Opening Hearts and Minds

MichaelFebruary 15, 2009

Dear Friends of Charleswood United Church

This coming June I will celebrate my 20th anniversary as a minister in the United Church of Canada. While I would like to believe that I am only half way through what will eventually be called a career, I think 20 years warrants at least a brief reflection.

I never could have imagined the myriad of experiences that would come to me as a consequence of following God this way. I have met the most extraordinary people who often live out their faith with a quiet, uncelebrated witness. I have been privileged to be a part of people’s lives in times of triumph, joy, sorrow, discovery, wonder, adversity, and friendship.

But of all the tasks of which I have been a part in the last twenty years, none has been as challenging and daunting and involved as the expansion of Charleswood United Church . After years of aspiration and anticipation, we committed ourselves to a project that truly is a once-in-a-generation effort. And while I marvel at the size and beauty of the addition, I am most compelled by the generosity of spirit that has been present throughout.

The plan that was initiated by the 2006 Opening Doors campaign called for a total congregational contribution of $1,100,000 on a budget of $1.6 million. In the end we agreed to a project costing $1.9 million and in the first three years have pledged nearly $800,000.

To bring our debt financing to a sustainable level and to equip our new facility for optimal ministry we need to complete our commitment. With faith in one another and with great confidence in the vision of this church, I am pleased to announce a follow-up capital campaign called Opening Hearts and Minds.

The target of Opening Hearts and Minds is to raise a minimum of $600,000 over the next three years.

  A steering committee of volunteers chaired by Warren Thompson, who has given us such steady and strong leadership throughout the construction phase, is ready to go. Over the next few months you will have many opportunities to learn more about the vision and direction of Charleswood United and to prayerfully prepare to pledge your commitment for the completion of this project. In March we will conduct home meetings so that everyone can offer their wisdom on how to best expand the ministry of this church. Be on the lookout for your invitation.

There was great joy among us when we dedicated the addition last November. It was the culmination of fifty years of dreaming. For me, it felt as one of those moments that won’t come along very often and deserves to be cherished. The focus that day was on the building but ever since we have rightfully been re-focussed on the people therein. I invite you to share in bringing the dream of a healthy and vital church in Charleswood to completion.

Grace and peace,

Rev. Dr. Michael Wilson

2009 Calendar of Events


Launch Week of February 16th
Introduction of Committee February 22nd
Worship Focus March 1st, March 8th, March 15th
Home Meetings March 1st to March 14th
Leadership Campaign March 14th to March 27th
Congregational Celebration Dinner April 5th
Pledge Campaign April 6th to April 30th
Watch for these events in the next 2 months.

We are pleased to introduce the volunteers who will be providing leadership for this spring’s Capital Campaign

Warren Thompson Campaign Director
Russ Jeffrey Communications Director
Michael Gibbens Multi-Media Production
Maureen Hilditch Celebration Co-Director
Joan Rettie Celebration Co-Director
Shirley Allan Boudreau Pledge Administration
Robert & Shirley Godkin Canvass Recruitment
Laurie Messer Canvass Recruitment
Peg White Home Meeting Co-Coordinator
Maurien Spiers Home Meeting Co-Coordinator
Margaret Gibson Web Site and Administration



Corinthians 9:6-9

March 1, 2009

Charleswood United Church

This morning we are beginning three weeks of worship in support of the Opening Hearts and Minds Campaign. If you have not heard this is a follow up Capital Campaign to the Opening Doors program and the goal of Opening Hearts and Minds is to raise pledges totally at least $600,000 over the next three years. If we are successful then we will have not only completed our objective of expanding and renovating the church facilities but also equipped it to be of optimal service to the congregation and the community.

If you were here last week then you saw introduced the team of volunteers who are going to carry out this critical program. Each of them has a very specific responsibility relating to one the stages of this effort. Those responsibilities include organizing home meetings for members and groups to discuss our ministry, preparing materials so you are well informed, planning a celebration event, and finally coordinating the canvass of pledges which will take place in the latter half of April. These three worship services support this effort and of course, raise it to our consciousness at the most significant time of our communal life, Sunday morning worship.

