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104 Thank You Notes

by the Rev. Heather Melton, Staff Officer for the United Thank Offering

Every year, I make a New Year’s Resolution. I’m usually pretty good at keeping them because I try to make them about something in my life that needs work. Last year, it was about my health and getting in better shape so I could be the best mom, wife, and UTO lady possible. There were lots of moments and opportunities for gratitude along that path! This year, I decided that I needed to put some feet on my gratitude practice, and in addition to putting coins in my Blue Box, I am going to write two thank you notes every week in 2017, not for gifts given (which I already do) but for simple kindnesses shown. One thank you note will be to someone I work with (because it’s easy to forget to say thank you to all of the people who make UTO happen every day), and one to someone in my personal life. When I was first ordained, I started a file with cards that people sent me to thank me, small notes after funerals, baptisms, or just a good sermon. I’ve kept all of them … 10 years’ worth of thank you cards. On days that are difficult, I sometimes look through the folder and remember that I am enough regardless of my own brokenness and that God is working through me and in spite of me. These cards mean so much to me that I decided I need to let others know how much they mean to me as well, so 104 cards in 2017 with real gratitude spelled out for ordinary gifts shared at work and at home. I want to challenge you to join me in this project and help keep me accountable. Ask me on Facebook or email how I’m doing, and I’ll let you know where I am in my running tally. Perhaps you’ll commit to writing 52 thank you notes or 12, but I think these notes might change things – maybe for the people who receive them, but definitely for me. How will you expand your spiritual discipline of gratitude this year? Tell us on our Facebook page or email me. I’d love to share a list of ideas in next month’s e-news to inspire others (and me) with new ways to show our gratitude as we participate in this community of faith, gratitude, and giving known as UTO.

Gratitude with Every Step

by Sandra Squires, UTO Board President

I was awakened to the sound of muezzins from every mosque within earshot, calling the faithful to prayer. As I heard one voice after another start the call, I was absolutely stunned by the beauty of such an awakening.

I was in Fez, Morocco, an ancient city founded in 789. I was able to walk the streets of the city’s medina quarters, one dating back to the ninth century. Later, also in Fez, I heard a group of women Sufis (the mystics of Islam) sing and praise Allah through their music, and I couldn’t help but feel caught up in the music and movement.

So what does any of this have to do with United Thank Offering – a giving and gratitude ministry within The Episcopal Church – you might justifiably ask. And my answer is GRATITUDE.

I was on the trip of a lifetime. I had never been to Africa before, I had never traveled in a country whose official religion is Islam, and I had gotten myself there alone and safely before joining my group. I felt blessed as I learned something every minute, having rich experiences through sight, sound, smell, and taste. I ate great Moroccan food every day and even had a lesson in preparing it. Also, I learned that I admire much about the pillars of Islam: professing faith in only one God (Allah), praying five times a day, giving charitably, fasting during Ramadan, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca if able to do so.

I am a privileged, educated, white American woman. My life is filled with many people and experiences for which I am truly grateful. And one way I choose to show that gratitude is by thanking God and giving to UTO.

2015 Grant Site Update: Friends of Tamar, Diocese of Nebraska

by the Very Rev. Craig Loya, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Omaha, Nebraska

In early 2014, a group of people came together at Trinity Cathedral with a sense of being called to start a ministry with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. After a lot of prayer, discernment, and conversations with a variety of organizations working to address violence against women in our community, a group of volunteers formed what we call the Friends of Tamar.

The name comes from the story of Tamar in 2 Samuel 13. Tamar is raped and left in desolation at the end of the story. We envision writing a different ending for survivors of sexual and domestic violence in our own community.

Early conversations led to the creation of what we call the Suitcase Project. Through partnerships with several local organizations, we provide bags packed with several critical supplies to be delivered to women and any dependent children in the immediate aftermath of an assault. In 2015, we were awarded a $33,000 UTO grant to hire a coordinator to develop and expand this ministry.

The grant money certainly helped do what it was intended to do, but its impact on our congregation and wider community is exponentially greater than the dollars we received.

Our conversations and partnerships with organizations, and the hard work of our coordinator, somewhat unexpectedly led to the creation of Magdalene Omaha, a sister organization of Thistle Farms in Nashville, which is a model for providing a sanctuary for women who are surviving sex trafficking, addiction, and abuse. There are several other initiatives that the Friends of Tamar are considering to continue to find new ways to combat violence with love in our city and region.

