This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Presbyterian Church in America, and the bicentennial celebration will include sermons, songs, church dinners and mission work of significant proportions.
As part of the celebration, Utahns are going to try to raise $176,000 - above and beyond their regular contributions - during the next three years.They'll use the money on a variety of projects: developing new congregations, evangelism, Christian education and global issues. Missions of compassion and justice will also be funded with the money, following the lead of The Presbyterian Church U.S.A., which supports hundreds of such projects.
The projects are as diverse as a community health program at the Memorial Christian Hospital in Sialkot, Pakistan; scholarships for Native Americans; the Evergreen Boarding House for Mentally Retarded Adults in Bossier City, La.; and the Dixie Care and Share Emergency Shelter in St. George.
Most of the money Utah Presbyterians hope to raise will stay in Utah, according to Cherie Deck, area counselor for the Bicentennial Fund. She says the synod (regional governing body) has voted to spend $105,000 on eight projects in Utah.
They are: the Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake, the Dixie Care and Share Emergency Shelter, the Presbytery Interfaith Resource Center, Utah Issues Information Program, a prison ministry for the new prison being built in Gunnison, the Homeless Shelter in Salt Lake, the Ogden Family Counseling Service and Utahns Against Hunger.
Deck was in town last week to meet with Sue Marquardt, co-chairwoman of the fund in Utah. They plan to begin approaching local congregations soon, and will ask each to support the Bicentennial Fund.
"I just have to let each session know this is an opportunity to have their congregations involved in missions in a new way," Deck says. "These are projects they can really be excited about.
"We hope that by Christmas, every presbytery will have voted to participate in some way and will have set a goal for giving."
On Aug. 28, Marquardt and Deck visited one of the projects the church plans to help - Utahns Against Hunger.
The Salt Lake City-based organization will get $10,000 from the Bicentennial Fund. With the money, administrators plan to aid hunger programs in rural areas throughout the state.
"The Presbyterian churches in these small communities have taken the lead in starting emergency food programs," says Steve Johnson, director of Utahns Against Hunger. "The Community Presbyterian Church in Delta is opening a food project Sept 10. In Richfield last year, Jeff Porter, a Presbyterian minister, started a shared pantry through his church, initially. In Mt. Pleasant, the community pantry is housed at the Wasatch Academy. As you look around the state you see small Presbyterian congregations taking an active role in hunger programs."
Johnson expressed gratitude, but not surprise, that the church would want to donate money to help rural food banks. Johnson plans to use some of the funds for training and staff development.
"All the rural programs are new. They are staffed by volunteers who work hard but don't have the technical background to get support for their work.
"We want to develop new resources for them. I'm hoping we can work with the whole community to make sure they are getting block grant money, as well as all the help available from all the religious denominations and private foundations. We want to make sure rural communities are getting their fair share."
It was "Share the Harvest" time when the Bicentennial Fund leaders stopped by the offices of Utahns Against Hunger. There on G Street, in the shadow of the Governor's Mansion, needy people lined the sidewalk.
They were waiting to receive fruit and vegetables from Utah gardeners, bread from local stores, and cornmeal and flour donated by the federal government.
The organization distributed 250 food packages at that location that day, and a total of 900 food packages statewide.
Jane Jurinak-Kay, child care/food program monitor for Utahns Against Hunger, says most of the food will be taken into households of four or five people so that the food distribution actually reaches several thousand Utahns. "We are reaching a lot of children and elderly people," she says.
Care and compassion has been practiced by the church since it first came to Utah in 1870, in Corinne. It was organized there by the Revs. Melancthon Hughes and Sheldon Jackson. Dr. Jackson wrote about those early days, "It will be understood that these first years of home missions at Corinne, though a non-Mormon town, were full of trial. The work was carried on in the face of serious apprehension and great difficulties."
Presbyterians had long lived in America before making the trek to Utah. As they went about proclaiming the gospel and defending individual liberties in colonial times, they challenged the rule of the King of England to the point that the colonial revolution was sometimes called "the Presbyterian Rebellion."
During the church year 1988-89 the Presbyterian church is celebrating 200 years since the first meeting of the General Assembly at Second Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia in 1789.
When Presbyterians came to America, they saw the need for cooperation, and so in 1706, they formed the first Presbytery. As they grew more numerous, the first General Assembly was organized in 1789.