When people arrived for worship March 4 at Preston Meadow Lutheran Church, Plano, Texas, they knew something was up, but only the congregation council and staff knew that every family would be leaving with envelopes containing checks totaling $125,000.
For weeks leading up to the day, Paul Mussachio, a pastor of Preston Meadow, had been telling congregants that they could expect something special on March 4.
“Our confirmands came up with the funniest guesses of what was going to happen,” he said. “One thought Beyoncé was coming, and some thought we were building a pool.”
The special moment was part of Preston Meadow’s “joyful generosity” mission, which is inspired by Genesis 12 when Abraham is blessed. At Preston Meadow, the resounding message is: “We’re blessed to be a blessing.”
“Over the past couple of years, we’ve done mission and vision work to refine our culture,” Mussachio said. “We believe God takes care of us for us to take care of others. When we talk about generosity, it isn’t about how much you give, but who you are to others. We boiled all this down into joyful generosity.”
The message of joyful generosity is the undercurrent for all activities at Preston Meadow, and it’s the impetus for the moment that occurred March 4. The idea originated from a faith milestone project fourth-graders complete. As a stewardship lesson, the youth receive envelopes with either $20, $50 or $100. In a week’s time, they use the money to take care of someone else.
“We believe God takes care of us for us to take care of others. When we talk about generosity, it isn’t about how much you give, but who you are to others. We boiled all this down into joyful generosity.”
A handful of members approached Mussachio and said they wanted the whole congregation to have the opportunity to experience what the fourth-graders do—to go out and be generous. And to top it off, they were willing to fund the entire thing.
“My jaw dropped to the floor,” Mussachio said. “We have a large congregation—about 1,000 members. They said they’d thought and prayed about it, and they had a total of $150,000 to distribute across the congregation. It was a totally unexpected gift.”
At the end of worship on March 4, a member gave a stewardship talk about how joyful generosity had mattered to his life, and Mussachio asked each family to send a representative to grab an envelope from a table up front. Then Mussachio explained that they’d just received a check for $250, $500 or $1,000.
“I told them we wanted them to take care of the greatest need God had placed on their hearts,” he said. “If they had medical bills or rent, they could use [the money] on them. They could use it on an organization dear to their heart or to pay for their kids to go to the ELCA Youth Gathering. No strings attached.”
Member Clint Fielding said, “We were awestruck at first. We were kind of at a loss for words, especially when we opened our envelope and realized it contained $1,000.”
There were about 50 to 60 envelopes left of the 300 that were prepared. Everyone who received a check had 30 days to figure out how to use it. They received a packet of information, which included postcards to give to people they shared their gift with that explained the congregation’s joyful generosity mission.
“We were awestruck at first. We were kind of at a loss for words, especially when we opened our envelope and realized it contained $1,000.”
Jim Crouse is on the Preston Meadow council, so he knew about the plan beforehand, but he hadn’t even told his family about it.
“My first reaction was seeing the looks on our congregation as they came forward to receive their envelope after Pastor Paul had explained what was happening,” he said. “The look on their faces was pure joy. I can tell you the Holy Spirit was definitely at work that Sunday.”
Crouse’s family received $500. Like most recipients, they took time to discern how they wanted to use their gift. After prayer and discussion, they decided to send the money to Venezuela.
“We have very close friends whose families still live in Venezuela, and we knew the great needs they have for food and medicine,” Crouse said. “My wife, Shelly, discussed it with our friends and decided to put something on social media to see if we could collect needed items and then use the money we received to pay for the shipping costs.”
The Crouses ended up receiving more than $2,500 in cash and at least $1,500 worth of items to ship.
Fielding’s family decided to split their $1,000 into 10 envelopes, each with $100.
“We then went to some stores to find what we thought may be families in need. We handed them the envelope and walked away,” he said. “We heard some nice responses in the form of cries of joy. One mom even gave my wife a hug and said she wasn’t sure how she was paying for her groceries.”
Other gifts went to local and national organizations, paying people’s medical bills and more. As the gifts were distributed, members posted their giving stories at prestonmeadowgives.org, a website created for sharing the joyful generosity stories. Recipients of the money also went to the site to share their side of the story.
“This church has been a blessing for me today, and I wanted to make sure I let you all know that,” began one story of impact.
Another note said: “My daughter, Sarah, was one of the thousands of people who benefited from your church’s generous gift. I cannot thank you enough. One of your parishioners was kind enough to choose Sarah’s efforts to raise funds for her service dog.”
The outside community wasn’t the only group that was impacted. Preston Meadow’s congregation is still processing the effects of the joyful generosity activity.
“The impact is ongoing, as are the stories of what has happened with the giving,” said Bibs Toney, a member of Preston Meadow’s council. “One of the great outcomes of the ‘BIG GIVE’ is that families had conversations about giving. Children felt valued by their input and now are more aware of the possibilities of joyful generosity. The ripple effect could be unending and so impactful.”
Toney said the “ambitious undertaking” was only a beginning, as the congregation has now extended the joyful generosity movement to worship visitors by giving a $25 donation in their name to a charity of their choosing or one suggested by Preston Meadow.
“Just by visiting, they are making an impact somewhere,” Toney said. “That sends a message of who we are and what our values are.”
Mussachio said the joyful generosity project activated people’s discipleship in a way he’d never seen: “They saw it as not their money but God’s money, and they listened deeply to the needs in their community and sought out God’s will.”
This opportunity, Mussachio added, reinforced Preston Meadow’s mission to be known as a congregation of generosity.
“This came out of us being clear about our mission and vision, and leaning into God’s purpose for us as a church,” he said. “God calls us to be generous and play a part in mending this broken world, and it isn’t just with your wallet. It’s also about spending time and talents, and taking care of relationships around you. When you do that, significant things can happen.”