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Love came down at Christmas


Members help love come down at Christmas

Sunne Lutheran Church is “home” to Bernard and Alice Falkenstein. Bernard was baptized and confirmed in the church, and he and Alice were married in the church. The couple lived southeast of the church until seven years ago, when they moved to Bismarck. Not deterred by the distance, Bernard and Alice continue to attend and support their country church, and plan to be active members until they die.

Is it better to give than to receive? Most of the members of Sunne Lutheran Church wouldn’t hesitate to say yes.

The church, a Capital Electric Cooperative business consumer located several miles southeast of Wilton, has about 500 members and is led by Pastor Paul Schauer. From homeless shelters to children’s research hospitals, to animal shelters and food pantries, 4-H groups and more, financial assistance is greatly needed in our own communities and beyond. With so many worthy organizations needing assistance, and with the giving season on the horizon, Schauer started a dialogue with church members to discuss what they could do as a group to assist local and global efforts.

“One of the refrains that almost everybody makes around here, is, ‘I have so much stuff. I don’t need anything more.’ So we decided to take that sentiment and turn it into, ‘I have so much stuff. What can I do to help somebody else?’”

Schauer had heard about a movement in which church congregations set aside half of what they would spend on Christmas gifts, and give the money to a designated organization chosen by the church council. Schauer says the program provided the members of Sunne Lutheran Church with an opportunity to teach families what Christmas is all about.

“It’s not just the birth of a baby; it’s the coming of the presence of God into our lives. And the presence of God is all about love and compassion and forgiveness,” he says. “The reason we decided to do Half of Christmas is to try to bring that presence not just into our own lives, but into the lives of everybody around us, so that everybody can experience the love, the presence, the compassion and the forgiveness of Christ.”

The church implemented the program four years ago. The first year, members raised about $7,000 and gave the offering to flood relief in Minot. The second year, the collection was given to a hospital in the Central African Republic. The third year, money was donated to Camp of the Cross near Garrison, and this year’s collection will go to the camp once again. The camp is building a fellowship center, and Sunne Lutheran Church has pledged to raise $20,000 for the project.

“Our congregation has a long history with the camp, and my family has a long history with the camp. My parents actually met there when they were in high school,” Schauer shares with a smile.

Capital Electric Cooperative members Randy and SuAnn Olson became members of Sunne Lutheran Church in 1980. When asked if it is better to give than to receive, Randy answered, “It all depends on how a person is situated. If a person has been blessed along the way, then it feels good to give. But if you’re in dire need, then it’s nice to receive. We’ve been blessed,” he shares. “This program is one way we are giving back to our communities.”

Capital Electric Cooperative members Vance and Jen Vesey became members of Sunne Lutheran Church in 2003. Parents to twins Logan and Cole, age 7, and Davis, age 3, Vance and Jen support the Half of Christmas program because it provides an opportunity for them to help others, while teaching their children valuable lessons.

“We definitely recognize how fortunate we are and blessed in what we have, and what we’ve been able to provide to our kids. There are so many out there who don’t have the financial resources of letting their kids have some extra,” Jen says. “We feel like this is a wonderful way for us to give back, and to teach our children that it’s not all about us. It’s our choice — if we have the means to help others, we’re going to do it. It’s a quality that we really want our children to understand, and we don’t want to give them everything. We want them to feel like they’ve earned things and that they are able to give back to others as well.”

Even if people are not part of a church organization, Pastor Schauer urges people to donate to worthwhile charities and organizations, as part of their own response to people in need.

“It is about love, and we as Christians frame it in the context of God’s love for us through Christ,” he explains. “But if that’s not where you’re at in your spirituality, frame it however you want, as long as you are sharing love with people.”

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