I was looking in the handbook we followed three years ago the other day curious to be reminded what I was supposed to be doing in the midst of this. I was glad it said that first and foremost ministers had to keep on ministering through a capital campaign. But secondly it said that Joanne and I have the responsibility of keeping the vision before the church, of being at the ready to answer the question, “Why are we doing this?” (or in our case let us remember why we have done this, since the construction is mostly complete.)

The question can be asked about the value f a building in light of the priorities of ministry. This is the usually the question of skeptics and is sometimes phrased using the biblical reference “wouldn’t this money have been better spent on the poor.” It is valuable to know that when that question was asked of Jesus it was Judas who was doing the asking but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t receive an answer. To be honest $1.4 million seems to me a stunning amount of money (that’s a number arrived at by adding the $800,000 donated in the Opening Doors Campaign over the last three years to the $600,000 goal of Opening Hearts and Minds.) It is a stunning amount to be generated by ~600 households in 6 years at the same time we are committed to over $300,000 per year for operations. When I speak to people outside the church they tend to divide into two camps – those who say it’s impossible and those who say we’re crazy. At least ‘crazy’ is possible.

It is a tremendous investment in concrete and steel but it is also partly true that this is an investment that leverages something else. Around ten years ago our treasurer at the time did an interesting analysis. She looked at the money that came into and went out of the church in all aspects of outreach, some of which are accounted for in very different ways. For example, in the budget you can find the grants we make to inner city work but our contributions to the Mission and Service Fund of the United Church of Canada which supports work across Canada and around the world is a designated gift and is accounted for differently. We have special appeals such as the Christmas Hamper program that flows in and out and doesn’t show up in the audited statements at all. We contribute to refugee work and local schools but they are reported by the volunteers who manage that on our behalf. Sometimes we simply hold money for a time such as when someone dies and their funeral is at the church but they have asked for donations in lieu of flowers to a particular charitable cause. These are reported separately but what Marj did was add them all together and the number she came up with was $100,000. Taking that as an average we can say that in the ten years since $1,000,000 has passed through this church for no reason other than to reach people who need it more than us. If indeed the magnitude of our expansion project is on the order of 50 years then without considering inflation we can say our $1.4 million investment will return $5 million in money that leaves here to help other and change lives.

Now, is that why we’re doing this? It would be a good reason but it isn’t. $100,000 flow through to help others is our hobby!

In 2 Corinthians 9:6 Paul uses a phrase that is helpful in answering that all important question. He says “Sow sparingly and you will reap sparingly. Sow abundantly and you will reap abundantly.”

Dorothy and David live on a farm in the Assiniboine River valley in Western Manitoba . Their house is high on the southern side of the valley and from their living room window you can see all manner of things. In front and below, descending to the river is the very large paddock for horses. On either side are fields of cereal crops. The river is but a line wandering with wild growth on its banks. To the left you can see what locals call the low bridge. Across the river is another field that slowly rises up the valley wall. It was looking out at this field that I learned something about sowing and reaping. As David explained you have to be careful in seeding not to miss space when turning especially on a valley field that does lie flat. You need enough seed to fill the field. The fuller the field the less room there is for weeds to grow. The less room for weeds to grow the time and money needs to go towards herbicides. The less time and money spent on herbicides the more time and money for the family. That’s called abundant living but it all begins with abundant sowing.

Generating support for worthy causes may be valiant and noble and even kind and gracious, but the church does not exist to raise money. Which is good because lots of people do it better than us. Rather we seek to sow the seeds of what in Galatians Paul calls in my REB ‘the harvest of the spirit.’ The harvest of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness and self control.

Why did we do this? Because we believe human beings need these gifts and they need them desperately. We did this because the offering of these gifts needs a place to happen. We did this because we have offered these gifts in this community for 87 years and will continue to do so for at least another 87.

