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First Thoughts: Lenten coin folders sparked giving, vision


By Larry Hollon

The Rev. Larry Hollon
The Rev. Larry Hollon

Every year on the first Sunday in Lent, my Sunday school teachers distributed cardboard coin holders about the size of a small book. We were instructed to put a nickel, dime or quarter in each of the 40 slots in the folder, one coin per day throughout Lent.

We were taught that self-denial was an important part of Lent because it helps us to follow Jesus who gave his life for us because he loved us. In response to God's love, as shown through the self-giving of Jesus, we do something to symbolize our willingness to deny ourselves. Giving to the work of the church is one way to accomplish this.

My Sunday school teachers taught that personal piety is only part of a faithful response to God's love. Faithfulness also includes reaching out to others, extending God's love.

Self-denial leads us to that outward expression of faithfulness. We don't merely receive the gift of God's love and then rest in that assurance. We also share it with others in many ways, one of which is to share our coins with those who may have it harder than we do.

I must confess that it became a source of pride to me to fill my coin folder completely by Easter Sunday when we children were invited to participate by coming forward during the offering and placing our folders on the altar. That was a big deal to me.

But that coin folder also represented participation in a larger community. I understood I was doing something greater than I could do alone. I could make a difference to someone half a world away because the church used the coins to help people around the world.

I learned that sacrificial giving was a challenge with important religious meaning.

Looking back, I realize that the Lenten coin folder was one way the church gave me a vision for a world beyond the horizon of the small towns in which I lived. I was becoming aware that the world was bigger and the needs of people were greater than what I could see before me with my own eyes.

And I was part of a larger group of people, a family of faith, who shared this value of an outward-bound expression of faithfulness. A commitment to God connected intimately with caring about others.

Much later, I would learn about a system of giving through which our church was connected with others and that this connection spread across the world, giving my gift even greater scope and scale than I could have imagined as a child.

I hear this understanding repeated today as children tell their stories about raising funds for Imagine No Malaria. In this effort, the people of The United Methodist Church are participating in transformative global change.

Through the Lenten coin folder, the church introduced me to a global vision that grew as I grew older. That vision has shaped me and given me a framework through which I can view the world. I understand I am connected with others who share that vision, and together we can dare to speak of transforming a broken world because we apprehend the love of God as revealed in the self-giving act of Jesus on the cross.

Sometimes, we United Methodists forget the life-changing power of this Wesleyan view and how it helps us to see that our faith intersects with the world. We forget that the scope and scale of our family of faith, through the grace of God, has real, concrete transformative capacity. We might even underestimate the strength and value of this asset known as "the connection."

My global awareness has grown with time and age. But it all began with a simple Lenten coin folder filled with nickels, dimes and quarters and the teaching that the sacrificial love of God that embraces me impels me to love others, no matter who or where they are because we are all included in this story of God's unbounded love for the whole world.

The Rev. Larry Hollon is publisher of Interpreter and general secretary of United Methodist Communications. Read his FAITH MEDIA + CULTURE blog at