As a pastor, perhaps the most exciting and important way in which the UTO grant, as well as the ministry it helped catalyze, has impacted our congregation is that it has helped to establish a loving community of volunteers, some of whom belong to Trinity Cathedral, some of whom belong to other churches, and some of whom have no church affiliation. They gather regularly for “packing parties” to prepare the bags, share one another’s lives, listen to one another’s stories of abuse and healing, and commit themselves to showing God’s love in tangible and meaningful ways at Trinity, in Omaha, and in the wider region.

The Friends of Tamar started with one survivor sharing her story and mobilizing a group of volunteers in our congregation. It now has partners around the Diocese of Nebraska, who are establishing similar ministries in their own congregations and communities. The Suitcase Project was even the beneficiary of a project at our diocesan youth summer camp, where youth from all over Nebraska helped pack almost one hundred bags for the project. The generous grant we received from UTO not only allowed us to start and expand a ministry at the cathedral, but also to inspire and enable a growing movement in our city and in our region. The grant we received was a seed that is now beginning to bear the kind of fruit most of us couldn’t have imagined when it was first planted.

Standing with Standing Rock


by Rachel McDaniel, 2016-2017 Intern

An important moment in history happened on December 4, and because of the United Thank Offering, I was able to be right in the midst of it. My Julia Chester Emery internship with the United Thank Offering has me placed with the Diocese of North Dakota, and I fully believe that it was God’s divine planning that has me here during this time. I am filled with awe and gratitude for all that these last few months have taught me and that the UTO has given to me by allowing me to be in North Dakota.

The Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) denied the permit for the drilling of the Dakota Access Pipeline to be carried under Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri River, yesterday afternoon. This victory came at the same time as a deployment of over 2,000 veterans were arriving and ready to stand with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation. Having so many veterans, many being Native People themselves, here to support Standing Rock, while peacefully and prayerfully showing their disdain for the militarized police’s inhumane treatment of the Water Protectors, was a powerful statement.

I was with the Rev. John Floberg, his staff, and many military chaplains in the Oceti Sakowin Camp, assembling a large tent to be used as the Clergy Tent, when the announcement of the easement denial from ACE came from a man running down the main road of camp telling everyone of the news. Everyone and everything stopped, and then immediately people began checking their phones for verification. With few able to get a signal, everyone began swarming to the sacred campfire that has been burning since the establishment of the camp at the beginning of 2016. It was announced and verified that yes, ACE truly denied the easement, and the celebrations began. Laughter, smiles, sacred dancing and singing, tears, and hugs were all shared. The elation and relief of the camp could be felt. While there are still challenges to face, in that moment, for all there in the camp, and for so many people around the world cheering on the Standing Rock Sioux Nation and the Water Protectors, victory had finally come. This was a moment that will be told throughout history, and the United Thank Offering was present.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017, 7 p.m. ET, and Thursday, January 12, 2017, 7 p.m. ET –
Webinar on the UTO grant process for those who are interested in applying and want help with their applications. Join us on Zoom (click here) or by telephone by dialing +1 408-638-0968 or +1 646-558-8656, Meeting ID: 814 040 8194.

Friday, March 3, 2017, 5 p.m. Eastern Time –
Deadline for submission of UTO Grant applications

Request for Prayers for the 2018 UTO Prayer Booklet

Sandra Squires, UTO Board President

As you may know, every three years, the United Thank Offering gathers original prayers from around the Episcopal Church to create a pocket book of prayers that is available at General Convention. Last Convention, we were able to collect 125 prayers of gratitude in honor of 125 years of the United Thank Offering. This year, we are hoping to collect original prayers from nine categories: gratitude, guidance, fear/danger, forgiveness, healing, loneliness, crisis/dealing with disappointment or crisis, love of God, and other. Children, women, men, clergy, seminarians, or groups may write prayers for this edition of the booklet. We welcome prayers from every diocese and province of the Episcopal Church. Prayers can be submitted in any language and in any format – collect, litany, free form, or prose. We encourage you to listen to the Holy Spirit and write a prayer to be used throughout the Church by individuals, for the opening or closing of meetings, or in a variety of settings.

Please submit all prayers by July 1, 2017. All prayers must be submitted using this webpage. More information about the project can also be found there.


2017 UTO Grant Materials now available!

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