Last year we took advantage of community data that was made available to churches. It described Charleswood as a well defined area with natural boundaries (the river, the forest, the perimeter, the tracks) and that within those boundaries lives a population of just under 40,000, nearly the size of Brandon . The data said that 22% of the people living in the area self identify as United Church . Well you know that 8,800 people don’t come to worship on Sunday but that is the size of the pool of people who when needing a place to enter to celebrate or be comforted may come to this church.

We had a funeral here on Friday afternoon. It was for a 39 year old man and so not surprisingly it was very large, between 600 and 700 people. He was a football coach and I would imagine that a third of the people here were teenagers, many of whom came wearing their football jerseys. It was a profoundly sad occasion. When the sanctuary was full to capacity we began directing those who were waiting into the new hall. There they had a seat, could hear everything clearly and could look at the light coming off Roblin through the stained glass window filled with Christian symbols. When it was over the guests lined the corridor of the entrance hall as the family left.

There was no connection to the church. Few of the friends or family had ever been here before and they were charged nothing. It might otherwise have been held in a gym or a hall with too many photos and songs from the radio but instead it was held in a welcoming place where those gathered heard that God loves them especially in the depth of great sorrow.

You did that. You sowed in space and equipment so that this community could reap comfort. And because you have sown abundantly it just may happen that the harvest of the spirit will come abundantly.

This is why we have done this. Because if we open the doors God has a chance to open hearts and minds.

Letter to the Congregation

April 6, 2009 Dear Friends,

In February you received a letter from me announcing Opening Hearts and Minds , a follow-up capital campaign for t he expansion of Charleswood United Church. The goal of Opening Hearts and Minds is to secure commitments in excess of $600,000 over the next three y ears. This is the amount required to bring the debt incurred in expanding and renovating the church to a sustainable level and allow us to optimize the programs our facilities now allow.

Throughout March numerous home meetings and open houses have allowed people to hear in greater detail the result s of our construction and to express their vision for the church. Thank you to those who hosted and attended one or more of these events.

We also used three worship services in March to explore a spirituality of Opening Hearts and Minds and what this campaign means in terms of ministry. On April 5 a Celebration Dinner was held at the church where 300 people received even more information to form a foundation for making a commitment to the church over the next three years.

In a church the size of Charleswood United it is never possible to have everyone in the same room at the same time whether for an open house, a worship service, or a dinner. But with this letter it is possible to share with everyone the intentions of the church as you are contacted this April about your commitment to see us through to the completion of our expansion.

During the presentation on April 5 information was shared that everyone needs to be aware of prior to making their pledges for the campaign. This concerns how the money will be distributed. As stated above our goal is to exceed $600,000 over three years. The disbursal will be as follows:

50% – Debt reduced on existing mortgages and ongoing maintenance

35% – Replenishing the Heritage Fund capital used to pay off the construction

10% – Equipping the facility for broad use i.e. stage, screen, projection, etc. 

5% – People and programs such as youth, refugee work, inner city ministry

At the end of three years all remaining debt payments will be integrated into our ongoing operating budget. T here will be no more appeals above and beyond our regular contributions.

I wish to remind you of a few things t hat applied to our first campaign which continue to hold true.

• This is a gift over and above your ongoing support for operations

• This is non-contractual but offered in faith, if your circumstances change you are not bound to your commitment morally or legally

• Your pledge will be managed with complete confidentiality

• We ask you to look at a three year commitment

The commitment of every one of us is essential to the success of the campaign. I am pleased to announce that preliminary commitments totaling $265,000 or 45% of our goal have already been received

Your pledge form will be hand delivered or arriving in the mail in the next little while. Please consider carefully and prayerfully and return it to the church by April 26 .

As I said in church on March 1, if we open the doors then God will open new hearts and minds. With my team-mate Joanne Kury I wish you all the blessings of new life that is t he promise of Easter.

Grace and peace,

Michael Rev. Dr. Michael Wilson On behalf of the Opening Hearts and Minds Steering Committee