is a beautiful thing. It is a place where people look out for each other, lend a helping hand, and offer support whenever it is needed. Such a community fosters a strong sense of belonging and togetherness, where individuals feel valued and appreciated. It is a place where people can come together to celebrate their successes and support each other through difficult times.
I feel extremely blessed and grateful to be a part of the Wellesley Community in Mooresville.
Allison Cockrill served as the Foundation’s executive and client support specialist. She writes:
And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:38 ESV)
I am grateful to serve the United Methodist Church and the faithful disciples of the Western North Carolina Conference, a denomination and conference that boldly proclaims and lives into the mission of Matthew 28. Welcoming and affirming all people, respecting individual perspectives and experiences, and sharing our gifts with one another in response to God’s goodness, bounty and grace. In these ways, may we continue to lead skeptics, seekers and devoted believers to find hope and peace through the love of Jesus Christ.
Mary Langhorne of Huntersville is a certified financial planner and friend of the Foundation. She writes:
Gratitude and generosity are an interesting pairing. As a financial professional, I know that for some people, generosity is not motivated by gratitude. Sometimes generosity is motivated by a bigger tax deduction or a name on a building.
But in my heart, I think there does have to be some component of gratitude, even if it is deep down inside. There are many ways to carry out generosity. A person motivated by tax savings will find that using a Donor Advised Fund ensures they get a tax deduction. For others, it feels good to make an extra donation for the building project or pick up groceries for the food pantry.
I, myself, am very grateful for all that I have and have found sharing what I have to be very gratifying.
Rev. Amy Coles is Assistant to the Bishop for the Western North Carolina Conference. Amy is the guardian of her nephew, Sergeant Brandon Estrada, who serves in the United States Army, and she now oversees care for her adult niece, Mae Coles. She writes:
Growing up, “What do you say?” was a question my parents asked frequently when I was given a gift. I later used that same question to teach my niece and nephew to say, “thank you.”
I learned early on that expressing gratitude was a discipline in which I adopted a frame of reference that centered the gift-giver, not me. That discipline remains an important part of my life, particularly through a daily recounting of at least 5 things for which I’m thankful. It’s a daily reminder of the grace which flows through my life, even on tough days. “What do you say?”
Anne Martin serves as chair of the Board of Directors, continuing her many years of involvement with the Foundation. Dan’s service as a United Methodist minister took the Martins to many cities and towns around the Conference. The Martins write:
The lives of Royce and Jane Reynolds are synonymous with gratitude and faithful generosity.
We remember an Annual Conference years ago when the Foundation’s Harley Dickson introduced them with a promise of an endowment that was going to be a game-changer for our Conference. We had no idea of the impact their generosity would have on countless ministers and churches — now and in the future.
Dan’s life was transformed by Reynolds Ministries programs, which led him to embrace courageous ministry. Anne had the privilege of serving on the Foundation Board of Directors with Royce. Later, it was an honor to serve as their pastor and friends at West Market Street UMC in Greensboro. During these experiences, we discovered the depth of their love for each other, and their commitment to evangelism and the Christian faith.
We saw the humble joy Royce brought to his business, his church and the broader community. We also learned of the gracious gift of Jane being Royce’s “North Star.” Royce continually shared with all whom he encountered that “everything he had belonged to God.” He and Jane taught us how to give generously.
We are fortunate to try and model their example. We are grateful for their lives, their friendship and their generosity.
A.J. Thomas is the Foundation’s director of client relations. A.J. is a pastor’s kid, pastor’s spouse, and pastor himself, having been ordained an elder in the Western North Carolina Conference in 2008. A.J. is married to Rev. Ashley Pickerel Thomas. He writes:
“When you give, God takes care of you. It’s what your Papa and I always did, and God always took care of us. God is so good and loves us so much; I just wish more people knew that.”
Grandma’s impromptu sermon on generosity made a lasting impact on me. She could preach it so easily because she had lived it for so long. When Grandma, a lifelong tither, passed away, none of us were surprised that she left a tithe (10%) of her estate to her church and a mission organization with which she and Papa were deeply involved.
With what she left to me, it seemed only fitting that we continue her legacy of generosity. Ashley and I tithed from her gift to us into our Donor Advised Fund at the Foundation, where that money will grow and support our church and the causes we care about. We’re grateful for every good gift, and we’re honored to give in response.
Rev. David Snipes is President and CEO of the Foundation. David grew up in the small community of Cooleemee, NC, a mill town along the South Yadkin River in Davie County. Before joining the Foundation in 2002, David served a number of congregations in the Western North Carolina Conference. He writes:
Mabel was one of the most faithful, loving and grateful Christians I knew. By societal standards, she didn’t have much. Based on what I knew to be true at the time, she didn’t have a reason to be happy…but she was!
