Sunday, December 23, 2007
Challenge Surprises Congregation
By Jeremy Reynalds
CHAGRIN FALLS, OHIO
(ANS) -- On
what would turn out to be one far from ordinary Sunday, the Rev.
Hamilton Coe Throckmorton surprised his flock in Chagrin Falls, Ohio,
when he followed up a sermon by handing out $40,000 in cash.
The Associated Press (AP) reported that
just prior to that, the 52-year-old minister had delivered one of the
most extraordinary sermons of his life (www.fedchurch.org/talent).
First he read from the Gospel of Matthew.
unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to
every man according to his ability."
Then he explained the parable of the
which tells about the rich master who entrusts three servants with a
sum of money, "talents," and instructs them to go and do good. The
master praised the two servants who doubled their money. But he cast
into the wilderness the one so afraid to take a risk that he buried his
Gazing down from the pulpit that Sunday,
the AP said that Throckmorton dropped his bombshell.
Like the master, he would entrust each
adult with a sum of money - in this case, $50. Church members had seven
weeks to find ways to double their money, with the proceeds going
toward church missions.
"Live the parable of the talents!"
the AP said Throckmorton exhorted, as assistants handed out hundreds of
red envelopes stuffed with crisp $50 bills and stunned church members
did quick mental calculations, wondering where all the money had come
from. There are about 1,700 in the congregation, though not everyone
attends each week.
The cash, the AP said Throckmorton
explained, was loaned by several anonymous donors.
In her regular pew at the back of the
church, where the AP said she has listened to sermons for 40 years,
73-year-old Barbara Gates gasped. What kind of silliness is this, she
"Sheer madness," the AP said retired
accountant Wayne Albers, 85, said to his wife, Marnie, who hushed him
as he whispered loudly. "Why can't the church just collect money the
In a center pew, Ann Nagy's eyes
moistened as she thought about her ailing, much loved father, his
suffering, and the song she had written to comfort him near death. She
nudged her husband Scott. "Give me your $50," the AP said she
whispered. Nagy knew exactly what she would do.
The AP said Throckmorton wrapped up
his two morning services by saying that children would get $10. And he
assured the congregation that anyone who didn't feel comfortable could
simply return the money.
Throckmorton is warm and approachable, the AP said, as comfortable
talking about the Cleveland Indians baseball team as he is discussing
scripture. At the Federated Church, he is known simply as Hamilton.
But as church members spilled into
the late summer sunshine that morning, the AP reported there were many
who thought that their pastor was really pushing them this time.
"There was definitely this tension,
this pressure to live up to something," said Hal Maskiell, a
62-year-old retired Navy pilot who spent days trying to figure out how
to meet the challenge.
Maskiell's passion is flying a
four-seater Cessna 172 Skyhawk.. He decided to use his $50 to rent air
time from Portage County airport, and charge $30 for half-hour rides.
Church members eagerly signed up. Maskiell told the AP he was thrilled
to get hours of flying time, and he raised $700.
The AP said that his girlfriend,
Kathy Marous, 55, was far less confident about her talents and tempted
to return the money back.
And then Marous found an old family
recipe for tomato soup, one she hadn't made in 19 years. She told the
AP how much she had enjoyed the chopping, cooking, the canning and the
smells. With Maskiell's encouragement, Marous dug out her pots and
bought lots of tomatoes. Suddenly she was chopping, cooking and canning
again. At $5 a jar, she made $180.
"I just never imagined people would pay
money for the things I made," Marous told the AP.
Others felt the same way, the AP said.
Barbara Gates raised $450 crafting pendants from beads and sea glass -
pieces she had made for her grandchildren over the years. Kathie Biggin
created little red-nosed Rudolph pins, and sold them for $2.50.
Twelve-year-old Amanda Horner pooled her money with friends, stocked up
at a fabric store, and made dozens of colorful fleece baby blankets,
which were purchased by church members and then donated to a local
And 87-year-old Bob Burrows rediscovered
old carpentry skills, and began selling wooden bird-feeders.
But everyone said it wasn't the money.
Members told the AP it was something far less tangible, but still very
real. For seven weeks, an almost magical sense of excitement and
camaraderie infused the red-brick church on Bell Street, spilling over
into homes and hearts as the parable of the talents came alive for
In her studio on Strawberry Lane, the
AP said Shirley Culbertson felt it - a joyful sense of purpose that she
had rarely experienced since her husband passed away two years ago.
Culbertson, 81, is a gifted painter and watercolors fill her house. But
she discovered another talent during this time - knitting eight-inch
stuffed dolls with button noses and floppy hats. She raised $90.
Zooming down country roads clinging
to the back of a leather-clad biker, Florence Cross told the AP she
felt it too. For the challenge, Barry Biggin had parked his 2006 Harley
Davidson Road King outside the church, offering 12-mile rides for $30.
Cross was the first to sign up. Never mind that she is in her mid-80's,
had never been on a bike, or that her husband of 60 years had to hoist
"Oh, it was such a thrill!" Cross told
the AP, her face glowing at the memory. Her friends now call her
Martine Scheuermann lived the parable
in her Elm Street kitchen, transforming it into an "applesauce factory"
for several weeks. The AP said the 49-year-old human resources director
would get up at 6 a.m. on Sundays, in order to have warm batches ready
for sampling at church services.
