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The Intentionality of the Irish

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

There are only two types of people in the world: the Irish and those who wish to be Irish.

I bet you thought I would write to you all about Lent … but it’s March and I’m half Irish, so I’m grateful that you have faith communities to talk to you about Lent because I want to talk to you about St. Patrick (who, my husband of English descent would want me to remind you, was English). St. Patrick is known for escaping slavery in Ireland only to return years later to evangelize the Celts. But what people often don’t know is that St. Patrick was successful in his work because he came and lived among the people and helped them weave Christianity into their lives and even their daily activities. Instead of telling people to put aside their pagan ways and come live like him, he created a tapestry of faith that we often refer to as “Celtic Christianity.” Weaving together real life and faith can be a challenge, especially when we are stressed, tired, or not at our best. St. Patrick understood this and encouraged his community to pray each morning for strength and pray with each activity. St. Patrick’s Breastplate, which many of us know in part as Hymn 355, is in some way a great example of his prayers. If you’ve not read the entire prayer, you really should.

In many ways, what UTO is asking us to do is the same as what St. Patrick taught – to turn every opportunity into an opportunity to be grateful. I’m working on this – especially as I drive in New York. This morning on the way to take the girls to preschool, there was an aggressive driver. I commented on his driving skills but then said, “I’m thankful you didn’t hit us and I’m thankful this other person let us into the lane we needed.” I instantly felt better. Instead of holding onto the stress and frustration of the first driver, I focused on the good. Gratitude comes in all forms, and gratitude can shift our energy and the energy of those around us. If we seek to weave gratitude into the fabric of our being and our daily lives, then things will change. I’m also half German, so in the midst of all of this I am reminded of Meister Eckhart who said, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.” Gratitude will always be enough, especially if we weave it so tightly into our lives and routines that it becomes the foundation of our actions and not simply a response to others’ actions. So this month, as you eat soda bread and see shamrocks and all things Irish, I hope you will be reminded of the gifts of St. Patrick and his call to make prayer the center of our lives and to weave gratitude deeply into the fabric of our being.

2016 Grant Update: Eucharistic-Centered Gardening

by Taylor Poindexter Devine, Student at Virginia Theological Seminary

Note: This is a report on one of our first grants to seminarians. The grant provided funds to start a garden to provide wheat for communion bread. What is so wonderful about this project is that, like many UTO grants, there were challenges in trying something new that were met with grace and determination.

The wheat garden at Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) has brought together faculty, staff, students, spouses, children, the former presiding bishop, and the administration. It is a wonderful space full of blessing and hope, ritual, and time spent together. Although we had a post-harvest crop loss, we learned so much, were brought together as a community, and produced an incredibly fertile field ready for future planting. The field is designed with a cross-shaped wood-chip path, with a circle in the middle for contemplation or conversation. The four quadrants demonstrate different methods of wheat planting: scattering, planting in lines, and System of Root Intensification (SRI) – a sustainable method of increasing yield for small-scale farmers. One SRI quadrant yielded more than twice that of the rest of the field combined! This was the third year of growing wheat at VTS, and it has become part of our campus identity. We look forward to applying what we have learned in the next season, and in our future parishes.

The garden was blessed by our dean and president before planting, and it was blessed with sacred corn pollen and the four-directions prayer by our fellow student and priest, the Rev. Cornelia Eaton. The garden was the site of our Earth Day evening prayer service, led by Cornelia. And it was the location of many work days, including for the former Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts-Schori who helped out while a resident on campus during the Spring 2016 semester).

Due to a rainy spring, we had pockets where the wheat drowned, and there we planted three upland rice varieties that are native to this region as an experiment for the future. There are a number of people who take a gluten-free communion in our community, so this was an important test. We used sustainable methods, as proposed, and were blessed by a rancher turned fellow student who knew a lot about digging deep holes for fencing and installed the pilings for our netting fence. The netting was draped over high-strength parachute cord, and anchored by 4x4 posts. The netting team was headed by the Rev. Catharine Gibson. Her team continued their work through the summer of tending, weeding, and maintaining the wheat. Unfortunately, there is no netting on the market that is truly bird-safe, and some black birds became trapped in their search for the grain and died. This resulted in the netting becoming a bit mangled, and it was a bit unpleasant for the summer team. In the end, the netting was removed and scare tape used instead. Despite losses from the birds, when the wheat was cut, we yielded three large bins. It was stored in the attic of a maintenance building and was not immediately threshed (which separates the wheat and the chaff). Unfortunately, rodents (which had not previously been an issue in that building) infested the grain, making it unsuitable for human consumption. Since the wheat had been blessed, we returned it to the communion field to enrich the soil for next year.

