The scholarship fund at the Midwest Leadership School, called “Flame Keepers” was not growing. Sadly, in the summer of 2013 only $10 had been donated to the fund. The volunteer lay staff had all experienced the transformative power of the week-long school and had enthusiastically promoted the fund with skits and songs to help provide that experience for leaders with financial need. This past summer they decided to try something new, based on a lecture about stewardship by visiting faculty member Kathy McGowan. She had said:
People give money to make a difference. People give money to change lives. You need to tell the story of how you are making a difference in the lives of real people.
MLWS Chair Jennifer Thomas reached out to a MWLS graduate, Sayer Johnson, that she had met when she was a student in 2011. Thomas asked for a testimonial that could be shared when they invited the current students to donate to the Flame Keepers fund. This is the result:
MWLS changed my life.
As the week unfolded, I knew I’d never be the same, and I was right. My congregation saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself and they took a chance on me. My congregation was generous with their open hearts. Strangers were generous with their financial support, and because of a Flamekeepers scholarship, I was able to make MWLS a reality.
Two years before stepping foot onto the Beloit campus I was emerging as my authentic self. I was declaring my space as a transgender man. My family and my congregation stood by me, held me up, and eventually challenged me to be here–where you are now–and have this experience at Beloit. My time at MWLS resonates with me still.
My time at MWLS was my first experience with meeting folks who only knew me as Sayer…not by my old name and not as my former self. It was daunting and frightening and overwhelming, but in the end one of the most amazing and soul-inspiring welcomes into my new world as I could have possibly wished for.
Beloit lit a spark… and because of the Flamekeepers, the spark became light. MWLS would NEVER have been possible for me without the generosity of strangers.
Now four years later, I’m still benefiting from my time at MWLS. Upon returning, I was able to facilitate growth in my congregation. I also co-founded a support group for other transgender men in the St. Louis metro area. The impact of MWLS is powerful, intimate and far-reaching.
My story is one of many. And I am grateful.
The response was amazing. People wrote checks. People rounded up their bookstore purchases to donate to the fund. MWLS student and folk musician Darthe Jennings donated all of the proceeds from her CDs sold at the bookstore to the fund. The result? Instead of $10, the fund received over $1000!
Make a difference, then tell the story of how you make a difference.
Not Your Parent’s Offering Plate: A New Vision or Financial Stewardship by J. Clif Christopher
The Power of Stories: A Guide for Leading Multiracial and Multicultural Congregations by Jacqueline Lewis
The Generosity Path: Finding the Richness in Giving by Mark V. Ewert
The Wi$dom Path: Money, Spirit, and Life A Tapestry of Faith Program for Adults by Patricia Hall Infante and David H. Messner
-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Congregational Life Staff, CERG – The Central East Regional Group