BABYLON, N.Y. – What makes for a great gift this holiday season? For one Babylon church, it’s a large donation with no name on the tag.
Rev. E. Clare Nesmith, the priest-in-charge of Christ Church, almost threw it away. The plain white envelope looked like yet another piece of junk mail. But when she unveiled its contents – $10,000 and a short note, her world came to a sudden halt.
“I was standing when I opened the envelope and was so stunned I had to sit down,” Nesmith said.
Both the size and anonymity shocked the church leader. Smaller donations are not unheard of and a parishioner previously pledged $10,000 to restore a basement kitchen. But Nesmith called the large a pile of cash from an unknown donor “a bolt out of the blue.”
The envelope was placed in the church’s mailbox two days before Thanksgiving and opened the day before. The stamp affixed was not canceled by the U.S. Postal Service and the address was printed from a word processor, leaving church officials at a loss for the identity of their mysterious donor.
“We don’t know where to send a thank you note, so the only way we can thank this donor is through the media,” Nesmith said, adding they also posted a thank you message on the church’s Facebook page. “We want the donor to know how much we appreciate the gift, and are grateful for it, and that it will be used wisely and to the Glory of God.”
Christ Church is the textbook definition of a local house of worship. Located near Village Hall, about 80 parishioners not only attend Episcopal service at the church, but participate in other religious and secular activities. That includes their Nourish Babylon program, an extension of a community effort to feed senior citizens, widows, widowers and other less fortunate neighbors.
The church went before the Zoning Board of Appeals last winter for the Village to consider if a community meal would require additional permission. Despite some opposition from a vocal minority, many Babylonians packed in Village Hall one February evening offered their support. The board determined three months later no permission was required to use the church’s basement kitchen to feed up to 50 individuals a week and the application was dismissed.
Nourish Babylon served its first meal June 29 and continues to offer a warm meal to as many as 70 neighbors 5-7 p.m. every Monday. Coordinator Diane Gaidon described the program as an outgrowth of the church’s mission to feed the hungry and do Christ’s work through both acts of prayer and deeds of service and love. Food comes from donations and a team of 60 volunteers cook, clean and serve.
“Our vision of serving our guests to a fine dining experience in a loving atmosphere requires many volunteers. We are so grateful that many people from outside our parish have joined us in this ministry. There has been an outpouring of goodwill and generosity from the wider community and our guests that I had not anticipated,” Gaidon said. “It really is all about love, and it is a beautiful thing to behold. This ministry is transforming lives, and quite possibly, ours the most.”
The community meal may have a link to last month’s unexpected donation. Nesmith said the stack of cash came with a short note praising Christ Church for Nourish Babylon.
“We are very impressed with your commitment to provide meals to the community of Babylon. We are giving Christ Church an unrestricted gift of $10,000 to continue to do good work in the world. God bless you all.“
Church officials have not yet identified any specific uses for the funds, although they did confirm it could be put to good use with the community meal, capital projects or basic operating expenses. Still struggling significantly after the recession and Superstorm Sandy, Christ Church relies on parishioners to handle secretarial duties, tackle landscaping, clean the building and most other duties. Nesmith is one of two paid employees, both very part-time.
“Everything is done by parishioners,” she said. “This unrestricted gift is the best kind to receive.”
For more information about Christ Church, Nourish Babylon or any affiliated programs, visit the church online or on Facebook. Sunday worship takes place 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., with a Christmas Eve service at 4 p.m. and 10 p.m., and a Christmas Day service at 9 a.m.
Press Release Written by Mike Koehler.
Photo via Christ Episcopal Church’s Official Facebook Page.