In all, about a quarter of the congregation’s income goes to outreach each year, and the membership is receptive to new opportunities as they arise. After the church’s founding in 1962, the very first vestry resolved to tithe to outreach, but that commitment weakened after just a few years. When Air Force master sergeant Nolan Bell and his wife, Kerry, were stationed in the area some years later, Kerry urged the vestry to recommit itself, based on her personal experience of tithing.
“While we lived in Bossier City, La.,” Kerry recalls, “a couple at our church gave their testimony on tithing. It was an eye-opening talk, and we looked at our finances to see how we could manage it. We were told that what you do is give God His money first, and the rest just seems to fall into place. At the time we had four children at home. We were kind of living payday to payday, and sometimes it seemed the funds wouldn’t stretch.
“But we both felt led to do our best and started giving God his money first. It worked. Then one month the dentist bill for the kids was high, and I thought I would pay it before we gave our check to the church. Everything went wrong – the car broke down, and all kinds of weird things happened. I looked at the check book and saw that if I paid the tithe we would have $10 left. We wrote the check, and everything worked out.
“When we transferred to St John’s, I agreed to be the church treasurer. At my first vestry meeting, I discussed tithing, and we all agreed to start small and work our way up. We looked around and decided we should give to the local drug store to help people pay for their prescriptions. We also supported our local Ministerial Alliance, the Senior Citizens organization, and the food pantry, which also helps folks with utility bills and other minor emergencies.
“Each year, when we proposed the budget, we would raise the amount for outreach. When we agreed on which places we would support, we left some funds undesignated in case something would come up later in the year. At the end of each year, we made sure that all of the funds we budgeted for outreach were donated. As time went on, and the outreach budget grew, we added more places to donate to. One was Christ’s Home place Ministries, a Christian counseling center started by Fr. James Rogers and his wife, Susan. Recently we have added SAMS and student support for the Gainesville School for Boys to the monthly payment list. We make other donations periodically as well, usually in a lump sum for the year.” Kerry appreciates the example set by their vicar, Fr. John Munson, who supports the outreach and donates time in the community. Fr. Munson is a chaplain for the police force, board member for Grace Ministries, and a member of the Rotary Club and the Chamber of Commerce.
The church doesn’t need to conduct fund-raiser events. When a Methodist friend asked Kerry about this, Kerry says, “I told her we have found that if we give God His money first, we never have need to raise funds. All of our needs are met and then some. When I hear of churches having money problems, the first question I ask is, ‘How much is your outreach?’ Sadly, they tell me there isn’t any because they can’t pay their bills.”
The church does host two events for the community each year. The Christmas Gift Shop is a tradition going back to the 1960s and provides needy children with a chance to select gifts for their parents or guardians. While the gift is wrapped, the children enjoy a party and visit with Santa Claus. On Shrove Tuesday, St. John’s opens its doors for a free pancake supper.
“There used to be a fee charged for that,” Kerry notes, “but as our outreach grew, we realized that this was another area where we could serve the community without a fee. All of Burkburnett is invited to come and have pancakes with us. It is really a fun time that we get to see our friends and neighbors!”
Over the years, the tithe has been met and exceeded. Currently about $11,000 goes to projects outside the diocese, while another $5,000 is given to support World Mission programs and seminary students.
“God is so awesome the way He provides for all of these things,” Kerry says. Despite the congregation’s small size, she says, “We feel it is our mission to support our community. And through it all, we have been truly blessed!”