The loss of the grain was felt deeply by those of us who invested so much of our time and effort. The plot was big enough to have supplied wheat flour to use for communion at VTS for the whole year. However, in reflection on the work, the blessing of the project, and the more than 50 people who participated in enriching this soil, we realize that we are not left empty-handed. The nature of this garden brought students out to proclaim that this patch of earth is important to us and to God, and song and prayer were shared on what is becoming holy ground.

It is a beautiful site for reflection, and the soil is richer than ever. What was once impenetrable hardpan clay, in which even grass had difficulty growing, is now rich black soil, soft enough to scoop up in your hand and filled with earthworms! The preschoolers who go to school by it know the farmers, and the communal memory of blessing there is deep.

Each year, we learn new things about farming and make plans to improve our efforts in the next year. Like so many other farmers, we learn more from failure than from success. We have determined for next year that it will be better to plant spring wheat, which matures in August, rather than winter wheat, which matures in July when most people are off campus. We will only net part of the field, and net it tightly and square to reduce birds getting caught. We will use scare tape for the rest of the field. We will not plant rice because we don’t get enough rain in August to allow for proper yield and the weeding requires too much effort.

We have a growing food culture at VTS: a successful honey harvest this year engaged the whole community and we have 10 families who have bought into a local Community Supported Agriculture share that has a drop-off across from VTS. We tend the soil so that richer things can happen after we are gone. In the spring, the Cultivate VTS volunteers will plant wheat, likely with support of our New Testament professor, who can provide some commentary. We hope to pass on what we know in a series of large-scale work gatherings, which worked well last spring, and we would like to plant some bulbs and diverse plant life along one of the edges for use as altar flowers. We hope to have a wheat harvest next year, but we are already reaping the harvest of this richer soil, this uplifted garden staff with whom we work, and this more engaged community.

Thank you so much for your investment in our future!

Quick UTO Promotional Idea

Diocese of Los Angeles

Recently we got word of an awesome project in the Diocese of Los Angeles to promote UTO. Have you seen the small plastic tubes of mini M&Ms? One congregation is using the blue tubes to introduce UTO for a short period of time. The tubes hold coins beautifully and are easy to toss in your bag and carry with you for the week. The coordinator hands out these tubes full of M&Ms and asks that they bring them back the next week full of coins. What a great idea and especially great for kids of all ages who love M&Ms!

UTO: Our Heritage as Missionaries

by Marcie Chérau, Vice President, UTO Board

The United Thank Offering reflects the historic role of women missionaries. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, Episcopal women promoted and funded much of the missionary outreach of the Church.

Two of the earliest UTO Grants, awarded in 1886 and in 1901, supported missionaries to work with the “colored” people in the South. Through grants such as these, the following two women made a great difference in the lives of many children and adults.

Deaconess Anna Alexander made her life’s work the education of poor black children in the lowlands of southern Georgia. Born in 1865 to emancipated slaves, she was recognized as a devout, godly and respected colored woman by Bishop C. Nelson at the Convention for Colored Episcopalians, who admitted her as deaconess.

Bishop F. F. Reese, of Georgia, told the 1930 Convention delegates of the “faith, courage, and persistency of this good woman.” Deaconess Alexander assisted many children in receiving a quality education, many of whom went on to technical school and to college. She was named a Saint of Georgia by the Diocese of Georgia in 1998, and in 2015, September 24 was added to A Great Cloud of Witnesses as her feast day.

UTO has also been instrumental in helping to provide housing for women workers and deaconesses. One such grant was awarded in 1919, possibly assisting Harriet Bedell in her quest to become a deaconess. After completing her training, Deaconess Bedell was sent to an Oklahoma Mission for the Cheyenne Indians. She later went to Alaska and worked tirelessly for the native people of Alaska. In 1933, she was invited to visit a Seminole Indian reservation in southern Florida. Seeing the great need there, she began campaigning to improve the quality of life among the Miccosukee Seminole Indians. Deaconess Bedell lived and worked with the Indians, promoting health and education. She sought to revive doll making and basket weaving, which had become nearly extinct, and encouraged women to include their intricate patchwork designs into clothing articles to be sold at the Mission Store. Known as the “Deaconess of the Everglades,” she won the respect of indigenous people wherever she worked through her compassion and her respect for their way of life and beliefs. Deaconess Bedell also is included in A Great Cloud of Witnesses, and her feast day is celebrated on January 8, the anniversary of her death.

Most of us are not able to enter the mission field, but we can support projects that will help many people in need. Every penny you save and put into the UTO Blue Box will help those less fortunate and will help us extend our missionary ministry.

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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 beginning 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.

Call for Educational Resources

Please remember that we are collecting any ideas for ways to promote UTO in a parish or diocese. Please send all of your ideas for a new resource guide to

Thank you for your help!


2017 Young Adult and Seminarian Grants Awarded

Send us your stories!
We want to hear from you and share how UTO works in your church or how your grant project is going! Please email articles for the e-newsletter to Heather along with a photo.

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