The United Methodist Church in Wilton, a small town 13 miles north of Muscatine, has a longstanding tradition of fundraising and mission work. The members of the Wilton church have raised money for mission trips and mission work for several decades. This past Advent season, the members once again kept the tradition going.
“The United Methodist Church of Wilton is very passionate about mission work and also very generous in their financial giving,” said Pastor Mike Agnew. “They have been a Third Mile giving church for many years.”
Each Christmas and Easter season, the church’s Mission Team will pick a charitable and mission-orientated organization for which to raise funds. Every year, the Mission Team will receive brochures and requests from various agencies. After discussing the many options on the table, the team will choose a charity.
The chosen charity for the Christmas season was the Church World Service water pumps and training program.
“That really caught our attention,” said Connie Zeleny, Mission Team co-chair. “Not only do these villages get the pumps, but they also learn how to maintain and repair the pumps so once the installers leave, the people there can maintain it.”
Access to safe water
According to Church World Service, every minute a child dies of water-related disease and 884 million people in the world lack access to safe water supplies. The Wilton church wanted to combat those numbers.
Through Church World Service, $1,000 will cover the cost of purchasing a water pump and the training of villagers to maintain the pump. The Mission Team set a goal of $1,000.
With typical winter weather, Agnew said he wasn’t sure they would be able to raise the funds needed. Additionally, he said he and the church treasurer, Bill Carter, were unsure if the church would meet their apportionments and get the budget into the black.
The congregation surprised everyone, though, raising enough money to get the budget in the black for 2016 with a surplus to start 2017, meet apportionments and donate $7,159.50 to go to water pumps. That was enough money for seven villages.
“People are really giving and they see the importance of church and church work,” said Agnew. “They make (giving) a priority.”
History of giving
In the past, the Wilton church donated funds to the Flint, Mich., water crisis, the Heiffer project, solar ovens and personal energy transport systems (PETS).
“The congregation is so motivated,” said Zeleny. “People go overseas regularly on mission trips and share their experiences.”
The turning point of when the church became so mission minded can be traced back to a presentation by long-time missionary Beverly Nolte. She visited the church and asked if anyone would like to join her on a mission from Africa. One person volunteered.
“Carolyn (Carter), a junior or senior in high school at the time, shot her hand up right away,” recalled Lanette Morgan, a member of the Mission Team.
The church started to raise money to help with expenses for the mission trip. The congregation raised $2,000 in about a year. From that point on, the church just kept raising money for mission.
Annual mission giving
Every spring the Wilton church holds a silent and live auction. Each year, the auctions bring in anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000. Using that money, the Mission Team will donate $250 or more monthly to different causes. Some of the money is also used to support a missionary and his wife in Africa and help pay for mission trips the church members take.
In 2016, the auction funds were used to donate a sewing machine to sew school bags and blankets for the homeless, meals for the homeless, UMCOR, food pantries, natural disaster relief and children’s books.
The Wilton church is unique in that it is so mission-minded, but Zeleny said learning about the lives of people outside your community can help other churches become more focused on mission. She encourages other congregations to share their experiences or to invite others into their church to share.
“That the way this church got started,” said Zeleny. “When you hear those stories, see those pictures and discover what they did when they go (on mission), you connect with others.”