One day, I asked her, “Mabel, you always have a positive attitude and see the best in any situation. How do you do it?” Without missing a beat, she looked out the window and began talking as if she was communing with God. “Every night before I go to bed, I thank God for the blessings of the day and promise (him) that if he’ll help me get through the night, I’ll spend another day serving (him).”
Then, looking toward me with a slight smile, she said, “So far, everyday I’ve gotten up, said ‘Thank you, God,’ and I’ve begun my day serving (him).”
During this season of thanksgiving, may we have such gratitude that it motivates us to service.
Jackie and Bryant Wilbourne live in Greensboro and are active at Morehead UMC. Bryant is retired United Methodist clergy. The bulk of his ministry was spent as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, where he retired as a Colonel in 2005. They write:
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine, even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! Habakkuk 3:17-18
Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder follows lightning. —Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4.1
The prophet Habakkuk proposes that praise, gratitude, and generosity are not a product of prosperity or abundance, but finds its roots somewhere else. Karl Barth proposes that Grace is the foundation of all gratitude and therefore, of generosity.
We are more prone to what we call the IFTTT formula. You might be familiar with this app, which links triggers with actions. It stands for “If this…then, that.”
If I am prosperous, then, I will be generous. If I am successful, then I am happy. If I am happy, then I will be generous. If I get what I want, then I will be thankful. If I am thankful, then I will be generous. And so forth and so on. In such a case, generosity is reactive. It is triggered by favorable circumstances.
Habakkuk and Barth invite us out of reactive generosity and point us toward a foundational gratitude that’s active in even the bleakest of circumstances. It’s constantly active because Grace is its basis…unearned, undeserved Grace. It is not earned. It is not a reward. It bathes our brokenness and provokes gratitude in any circumstance imaginable. From that foundational gratitude, generosity establishes itself as a way of life rather than a reaction to good fortune.
Prayer: Gracious God, we are thankful for our blessings, but they pale in comparison to your Grace poured out upon us. Accept our deepest gratitude and have it grow into a life of generosity regardless of our circumstances. Amen.
Matt Garfield is the Foundation’s director of communications. Matt shares stories and calls attention to the Foundation’s ministry offerings. Matt and his wife, Marie, are the parents of Henry (age 7) and Clara (age 5), pictured here. He writes:
“We want to tell you, God loves you!!” proclaimed the mailer from New Manna Baptist Church in Marion, North Carolina.
My nephew had good reason to be excited as he returned from the mailbox. He believed the message was sent directly to him from heaven. His reaction was one of wonder and curiosity. Hearing about this episode gave me a chuckle, but it also got me to thinking about how God communicates with each of us in ways that are uniquely tailored to where we find ourselves in life – our age, our circumstances, our spiritual longings.
I’m grateful for children who remind us that God’s living Word can present itself to us in many ways: Nature. Music. Worship. A letter in the mail from Manna Baptist Church.
Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Jesus understood this. That’s why he put children at the center of his ministry. Jesus teaches us that it’s wrong to think of young people as the Church of Tomorrow. We need them to be the Church of Today.
Annalee Allen is Director of Reynolds Ministries and Programs. An ordained elder in the Western North Carolina Conference, Annalee is known to many from her time as the Conference’s Associate Director of Ministerial Services. She writes:
Gratitude is generosity in action. This is one of my favorite quotes. Put another way, when we give from a place of gratefulness, we let go of our own agendas and address the needs of others. When we are generous, we are living the example Christ set for us to bless others because we have first been blessed.
My prayer for my own life is that I can be as generous with others as my friends, co-workers and family have been with me, especially in this last year. Each one is a true gift for which I am profoundly thankful.
Jennifer Davis, a coach, author and consultant who serves as vice president of the Foundation’s Board of Directors. Jennifer lives in Gastonia and attends Epworth UMC. She writes:
I was “poor” growing up but never knew it. I have never been homeless, houseless, helpless, hungry or hopeless. Nor have I ever been without food, shoes or clothes. Sadly, this is not true for so many others. I am grateful for many things: family, friends, colleagues and my lifelong membership in the United Methodist Church, which has nurtured me in a deepening relationship with Jesus Christ. I seek to live with an “attitude of gratitude” and hope it is reflected in my life through service in the church and to others.
The Owens family, members of Grace UMC in Greensboro. As lay leaders, Elizabeth Owens serves as chair of the Church Council and Tim previously served as finance chair. They are pictured with their two children, Bruce (age 16) and Ava (age 12). The family writes:
Gratitude, for us, has meant recognizing what we have, and what is within our means. Practically, the hard work of eliminating consumer debt from our lives has opened us to giving generously.
