“Celebrations are as important in our church lives as in our personal lives,” said Linda Bruner, Director of Connectional Giving at United Methodist Communications. “We celebrate the work of each local church, while acknowledging that no one church is the total body of Christ. We are the church together, so what we celebrate in our communities is important in our church lives as well. That is why we have Awareness and Annual Conference Special Sundays and Churchwide Special Sundays.”
There are five Annual Conference Special Sundays that celebrate the life and ministry of annual conferences. The annual conferences select the dates to commemorate these Sundays and collect offerings that support each of these programs. Gifts received remain in the conferences.
The Christian Education Sunday offering supports congregations and districts in providing educational and small-group ministries, teaching individuals of all ages about the Christian faith and encouraging service in the church, the community and the world.
Disability Awareness Sunday celebrates the gifts and graces of persons with disabilities and calls the church to consider how to better serve all people with Christ’s love and care.
On Volunteers in Mission Sunday, an offering may be received and used by the annual conference Volunteers in Mission program. United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) is a grassroots movement within The United Methodist Church designed to provide an official channel for short-term volunteer service.
Golden Cross Sunday focuses on the work of health and welfare ministries and institutions in the annual conferences. For example, in the Tennessee-Western Kentucky Conference, those who benefit from the offering include 2,200 seniors residing in 31 Wesley Living affordable housing communities. Golden Cross helps those with limited incomes remain independent and socially active.
Rural Life Sunday is an opportunity to pay tribute to the rural heritage of The United Methodist Church and recognize the ongoing crisis occurring in nonurban areas. In the Michigan Conference, the offering supports scholarship assistance for pastors serving in rural settings or small churches.
“Thanks to the Rural Life Sunday offering, the Michigan Conference Town and Country Ministries is able to provide $1,000 a year scholarships to seminary students from small communities as they pursue a Masters in Divinity and $500 a year scholarships for those taking Course of Study to be local pastors. Town & Country Ministries also offers a Ministry Grant of up to $1,000 for churches with membership under 100,” said the Rev. Carol J. Freeland, chairperson. “These monies can go to any need the church may have, building repair, technology upgrades, or ministry and program funding. This important offering also helps supplement our annual Michigan Conference Circuit Rider Retreat offering help and direction to pastors and their spouses in leading small and multiple church charges.”
In comparison, Awareness Special Sundays are days designated to recognize specific ministries undertaken within each local church. While no offering is taken, these observances underscore how members’ participation and support for these ministries are vital to each service.
These Awareness Sundays include:
- Heritage Sunday, May 24 or the Sunday preceding, when United Methodists honor their past and envision their future
- Women’s Ministry Sunday, which recognizes women’s ministry within the church (on a day designated by the congregation)
- Men’s Ministry Sunday, which commends men’s ministry within the church (on a day designated by the congregation)
- Laity Sunday, the third Sunday in October, which gives recognition to the ministry of all Christians to love God and their neighbors
- Organ and Tissue Donor Sunday, the second Sunday in November, which encourages people to help others through organ and tissue donation
The Connectional Giving Team at United Methodist Communications has created resources to help local churches bring awareness to these special dates within their congregations.
United Methodist Communications also offers leader resource kits in English, French, Korean and Spanish to help churches plan for a third category of observances: Special Sundays designated throughout the year to provide churchwide opportunities for giving that supports specified ministries.
On these Special Sundays, the denomination celebrates generosity by engaging in offerings that change lives. These resources help churches to:
- Impact communities through Human Relations Day (observed on the Sunday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)
- Support disaster relief via UMCOR Sunday (Fourth Sunday in Lent)
- Strengthen Native American ministries by means of Native American Ministries Sunday (Third Sunday of Easter)
- Promote peace and justice on Peace with Justice Sunday (First Sunday after Pentecost)
- Transform communities through World Communion Sunday (first Sunday in October)
- Provide scholarships with the help of United Methodist Student Day (last Sunday of November)
How can you support these special observances? Get involved in the ministry of your church. Participate in conference giving opportunities and programs. Share information with your friends who may be searching for a way to join the ministry of serving others.
“United Methodist churches are bound together by a common mission and governance that accomplish reaching out into the world,” said Bruner. “We join in mission with each other to achieve the ministry of Jesus Christ – and that’s definitely something to celebrate!”
*Diane Degnan is a freelance public relations professional in Nashville, Tenn.
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