Through the program One Great Hour of Sharing — now in its 60th year — the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) joins with eight other Christian denominations across the country to raise money for refugee assistance, disaster relief and development aid. The offering is usually collected at worship services on Palm Sunday or Easter or throughout Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25.
“One Great Hour of Sharing responds to all of those in kind of a holistic way,” said Alan Krome, associate for interpretation/special offerings, Communications and Funds Development of the General Assembly Council.
Each denomination distributes its funds differently. In the PC(USA), the money goes toward the PHP (Presbyterian Hunger Program, 36 percent), PDA (Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, 32 percent); and SDOP (Self-Development of People, 32 percent).
In 2008, giving by Presbyterian congregations totaled about $8,245,000 — about $744,000 less than in 2007. This year, with need rising, congregations are being urged to give more.
In a denomination-wide letter thanking people for their past support, Bruce Reyes-Chow, moderator of the 218th General Assembly, asked congregations and individuals to consider doubling their past gifts.
Included with the letter is a DVD/CD-ROM that contains educational materials and ways for leaders to encourage their congregations to give more. This “toolkit” was sent to congregations in January and is also available online.
Many Americans are facing uncertain economic times, but they still can help others, Krome said, adding that he is confident Presbyterians will rise to the challenge. He pointed out that small changes, like forgoing dinner and a movie on a weekend and contributing the savings to the OGHS, can make a big difference to those suffering around the world.
“It makes a more positive difference in their life than it makes a negative difference in ours,” he said. “We still have the ability to help others in a very powerful way.”
One such way is by bringing a fresh water supply to communities of Haitian sugarcane workers in the Dominican Republic. The communities often have poor sanitation and no water supply. Through funding from SDOP, four Dominican communities are now on their way to a more reliable water source. SDOP provides grants to economically poor or oppressed groups so they can find self-empowerment and long-term solutions.
“It’s so rewarding to go into these communities and see the water system brought in,” said SDOP Coordinator Cynthia White. “We wouldn’t be able to do it without the One Great Hour of Sharing.”
PHP also could not operate without the One Great Hour of Sharing, said coordinator Ruth Farrell, adding that the vast majority of the program’s funding comes from the offering.
“Joining Hands” is a PHP initiative that pairs Presbyterian congregations or presbyteries with churches and community groups in other countries. Together, they examine the root causes of hunger and suffering and then work together to effect change.
One of its programs is Publish What You Pay, which aims to decrease government corruption by requiring, for example, mining companies to reveal how much money they pay governments for the extraction of resources, thereby holding governments accountable.
The OGHS supports work that addresses both the symptoms and causes of problems, Farrell said. “It’s the Presbyterian presence in a lot of countries,” she said. “We’re in it for the long-term commitment.”
PDA also emphasizes finding long-term solutions to problems. When disasters strike, immediate responders are often publicized and people offer lots of help … for a time.
But when the publicity fades, support is still needed. “Part of PDA’s mission is to walk that long road with survivors,” said Pamela Burdine, associate for constituent relations. “As a ministry, part of our job is to minister to the caregivers also.”
PDA’s statement of values affirms that the church is called to respond to human suffering, that all people are created in God’s image, and that God’s will is for a restored and reconciled human community. Without funds from the One Great Hour of Sharing, PDA officials say, PDA would not be able to act on these values.
One of the OGHS’s biggest strengths is also one of its biggest weaknesses, Krome said: because the offering has been around for decades, giving can become habitual. Although habit has kept donations coming in, it has also prevented the program from growing. To fight this, people must look at the work of the offering in a fresh way.
“Pain is not a habit. Need is not a habit,” Krome said. “We need to turn a corner this year and strengthen the offering.”