The Harvest Offering’s 45 Years of Witness to God’s Grace

Aug 18, 2023

By Nancy Lister-Settle

This year, 2023, marks 45 years that the Presbytery of Des Moines has been faithful to rural neighbors in Iowa and around the world with its own special offering.

In 1978, the Presbytery demonstrated its witness to God’s grace by supporting rural ministries in communities near and far. In the beginning, through the Harvest Sunday Offering, help was provided for educational opportunities to make available to ordinary rural people in less developed countries simple, basic agricultural knowledge special to their own type of agriculture.

In 1987, in response to the farm crisis here at home, the Rural Harvest Offering was born in the midst of very difficult circumstances—farm foreclosures, business closings, population loss. Presbytery members saw the hardships and worked together on a shared mission to meet the particular needs of rural neighbors.

In 1996, after five years of partnership with the Parish of San José in Berlín, El Salvador, a portion of the Rural Harvest Offering was designated for support of rural projects there. And in 2004, the Presbytery’s Joining Hands – Egypt partnership was included.  These two partnerships represented an acknowledgement of the original intent of the Harvest Sunday Offering, to recognize the reality of rural neighbors worldwide as well as the ongoing needs of Iowa’s rural communities.

In recent years, the Presbytery of Des Moines’ Harvest Offering grants have been offered by application to programs and projects that meet the criteria set forth by the Presbytery’s Peace and Justice Committee (now called the Committee for the Promotion of Social Righteousness).  Funding has been provided for a number of local initiatives, and international grants have prioritized women in agriculture who carry an extra burden in their own cultures and economies.

The Harvest Offering is a uniquely hands-on special offering. Congregations are able to share the love of Christ with many friends and neighbors. Past giving supported a wide variety of innovative and inspired projects.  It has provided emergency assistance in the eleventh hour for families and communities on the brink of disaster; it has encouraged ordinary people who care about their community to develop ministries of sharing and development; Iowa Presbyterians have stood together with brothers and sisters at home and afar, and this solidarity has helped to make better life possible.

Over the past 45 years, grants have gone to a wide variety of programs:

  • Dexter Rural Neighbors for emergency assistance and self help activities
  • PrairieFire’s Renewing Rural Iowa, assisting with faith-based, ecumenical community organizing
  • Food for Life for processing donated livestock and distributing meat to families in need in Union County
  • Southern Iowa Ag Diversity Corporation to help diversify agricultural production in order to improve the income levels of the rural population
  • Sharpsburg Presbyterian Church for preservation of the Spring General Store, the town’s only main street business and community gathering place
  • Comm-UNITY for the Common Good in Wayne County for training neighbors to assist neighbors, linking the rural poor to available services, and the following year, to create a used furniture warehouse
  • First Presbyterian Church of Creston for their “backpack mission” providing new backpacks to students in four school districts
  • WeLIFT program to provide individuals with the necessary skills to find employment and function well in the workplace, sponsored by Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Indianola
  • Corning’s weekend backpack project for students who rely on school programs for healthy food

The Committee for the Promotion of Social Righteousness has rededicated the Presbytery’s commitment to the Harvest Offering in its 45th anniversary year to supporting local projects focused on food insecurity.  Although the plight of hungry Iowans is not often on the front page of the news, congregations in the Presbytery recognize that needs still exist and they have a role to play in addressing hunger in their midst.  This year, grants of $1,500 have been made to food pantries in Allerton Presbyterian and First Arabic Presbyterian, and grants of $1000 were given to Windsor Presbyterian and CROSS Outreach.  In addition, $500 was allocated to Corning Presbyterian to help sponsor the local food pantry fundraising efforts.

Each pantry determines its own particular needs and its own protocols.  For example, pastor Melanie Hafferty indicated that the Allerton food pantry often purchases gift cards to be used at the local grocery rather than stocking food that might spoil or go unused.  Assessing the needs and how best to address them is how local programs are most effective.

First Presbyterian Church in Grinnell submitted a grant application for their established mission relationship with the College of Veterinary Medicine in Mekelle, northern Ethiopia.  Recalling the purpose of the original Harvest Sunday Offering, the program was a most fitting recipient of the international portion of the 45th Harvest Offering: “for educational opportunities to make available to ordinary rural people in less developed countries simple, basic agricultural knowledge special to their own type of agriculture.”  In addition, the criteria for 2023’s grants, food insecurity, was also met.

Rev. Kirsten Klepfer submitted the following information:  The program grew from the Peace Corps experience of a Grinnell First Presbyterian member.  At the same time in 2016, links were being made between the College of Veterinary Medicine in Mekelle and the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University.  For the first three years First Presbyterian in Grinnell sent gifts enabling each new Ethiopian veterinarian to receive basic diagnostic equipment.

The Harvest Offering application submission included this current information: Relationships of cooperation and mutual learning were being firmly established.  All that changed dramatically in November 2020, when a genocidal war broke out in northern Ethiopia.  After two years of fighting the College of Veterinary Medicine was ravaged, faculty and staff were not paid for more than two years.  The facility became a make-shift rehabilitation center for people injured in the war, even as its buildings were damaged in the fighting.  The immediate, urgent need is for food assistance for families of faculty and staff, as well as those still rehabilitating at Mekelle University. The Presbytery Committee elected to grant $1,000 to Mekelle University by way of First Presbyterian Church of Grinnell.

The Presbytery of Des Moines’ Harvest Offering continues to serve the needs of local communities, and to bring to light the common issues facing global neighbors.  For the past 45 years, congregations across the Presbytery have shown unflagging support for this unique special offering with innovative ministries and generous giving.

The Harvest Offering can be scheduled at any time during the year as best suits individual congregations.  Grant applications are accepted and reviewed by the Committee for the Promotion of Social Righteousness, and that Committee determines funding. Contact Mission Executive Amgad Beblawi for more information.