THIS ONE'S FOR THE LORD
Lord's Acre Sales Teach
Stewardship of Possessions,
Natural Resources & Times
By KATHY BARNES-HEMSWORTH
For decades, Lord's Acre Sales have been a fundraiser for many United Methodist churches. Members bring their homemade foods, fresh produce, and handmade crafts to their church's annual fundraiser, which is traditionally held in September or October.
ACCORDING TO "Things That Work - But Don't Try Them," a book published in 1977 by the Rev. Richard Hamblin, the "Lord's Acre Movement" existed in North Carolina and other states for about 30 years before migrating to Holston Conference in the 1940s.
The Rev. Grady Winegar, conference secretary and former Kingsport District superintendent, recalls the work put into Lord's Acre Sales by Holston congregations.
"Across the street from where I lived as a child in Yuma, Va., a farmer had donated land for Prospect Methodist Church to grow crops for the Lord's Acre Sale," said Winegar.
"The land was used as a cane field. Some of our neighbors had a cane press. A mule would turn the mill and press the juice from the cane. Many hours were spent boiling that juice down to molasses," he explained. "We had many molasses stir-offs. Molasses was one of our main Lord's Acre Sale projects."
Discussing the history of the sales, he said, "In the late 1940s through the 1950s, it was very common for nearly all rural churches and many small-town churches to have Lord's Acre Sales. They were widely promoted all across the conference.
"Lord's Acre Sales were designed to sell homegrown goods - items that could be raised in the garden or on the farm. Apple butter was another common product that was made and sold."
As times changed, so did Lord's Acre Sales. "In the 1960s and '70s, I grew up and was no longer in a small rural church, and more people began to move away from the farms," said Winegar. "Women began getting involved and started making homemade crafts for the sales. So the sales became crafts with some pockets of old-fashioned farm produce."
"There are fewer farms and gardens, so the sales have moved more indoors. But I have many fond memories of the men and women of our church working together for a successful Lord's Acre Sale," he said.
According to the Rev. Roy Howard, a retired clergy member in Chattanooga District, "Lord's Acre Sales began primarily by selling foods raised by the congregation with the proceeds to go to a specific project, such as the church budget, for building upkeep, or for missions.
"Many farmers would set aside a small area of their crop and dedicate it to sell for the annual Lord's Acre Sale," Howard said. "In later years, homemade crafts were added to the items to be sold.
"Lord's Acre Sales were designed as a way for a church to supplement its income. It was to supplement the income for a rural church with low-income people. Most churches had a special project set aside that the sale would fund. Perhaps a percentage would be set aside for foreign missions and the rest for local projects," said Howard.
At Mt. Hebron UMC, a Morristown District church with 75 in average worship attendance, Lord's Acre Sales have been a "main fundraiser" for years, according to Joann Seaton.
"We're a small church," said Seaton, "and we need a fundraiser to help fund maintenance and upkeep on our church building and parsonage. Our Lord's Acre Sale is also a great time for fellowship.
"We have a lot of people from the community and other churches who regularly attend our sale," she said. "They say they come for the good food, so we try our best to prepare a good home-cooked meal."
Discussing the items that sell the best, Seaton said, "We've had quilts in the past and they've never brought the price that we felt they should bring. Our most popular items are our handmade crafts, and seasonal items, such as homemade canned goods like apple butter and holiday-related crafts."
In the Wytheville District, a large ecumenical Lord's Acre Sale is held in Galax, Va., with 40 to 50 participating churches. According to Hamblin, 3,000 to 4,000 people gathered at Galax Fairgrounds for the sale in 1948. Today, average attendance is 5,000 to 7,000 people, with annual net sales between $70,000 and $100,000, according to the Rev. Joe Carrico, pastor at West Galax UMC.
The Galax sale started out with a couple of rules, Carrico said.
"Items to be sold could only be what you had raised yourself or made yourself, and that rule still applies today," he said. "Another rule was that funds raised had to be used for building projects. That rule has changed. Money is now used for all types of church projects. "We keep the Lord's Acre Sale going because it draws a larger crowd than a bazaar or festival. It provides a place for fellowship and worship and is a way to unite denominations," he said. "It is a wonderful time to witness for the Lord." The annual Lord's Acre Sale is a 51-year tradition that takes place the first Saturday in October at Bewley's Chapel UMC in Morristown District.
"Lord's Acre Sales take a lot of work - weeks and weeks of hard work," said Guyman Gregg. "The people of the church work together to make the dinner and sale successful." More than 100 people usually attend the Bewley's Chapel sale. Weeks before, members gather to peel peaches and apples for the homemade peach butter and apple butter. The congregation prepares a covered dish dinner on the Saturday afternoon before the auction. Items such as handmade quilts, crafts, and homemade furniture are most popular. At this year's sale, a quilt made by the women of the church sold for $400.
"On average, the auction makes around $3,000, but after we add the money raised from peach butter and apple butter sales and the money from the dinner, we raise about $5,000," said Gregg. "That money is needed to upkeep and maintain our buildings, pay for heating the buildings, and for insurance."
At First Rogersville UMC in Kingsport District, the congregation raised $3,000 in six hours through the annual sale. According to Carolynn Elder, the money will be used for missions and for building upkeep.
"What makes the Lord's Acre Sale different is that people give from their hearts, hands, and lives for God's work," Elder said.
Kathy Barnes-Hemsworth is Lifestyles Editor for the Newport Plain Talk. She attends Bewley's Chapel UMC in Morristown District.