What would you do if someone gave you $100 and told you to spend it doing good for others?
Parishioners at All Saints church in Waterloo, Ont., faced this challenge when their rector, Canon Robin Lyons, told them during a Lenten sermon that he was prepared to give $100 to those who were willing to spend it on any endeavor that would benefit the kingdom of God.
“We made them understand that it was God’s money and we asked them to report back at some point after Easter,” said Mr. Lyons in an interview. “Those were the only strings attached.”
Thirty individuals and families stood up from their pews to receive the money, a church investment of $3,000 for putting faith into practice.
Jim and Carol Leichnitz were among those who rose to the challenge. “When it was first mentioned I had no inclination,” said Mr. Leichnitz in an interview. “I would say it was a nudge by the Holy Spirit that made me stand up. But I didn’t have a clue what to do with it.”
For more than a week the couple prayed about what to do with the two $50 bills that Mr. Lyons had given them. Finally, Ms. Leichnitz had an idea to raffle off Easter baskets to raise money for a local charity, Ray of Hope. The charity provides services to youth offenders, the homeless, and the poor in neighbouring Kitchener, Ont.
The couple initially planned on having only three Easter baskets using their $100. They decided to approach local businesses for donations. The result: $925 worth of goods in nine Easter baskets. “It multiplied nicely,” said Mr. Leichnitz.
The couple then brought their Easter baskets to a booth at an area mall. They manned the booth for three days and waited for people to come. “The mall has a rule for kiosks where you don’t approach people. You should wait for them to come to you,” he said. Most “just looked right through us,” said Mr. Leichnitz. Still, they managed to raise $507 for Ray of Hope.
The experience also gave them an important insight. “My realization was: What must homeless people feel like when we walk by them? I gained a new awareness about people I won’t normally approach,” he said.
Most of those who reported back to Mr. Lyons spoke of how the experience changed them. “It was a very powerful, emotional and spiritual time for our parish,” he said, adding, “It was well worth the effort.”
One couple used the money to help a young boy who had cerebral palsy and whose room needed renovation.
A mother and her young son used the money to buy flowers for a nursing home. “It became an entry point for them to have a relationship with the people there,” said Mr. Lyons. “They now play cards with them.”
The experience became “renewing” for parishioners and achieved the parish goal of involving them in the life and work of the church, particularly in the area of supporting charities outside the diocese and the national church. “A year ago we found it difficult to meet our target,” he said. “We were finding ways to have a more hands-on approach and redirecting it to the community.”
The idea for the project came from a parishioner who had heard about another $100 challenge called the Kingdom Assignment that was begun by Rev. Denny Bellesi at the Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo, Calif., in 2000. The Kingdom Assignment draws inspiration from Jesus’s parable of talents and from the movie Pay It Forward, both of which emphasize that an act of kindness has a ripple effect. (The Web site www.kingdomassignment.com has more information about the $100 challenge.)
The idea has become popular in the United States following the release of a book by the same title, authored by Mr. Bellesi and Leesa Bellesi.
Now that the All Saints’ congregation has been “reawakened to a mission that’s just on our doorstep,” Mr. Lyons said the parish would be distributing $100 Kingdom Assignment bills again next year. “We’re hoping to make it an annual part of our budget,” he said.