One pastor’s legacy: Three churches add up dollar bills to make a difference

By Amy Forbus

For the fourth year in a row, St. Paul United Methodist Church Fort Smith has carried out a mission-driven offering rooted in a simple premise: Any dollar bills placed in the offering plate go into a special fund to be given to local ministries that benefit the surrounding community. The Fort Smith church has encouraged the discipline of giving a dollar per week for this specific purpose.

“It’s a reminder that when we worship, we bring something to offer God—ourselves, our resources, our time, our talents,” says the Rev. Steve Poarch, the church’s pastor.

Bill Leslie

It’s also a piece of the legacy left by a pastor who never served that church. St. Paul UMC Fort Smith modeled this offering after a tradition carried out at First UMC Paragould and Christ of the Hills UMC Hot Springs Village. Both of those churches started the dollar-a-week offering when the late Rev. Bill Leslie served as pastor. Leslie started the offering at the Hot Springs Village church in 2002, and Poarch served his seminary internship there. Leslie died in 2012, when he was senior pastor of First UMC Paragould.

“Bill felt that even though we tithe and give regularly, each time we come to worship we should put an offering in the plate in gratitude to God for all our blessings,” said Kathy Bracke, office administrator for Christ of the Hills UMC.

Christ of the Hills UMC now names its largest grant from the dollar-a-week offering the Bill Leslie Memorial Gift. That gift provided a truck for the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore in 2016.

Bracke says the average total from the dollar-a-week offering at Christ of the Hills comes to about $25,000. To date, they’ve given away $342,169 through this ministry. Since Leslie’s death, the largest grant given each year has been designated the “Bill Leslie Memorial Gift.” The most recent of these gifts went to Habitat for Humanity, and the box truck purchased with the funds bears the church’s logo and the words, “in Memory of Rev. Bill Leslie.”

First UMC Paragould has collected and given away $63,647 since Leslie started the offering there in 2010. Recipients have included faith-based organizations such as the Future and Hope Christian Women’s Job Corps, as well as community organizations like the Greene County Rescue Squad, Court Appointed Special Advocates and the Greene County Tech Parent Center.

St. Paul UMC Fort Smith has collected a four-year total of $12,124. Each year, the church staff and the missions chairperson have determined which agencies and ministries receive grants, taking into account requests made by church members or the agencies themselves.

“We look for how the request is addressing a specific need or needs, and how it will make a positive impact in our community,” Poarch said. He says that so far, the church has been able to at least partially fund every grant request it has received, but they expect that requests will grow, so they are starting a ministry team that will define the selection criteria and develop a grant request process.

The Rev. Steve Poarch distributed checks to the organizations chosen by St. Paul UMC to receive the fruits of their 2016 dollar-a-week offering. Here, he is pictured making the grant presentation to Ashley Ahlert of the Children’s Emergency Shelter.

The St. Paul UMC dollar-a-week offering total for 2016 came to $3,535, and the funds went to local nonprofit projects, only two of which are connected to the church. Community-based recipients include Albert Pike Elementary School, Community Rescue Mission, the Sebastian County Humane Society and the Children’s Emergency Shelter. Two outreach ministries of the church without budgeted operating funds received grants, as well: Diaper Dandies, a ministry of St. Paul UMC that provides diapers and other infant care supplies to families in need, and St. Paul Bike Mission, which provides new bicycles to children at Christmas and refurbishes bicycles to give away to kids and adults throughout the year. Over the past nine years, the mission has given away about 900 bikes.

Poarch says the church always allocates the dollar-a-week offering funds for projects that reach out and have an impact in the community.

“It can be tempting when budgets get tight to slide these funds into operating budget or areas of need within the church, but it has been vital to this ministry’s success to maintain the focus on those outside our walls,” he said.

“It is amazing to see what God can do with our combined gifts, no matter how small they may seem to us individually.”

First UMC Paragould in 2016 gave a grant from their 2015 dollar-a-week offering to Focus Development Center, which serves people with developmental disabilities. The center used the grant to purchase a new couch and loveseat.

For Poarch, the offering at St. Paul holds special personal meaning because the idea came from his longtime friend and mentor.

“While the dollar-a-week offerings honor God ultimately, for me they also honor the memories I have of Bill,” he says.