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Practicing extravagant generosity: First Lutheran Church donates over $100,000 to local, global organizations

The giveaway display has the theme of "God's Work, Our Hands." According to Pastor Dave Peterson, it's "not entirely accidental that the tree looks like a hand." (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)1 / 3
Organizations receive their donations at First Lutheran Church during worship services. (Submitted Photo)2 / 3
Once an organization receives its donation, mock paper checks are hung on a display in the church. (Meagan Pittelko/Tribune)3 / 3

Extravagant generosity--that has been the mission of the congregation at First Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes over the last few months.

"It's one of the things we seek," said Pastor Dave Peterson. "We believe that God's people--that all people--are called to practice extravagant generosity. We have the means to be generous, but sometimes we forget that."

The church kicked off its $100,000 "ChristFirst: Sowing God's Vision" Giveaway by providing each member of the congregation with an envelope, inside of which was a one dollar bill. According to Peterson, approximately 500 envelopes were distributed at worship.

"We asked, 'What can a dollar do?'" he said. "Well, it can feed four to eight children in developing countries. It can buy a cup of coffee for someone."

Members of the congregation were then invited to form teams of five or more individuals and to submit applications for organizations that they felt needed additional funding. The entire idea stemmed from the church's capital campaign, entitled "ChristFirst: Growing God's Vision," according to campaign co-chair Mike Fillmore.

Fillmore said that the campaign consisted of a three-part plan: pay off the church's debt, renovate the church and give away $100,000.

"The whole idea is ministry, so we wanted to do something that's not self-serving in some respect," he said. "We were able to accomplish everything we set out to do."

Since December, the congregation has provided funding to seven organizations and, in the coming months, will provide funding to an additional 11 organizations. The organizations that have received funding thus far are Compassion House, Emma Fund, DL Ministerial, Mary's Place, Seminary Scholarship Fund, Trinity Hope and TeacHaiti.

According to Peterson, the organizations that have received funding act both locally and globally and some, such as the Seminary Scholarship Fund, have an unpredictable future, as children who receive scholarships may end up in different locations throughout the world.

"We know that the need of pastors in the church is becoming critical and there's a huge need," he said. "The Seminary Scholarship Fund will be open to any member of an ELCA church in Detroit Lakes and will help pay tuition--it's not only for First Lutheran kids. We didn't know who to present it to, so we brought all of the kids forward and we gave the kids a check for $10,000. We said, 'If God's calling you to be a pastor, we want to help you.' And that's there to grow, so that's kind of planting seeds. We already had someone come in who is settling the estate of his aunt, who believed in education, and he put in $5,000 more."

The Anniversary Gift Team, which consists of Dave Peterson, Carrie Johnston, Rick Manke and Sue Nelson, provided partial funding to every single team that applied.

"There's the line, 'You accelerate what you celebrate,' and we want to accelerate generosity, so we're going to celebrate generosity," Peterson said. "We wanted everybody to receive something. If we could've fully funded, we would have, but every team received partial funding to make a difference locally and globally for Jesus."

While some funds will be used abroad, such as those donated to TeacHaiti, others have already been used in the community. According to Peterson, the DL Ministerial received funding, which a congregation member hoped would be used specifically to support working moms who needed car repairs. Peterson, who has been the treasurer of the DL Ministerial for approximately two decades, told the member that he'd received zero car repair requests in the last five to 10 years, but soon discovered that the funding came at just the right time.

"We made the presentation on a Sunday. That Tuesday, someone who works for Becker County Human Services calls and says, 'I'm working with a client--a mom--and her car broke down and she needs it to get to work,'" he said. "So I asked if she knew what had happened on Sunday, and she said no. On Wednesday of that week, I get another call from a different person who works for Becker County Human Services. That week, we used those funds to fix two cars for moms whose cars broke down and they needed them to get to work. It's already made a major difference for two people in our community, two hard-working moms who were up against a wall."

Although some organizations contacted the church about applying for funds, Peterson explained that they were unable to do so. He said that, although people are used to applying to receive funding, this giveaway worked differently in that people applied to give funding instead. "This went in the direction of, 'What do God's people here have a passion for?'" he said. "Most of these places have no idea that this is coming, because nobody applied for this. It was a different way of doing things, and we've had fun with it."

The fun doesn't end there, though. "There's a surprise coming in April, and that's all I'm going to say," Peterson said. "There's another surprise coming. It's going to be kind of a fun day, a celebratory day."

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