Christ Church Parishioners Multiply Their Talents

This past Lent, the parishioners at Christ Church Episcopal in Winnetka, Illinois, not only discovered they’re a remarkably talented bunch, they also used their gifts and skills to benefit small business owners around the world.

The Christ Church Lenten Talent Challenge posed a simple question: What’s YOUR talent? Sixty envelopes containing $100 were offered to congregation members, whose mission, if accepted, was to invest their energy and creativity in bringing a return on the original loan amount. Forty-two envelopes were given out and individuals, families and groups of friends got to work. Just six weeks later, the results of their varied efforts—ranging from investing in the stock market to providing blood pressure checks to selling crafts and baked goods–had garnered over $9,800 to benefit Episcopal Relief & Development’s micro-finance programs around the world.

According to Lisa Kerpan, Chair of Christ Church’s Global Mission Committee, the Lenten Talent Challenge was inspired by the Parable of the Talents in the Gospel of Matthew, 25:14-30. “The parable reminds us that we all have talents—gifts, abilities, resources—that are to be invested and multiplied,” she said.

In addition to the Gospel connection, the committee drew a parallel with the situation faced by many micro-business owners living in poverty, who must ask themselves, “How can I turn MY talents into a business that will generate an income for my family? How can I house, feed, clothe and educate my children?”

Fueled by these thoughts, participants were off and running— literally, in the case of the Rev. Jim Harrison, Curate of Christ Church. He raised pledges from family and friends for each mile that he ran. Some parishioners put on their aprons, holding a dinner party and making baked goods and candy to sell. Others created a multitude of products and crafts, including choir CDs and DVDs; denim purses; Episcopal shields, prayer books and prayer beads; flower baskets; and origami paper cranes.

Even the three-year-old Sunday School students—the youngest Challenge participants—unleashed their talents by painting wooden birdhouses. “The responses were more creative and inspired than we ever imagined,” Lisa said.

The Challenge culminated on April 18 at the church’s Lenten Ingathering and Celebration, where shoppers at the Talent Challenge Market were able to purchase many of the resulting products. When the proceeds raised from the original $4,200 investment were tallied, the total was more than $9,800—a remarkable 233% return.

The funds will support Episcopal Relief & Development’s worldwide micro-loan programs, which provide small business owners with start-up capital and business training. Receiving loans will enable people to launch or expand ventures such as sewing, baking bread, producing honey and making soap. These programs are especially important in creating economic opportunities for those in traditionally marginalized and vulnerable groups, such as women and people impacted by HIV/AIDS or disabilities, who may not have any other means of supporting themselves or their families.

In addition to being able to showcase their skills through the Challenge, participants had a great time. Among the comments that Lisa received were: “Lent can be fun!” “The Talent Challenge rocks!” “I really appreciate the approach — rather than asking us for money directly, asking us to DO something to help the world.” “It was a challenge at first to think of what my talents might be, but it was great fun once I got going!” “Can we do this again???”

Lisa credited the success of the Challenge and the Ingathering Celebration to the many people who made it possible: members of the Global Mission Committee; the church’s Vestry, “for their support of this rather unconventional approach to Lenten giving”; Christ Church’s clergy, who enthusiastically participated and supported the project; Missy Harrison, Director of Children’s Ministries; Breece and Darlene McKinney; and the Rev. Mike Bond, Episcopal Relief & Development Diocesan Coordinator. Not least, Lisa expressed thanks to all the participants who contributed their skills, time and energy so generously, along with those who supported the efforts by making purchases or donations.

“Thanks to the parishioners of Christ Church and their abundance of talent, small business owners around the world will be able to multiply their own talents and support their families,” said Brian Sellers-Petersen, Episcopal Relief & Development’s Director of Engagement. “During a recent meeting in Belize, I had the privilege of meeting several people who increased their income after receiving micro-loans through our partner, the Diocese of Belize. We are very grateful to Christ Church for supporting these important programs that are helping people lift themselves out of poverty and better their lives.”