When we practice tithing, we’re saying to ourselves and to God, “We’re good. We have what we need, and we’re thankful. It is enough to feel that we have enough to share.”
Rev. Josh Kurtz of Assurance UMC in Huntersville. Josh followed his mom and dad into ministry. He and his wife, Tara, are raising two boys, Micah and Wesley. Josh writes:
My grandfather would often say that followers of Jesus are called to:
1. Love God.
2. Love people.
3. Write thank-you notes.
He put into practice what I am continually learning—our love for God and people grows as we give thanks. This past year, my family created a Donor Advised Fund through the Foundation. As it grows, my wife and I look forward to including our children in the important conversation of why, where and how we give. We are grateful for the Foundation and the many ways it has helped us grow in our journey of giving thanks.
Sandy and Susan Giles are a retired clergy couple known to many in the western part of the state. Sandy served as senior pastor of First UMC Waynesville. Susan also pastored in the local church and was Dean of the Chapel at Lake Junaluska. They write:
We have much in our lives for which we are grateful…a comfortable home with a beautiful view of God’s creation, a close and loving family, and the support of friends when times are good and when times are challenging.
We give because we are grateful for what we have… Giving from what we have fills us with gratitude which leads us to respond…and it is not just giving financially but other forms of giving as well…giving of time, talents, presence and hospitality. For us, gratitude leads to generosity, which leads back to gratitude.
Bonnie Burkett is a member of Guilford College UMC in Greensboro. Bonnie went into HR consulting after a 45-year career with State Farm, where she became the first female field fire claims adjuster in North Carolina. She writes:
The older I get, the surer I am that gratitude is my only right posture. Gratitude for my salvation from God must manifest in sharing God’s gift(s) with others.
Giving generously of God’s provisions for me shadows the footsteps of John Wesley. While his royalties made him a wealthy man, Wesley meticulously gave most of it away to those in need. The only mention of money in his will was a “few miscellaneous coins” in his pocket and dresser.
May we live to give others a hand up while finding ways to impact future generations with our blessings.
Rev. Sharon T. Lee, pastor of Gethsemane UMC in Greensboro (aka the “hot dog church”). Sharon took a unique path to ministry — she studied accounting and worked in financial services for a number of years before answering God’s call. She writes:
I come from a long line of family members who exhibited and continue to exhibit gratitude in all aspects of their lives. Their gratitude – to others and to the church -became part of my DNA. My dad gave thanks for his financial livelihood by sending an electrician on a mission trip to build churches in foreign lands.
Today, at age 90, my mom is grateful that she can still knit. She sent me dozens of knitted washcloths and scarves to share in mission and outreach at the church I serve.
Their gratitude for all that God has given them inspires me and my sisters. We share our compassion and generosity by fighting for full inclusivity in life and in the church, advocating for those navigating the health care system, and serving others as they heal from trauma in life and in the church.
Others gave in these very specific ways so that I can serve in the local church. I know of no higher priority in service to God than to return spiritually, mentally and physically that which has been given to me.
Brad Thie is director of the Thriving Rural Communities Initiative at Duke Divinity School. Brad pastored a number of WNCC churches and served as a chaplain and counselor in prisons, hospitals and retirement communities.
Chronicles 16:34 – O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever.
My wife, Debbie, and I are grateful for our parents, who set an example of gratitude and generosity. We started a Donor Advised Fund with the Foundation as a way to carry on their legacy and give thanks to God for all God has given to us in Jesus Christ. Even in Mom and Dad’s last days together in an assisted living facility, they remained thankful and generous.
Dr. Chuck Hutchens is a retired minister who lives in High Point.
In the mailbox was a pink envelope. I opened the card inside and saw these words: Dear Chuck, I was thinking of you, and thanking God for the words you spoke to me many years ago after praying for me before my cancer surgery. As you left my hospital room, you said: “Sandra, you are going to live long enough to bounce your grandchildren on your knees.” Chuck, as I write to you today, I am bouncing two grandbabies on my knees.
Sandra was the wife of Rev. Dr. Louis Woodard. The Woodards have both graduated to the Church Triumphant. I am grateful for Sandra’s gratitude for a prayer offered long ago for a young pastor’s wife facing an uncertain future.
The Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church is my family. I am thankful. The generosity we impart to one another, in multiple ways, sustains and connects us spiritually.
For many years, Caroline has been a friend and supporter of the Foundation, having served on the Board of Directors in an ex-officio capacity while on Conference staff.
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