In his origami-filled bedroom on
Bradley Street, Paul Cantlay also lived out the parable. Surrounded by
sheets of colored construction paper, the AP reported the 9-year-old
crafted paper dragons and stars and sailboats. He set up an origami
stand at the end of his street, charged 50 cents to $5 depending on the
piece, and raised $68.
Talents began multiplying at such a
rate that the church held a bazaar after services on two consecutive
Sundays for people to display - and sell - their wares.
The pretty little village on the
Chagrin River falls had never seen anything quite like it. The AP said
that everyone seemed to be talking about the talent challenge: over
coffee, at the local bookshop on the green, and while sipping drinks at
the local tavern. Even members of other churches wanted to talk about
what was going on at Federated Church.
"Anyone can open their wallet and
give cash," Kris Tesar told the AP. "This was just an extraordinary
process of exploration and discovery, and of challenging ourselves. It
became bigger than any one of us, or than any individual talent."
Tesar, a 58-year-old retired nurse,
discovered her talent in buckets of flip-flops for sale at Old Navy.
She stocked up on yarn and beads, and made dozens of decorative
footwear that were a huge hit with teens. Tesar raised $550 for the
church, is still taking orders and is thinking of starting a business.
The AP said now even her children call her the "flip-flop lady."
The AP said that people also got to
know the "hen lady" - Gabrielle Quintin, who had bought chickens on a
whim 23 years ago when she moved into a 180-year-old house with a barn.
Her "ladies," as Quintin calls her backyard flock, provide a welcome
distraction from her nursing job in a cancer center.
Quintin decided to put her brood to
work for the church. The AP said that for $10, church members could
"hire-a-hen," and get three dozen fresh eggs complete with a photograph
of the "lady" who laid them.
"It wasn't exactly spiritual, but I
had a lot of fun," Quintin, whose husband, Mike, made glass bird
feeders, told the AP. "And it was just this great way of bringing
everyone together and connecting with the church.""
The AP said that Kathy Wellman
quilted. Mary Hobbs knit shawls and penciled portraits. Cathy Hatfield
auctioned a ride in her hot-air balloon. Norma and Trent Bobbitt pooled
their money with another church member to hire a harpist from the
Cleveland orchestra, and host an elegant evening dinner party. People
paid $50 each to attend, and the Bobbitts made over $1,200.
And physician Peter Yang took over
shifts from other doctors in his partnership (he used his $50 for gas
to get to the hospital), and raised $3,000.
The deadline to return the money was
Sunday, Oct. 28. The AP reported that some nervous church council
members suggested posting plain clothes security guards at services
that day. But Throckmorton disagreed.. He insisted that the spirit of
the challenge, which had already inspired so much goodwill, would carry
them safely through. And it did.
The AP said that organ music filled
the church as people silently filed down the aisle, dropped their
proceeds into baskets, and gave testimonials about what living the
parable had meant to them. Throckmorton thanked everyone for their
generosity. Then he started counting.
A week later, he delivered the good news
to members. They had more than doubled the amount distributed.
The initial take was $38,195 over the
loan, but the amount is still growing. Some people didn't make the
deadline, or extended it in order to finish their projects.
The final sum will be divided equally
between three charities, the AP reported. One-third will go to a school
library in South Africa where the church is involved in an AIDS
mission; one-third will go to micro-loan organizations that provide
seed money for small businesses in developing countries; one-third will
help the Interfaith Hospitality Network in Cleveland, specifically
programs for homeless women.
Throckmorton is asked all the time if
the talent challenge will become an annual event, but he is doubtful.
It was a special time and a special idea, he said, and he is not sure
it could be re-created or relived.
Yet in a very real sense, it lives
on, the AP said. Church members who never knew each other have become
friends. And orders for applesauce, flip-flops and Rudolph pins are
still rolling in for Christmas.
There are other, more poignant
reminders, the AP said. Like Ann Nagy's haunting tribute to her father,
who died of brain cancer on Oct. 11.
Nagy, 44, has always been a singer
with a beautiful voice. It wasn't until her father grew ill and moved
into a hospice that she started writing songs. She found comfort in the
music, and a way of communicating that was sometimes easier than spoken
At hospice, patients are taught five
simple truths to tell their loved ones before they die: I'll miss you.
I love you. I forgive you. I'm sorry. Goodbye.
Borrowing from that theme, the AP
reported Nagy wrote a farewell song for her Dad. She pooled her $50
talent money with her husband's share, and cut a CD to sell to church
members. Ironically it was finished just an hour before her father
passed, on Oct. 11. Nagy stood by his bed and sang it for him anyway.
On Nov. 11 - her father's 72nd
birthday - Throckmorton preached a sermon about dying. He invited Nagy
to the altar. There, accompanied by a cellist and a pianist she sang
"Before You Go."
The AP said that as her voice soared and
the congregation wept, the parable of the talents had never seemed so
The web site Get Religion.org
praised the AP report as a "fairly solid story of religious and social
significance..." However, Get Religion continued, "the only thing
missing from this story is an example of someone who failed to make a
return on the $50."
Get Religion continued, "I think
including an example of a 'failing church member,' while surely
difficult to find, would have expanded the story's perspective. (Did)
everything in this $50 challenge really end up as rosy as the story
For more of Get Religion's analysis, go
For information about the Federated
Church go to www.fedchurch.org
Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the
founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency
homeless shelter, http://www.joyjunction.org
He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New
Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in
Los Angeles. His newest book is "Homeless in the City: A Call to
Service." Additional details about "Homeless" are available at http://www.HomelessBook.com.