Confirmation Class Puts Knowledge into Action

Saint James would be proud of the youth at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Pennington, New Jersey. After hearing about the needs of people in poverty around the world, the teens decided to take concrete steps to respond – showing themselves to “doers of the word, and not merely hearers” (James 1:22).

According to the Rev. Emily Griffin, Associate Rector at St. Matthew’s, this year’s confirmation class focused on the Millennium Development Goals. As their outreach project, the students chose to work toward Goal #1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. “Specifically,” Pastor Emily said, “they decided to raise funds to purchase drought-resistant seeds and agricultural training through Episcopal Relief & Development’s Gifts for Life catalog.”

The teens launched a campaign to share their knowledge with the congregation and collect offerings to help buy the seeds. They made announcements in church and distributed Hope Chests, asking parishioners to fill the mite boxes with spare change and bills and return them in a month.

Additionally, the youth created a special presentation for the other church school students. Using M&M candies, two of the teens demonstrated the disparity between people who are rich and poor. First they filled a glass vase almost to the top with candy, illustrating the resources of those in developed countries. Placing a second vase next to it, they poured in just four M&Ms — symbolizing the little available to the one billion people in extreme poverty worldwide.

Explaining why they were choosing to meet needs with seeds and training, the teens said, “It’s good to give people food when they are hungry but then they only get to eat for maybe one meal or one day. But if you can teach people how to grow their own food, they can eat every day! That is what we want to do!”

Several weeks later, on Episcopal Relief & Development Sunday, the youth collected the Hope Chests and were delighted to learn they had raised more than $1,660 — enough to purchase 830 trays of drought-resistant seeds to help communities grow more food.

“They had no idea what their efforts would produce,” Pastor Emily wrote in a letter to the organization. “Thank you for giving us (and them) the opportunity to give. It was a blessing to me as their priest to let them know how our church is relevant to people in need and that we are indeed working in tangible ways to heal a hurting world.”

Lori Cooper, Director of Children’s and Family Ministries at St. Matthew’s, shared thoughts from the students about their experience during the project. “I’ve learned not everyone has the necessities that I have,” said one student, Brynn. “I’ve stopped taking things I have and the people around me for granted. Also, I pray for anyone who is hungry or has trouble in their life.” Another student, Jeff, commented, “It’s nice to help other people who are in need. The change [coins] isn’t much for us but it’s a lot for them.”

Karlie said, “I realize how change [coins] can build up. You don’t realize how much good you are doing until you count it up! It’s just change for me but it’s food and life for the needy.” And Austin shared, “The Hope Chest outreach project was a good experience, not only for me and my Confirmation group, but for everyone at our church. I liked being a part of something that made all ages more aware of global hunger. I am really proud of the funds that we raised for Episcopal Relief & Development.”

Teri Lawver, a St. Matthew’s parishioner and member of Episcopal Relief & Development’s Board of Directors, noted that “just as impactful” as the teens’ effort and its results was that “every Sunday Schooler at the parish was remarkably articulate about what they were collecting money for – and you could see how pleased they all were when the results were announced. What a wonderful example of how Episcopal Relief & Development is engaging churches in its mission.”


Top photo: Members of St. Matthew’s 2011 confirmation class.  St. Matthew’s photos are courtesy of Lori Cooper.