Summerville ministry urges $1 donations to fill critical local needs
It’s a good problem to have. Ask worshippers to throw $1 — no more, no less — into a small metal bucket each Sunday.
Yet, inevitably eyes other than George Washington’s will be staring up from the pot after Sunday worship ends.
The Rev. Jenn Williams is not above scolding her Ashley Ridge Church congregation to put only a buck into the bucket. Because the whole point of their Change for a Dollar ministry is to see what big things God will do with a small pool of money. After all, the positive changes that result aren’t about bragging rights or large-scale fundraising for the unknown masses.
The goal of Change for a Dollar is simply to help one Summerville resident each week who is struggling with a tangible, critical need.
“It’s a direct connection,” Williams says. “It takes it from a need into a relational thing. This is my neighbor.”
But in a day of megachurches and megaprograms and megapreachers who can fill coliseums, can $1 really accomplish anything?
Yes, and here’s how: Each Sunday, Ashley Ridge Church collects about $200 to $300 in its Change for a Dollar buckets.
Then, church members email requests or suggestions for how to use the money that week.
Church leaders pick someone, and then watch what happens.
Take a young man who recently suffered a seizure disorder but lacked the resources to see a neurologist. He had visited the Medical Outreach Clinic of Summerville but needed more specialized care than it could provide.
Ashley Ridge decided to use that week’s Change for a Dollar money to pay for the man’s initial visit to a neurologist.
But when the doctor heard that Change for a Dollar was helping, he agreed to see the man for free.
Instead, Change for a Dollar money would go to help pay for the man’s prescriptions.
Someone told the pharmacy.
Guerin’s Pharmacy in downtown Summerville offered to help pay for the medications. Change for a Dollar paid for the rest.
The result: The young man received far more help than a single doctor’s office visit.
“It’s an example of how $100 or $200 turns into something more,” says Ashley Ridge member Marty Thomas, who also is assistant director of the Summerville medical clinic.
Then there was another local resident who needed $5,000 in repairs to a home’s foundation, threatening to make the structure unsafe.
Change for a Dollar offered to help with a piece of the project. Someone contacted a contractor for an estimate.
When he heard that Change for a Dollar was helping, the contractor donated his labor.
Then, another person donated supplies.
In the end, Change for a Dollar’s money will pay for the home’s termite bond when the work is complete.
And then there was a single mom, a teacher, whose car suddenly wouldn’t start one morning. Another teacher requested Change for a Dollar’s help.
That week’s collection would pay for a repair cost estimate.
But how to get the car to the dealership?
When the dealer heard from a church member, he said that if Change for a Dollar would pay to tow the mom’s car, he would fix it for free.
The mother, facing a particularly lonely stretch of life, then showed up at Ashley Ridge Church to worship one Sunday not long after.
Other weeks, the process is simpler.
Take last week. A woman who watches a church member’s children mentioned her roof had been leaking for a long time.
That week’s Change for a Dollar money paid for supplies to fix it, and a group of more than 20 people volunteered to spend last Saturday fixing her roof.
“It’s simply to meet a tangible need in our community,” Williams says. “We put in that one piece of who we are and watch it multiply.”
Ashley Ridge Church sits in an expanse of Summerville characterized by long stretches of construction barrels, road-building crews and signs that promise: Coming Soon!
At 7:30 a.m. each Sunday, two trucks pulling large trailers park in front of Ashley Ridge High School where the church meets.
Teams of volunteers hustle to create a church from scratch inside the empty high school. Plain metal buckets with Change for a Dollar labels soon sit on the auditorium stage and outside its doorways, wherever worshippers will pass.
It’s a simple ministry for a simple church.
When Bethany United Methodist, a large and established church in historic Summerville, planted Ashley Ridge in 2010, it sent Williams, its associate pastor, forth into the high-growth area.
But what to build?
Williams peeled away the usual church operating onion, layer by layer, until two core functions remained: worship God and serve humanity.
The church has no money-draining buildings, no debt, no historic stained glass to refurbish.
Instead, it meets in the high school and targets its few, simple programs at serving the local community.
So when the church’s discipleship pastor, Friar Dixon, heard about Change for a Dollar, it seemed a perfect way to serve others with simplicity and God’s help.
Dixon ran across the idea while watching a podcast from a church in Oregon that started it.
“I thought, ‘What a great idea.’ You only ask people to give $1 and then see what God can do,” he recalls. “You can’t brag about what you did. But you can brag about what God did.”
He took the idea to Williams in November 2011.
The buckets went out at Ashley Ridge the next month.
Since then, Change for a Dollar buckets have been spreading to churches across the country, helping local residents in very specific but often critical ways. Williams hopes to see more appear in Lowcountry houses of worship.
Love thy neighbor
Amid overbooked and busy lives, churches are challenged to lead worshippers back to the simple act of building personal relationships with neighbors in order to know folks’ needs and how to fill them.
Love thy neighbor
“We’re creating a congregation that can go out and serve instead of building a church and programs and expecting the community to come to us,” says Rick White, one of Ashley Ridge’s first members.
As Williams puts it, they are investing in individuals rather than broader causes.
Thinking of how to use the bucket of dollars each week helps church members remain attentive to those around them — neighbors, coworkers, fellow parents at their children’s schools, even strangers — who have needs. No matter how small.
The number of requests Change for a Dollar receives each week varies. Some weeks, it’s three or four.
“Some weeks, it’s only one and it seems very clear that God knows what we need to do with the money,” Williams says.
Even Williams recently emailed a request to Change for a Dollar after a neighbor suffered a house fire.
“It has helped us all pay attention,” Williams says. “It’s how to stay awake and alert to the people around us.”
Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563, follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes or subscribe to her at facebook.com/jennifer.b.hawes.