As you take your seat and open your bulletin, it slips out. It’s that white envelope you see on the first Sunday of each month. You may lay it on the pew next to you or tuck it in with the hymnals. You may wonder, “What exactly is the ‘Diaconate Fund’?” It could be that none of this happens, and you ignore it altogether like an insert in a magazine - remember magazines?
Based on the model described in the early verses of Acts 6, deacons are tasked with caring for the ‘real world' needs of the church body. Here at CPC, we deacons care for our members, those we consider part of our fellowship (regular attenders), and the surrounding community. Often, caring for these needs requires money. The source of those monies is the Diaconate Fund, a non-budgeted fund that is separate from the General Fund of our church. This fund contains gifts that are designated for that use, and thus, the envelope.
Within the Diaconate (our whole group of deacons) we have a Mercy Committee. This committee considers and makes decisions regarding requests that come in for monetary assistance, appealing to the whole of the Diaconate for decision-making help if needed. Requests that concern members and those who are part of our fellowship are often under the care of, or perhaps on the recommendation of, the Pastoral Staff or Shepherding Elders.
Our support for the surrounding community happens in multiple ways. Sometimes, monthly monetary gifts are given to assist local organizations. Sometimes, items are collected and distributed through local ministries. For example, we have an ongoing ministry that assists “graduates” from Chattanooga Room in the Inn, an organization founded several years ago by a CPC member. Our support takes the form of helping formerly homeless women - often with children - who have completed a program and are moving into independence. Most of the time these women have nothing, and we partner to supply them with the basics needed for a home like dishes, linens, simple furniture, and bedding.
Another way we support the surrounding community is by considering the requests of those who walk in or contact our church for assistance. These folks come from all over the city. We ask them to fill out a form that provides us with the basic details of their situation; and from the responses on these forms, we find that some of these folks are “referred” by others whom we have helped before. John Spalding has recently joined the church staff as our part-time Mercy Coordinator. As a member of the Mercy Committee, John is specifically tasked with assisting the deacons, staff, and CPC by serving as a point of contact for those “walk-ins.”
In the last ten years, over $750,000 has been distributed through the Diaconate Fund. Some large expenditures occurred during recovery from natural disasters, like the 2020 Easter Tornado or various hurricanes. Other funds went to local ministries that needed assistance with funding for large projects. But the majority of the money has served to assist people during tough times (lost jobs, layoffs and wage cuts, injury and illness, families in crises due to death or divorce, etc). We have been able to walk beside people in practical ways by assisting them with utility bills, transportation, home repairs, food, shelter, and other basic needs.
In Matthew 25.35-40, we read:
35’ For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
May the Lord continue to allow us to be a part of His Kingdom in this way.