Holy Cow, It’s Gifts for Life!

For the past five years, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Bethesda, MD has been making the same proclamation, “Holy Cow, it’s December!”

It was five years ago that Ms. Betsy Davis and her sister first donned a cow costume for the annual Christmas Pageant.  “The cow didn’t look anything like a cow, so I hung a sign around its neck that said Holy Cow,” said Ms. Davis.  The Holy Cow costume has become a staple in the Christmas celebration of the parish.

The same year, the parish’s Outreach Committee decided to host an alternative gift market within the church.  Ms. Davis said, “We called it the Holy Cow Initiative, because it was a name the people in the parish could connect with.  Additionally, it takes working together, just like my sister and I worked together in the two-person Holy Cow during the pageant.”  Holy Cow has personal significance to the parish and has become the rallying cry to give to others during the Advent season.  It also reaches the young people of the community, the driving force of the initiative.

The first two years of the event, a young man was recruited named Aron Taylor as co-chair. This energetic eight year old would visit each Sunday school class to remind people to collect their change for the Holy Cow event.  Aron’s grandmother, Marie Holbrook, spent hours working with Aron and creating posters for the event as well.  For the last three years, Marta Montoro has served as co-chair the Holy Cow Initiative with Ms. Davis.

Parishioners are reminded through the parish newsletter, that the Holy Cow Initiative and Gifts for Life “offers something different, meaningful, unforgettable and long-lasting to those in need.”

St Luke’s launches the Alternative Gift Market around the first week of Advent, and during the coffee hour displays pictures from the Gifts for Life catalog along with descriptions of each item in the catalog.  In years past, they have even sold Bishops Blend coffee, another excellent way to support the work of Episcopal Relief & Development.

As an incentive to the parishioners to support the Holy Cow Initiative, the parish’s Outreach Committee matches a certain portion of the donations each year. Even the parish priest, The Rev. Dr. Stephanie Nagely announced from the pulpit that she wants Gifts for Life donations in lieu of presents.  This kind of top down commitment has really made a difference in engaging the whole parish in the Holy Cow Initiative to raise money for the work of Episcopal Relief & Development.

This year, Ms. Davis wants to recharge the initiative by once again reaching out to the youth of the parish to co-chair the Holy Cow Initiative.  She noted that the children provide so much energy and excitement to the life of the parish, and that getting them involved is a great way to engage the whole parish as well as to teach the children about the mission focus of the church and their personal faith.  The kids have found new ways to be involved as well. Instead of writing letters to Santa, they are writing “Holy Cow” letters and posting pictures of goats and chickens to the wall to represent the items they want to give to others.

Ms. Davis said, “If you want to avoid long lines at the mall, buying batteries for gadgets and scratching your head over finding that perfect holiday gift, then a wonderful solution might be a contribution to the Holy Cow Initiative at St. Luke’s.  The Holy Cow Initiative demonstrates how we work together as a parish to change the lives of families and communities in the world.”

One of the most important parts of the Holy Cow Initiative is celebrating the parish’s accomplishment each year. The total count of cows, goats, chickens, community wells, etc. is posted in the January parish newsletter as well as the wall of the parish.  This is a great way to bring home the reality of what giving to others can mean for both adults and children.

While St. Luke’s is a small congregation, it is a passionate group that raised over $50,000 for Gifts for Life in the first 4 years!  Not to mention over $11,000 was raised in 2012!

Holy Cow, indeed!

Thank you St. Luke’s for setting the example on changing the world…one Holy Cow at a time!

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