by Olivia Martin
LEAWOOD — Everyone sitting in the pews at Curé of Ars Church here was shocked by the words of their pastor a few weekends ago.
“Today I’m going to say something you’ve never heard before in a church,” said Father Rick Storey during his homily. “Today we’re giving you money.”
He paused and wiped his forehead with a handkerchief.
“And you can’t give it back,” he added.
Every person in the church, including children too small to walk, came forward after the homily and received an envelope containing either a $1, $5, $10 or $20 bill.
“I told them you cannot keep it,” said Father Storey. “You can’t just throw it back in the collection box.”
They needed to do something with it.
“You can pool your money,” he told his parishioners. “You have to be creative in going out and doing something with it out in the world.”
It was a reverse collection, and it had been in the works for months.
Toward the end of 2017, a family approached Father Storey with a $25,000 donation, desiring to anonymously give back to the parish community that had given them so much.
After some discussion, they agreed Lent was the perfect time to do it.
So, 5,000 envelopes with a portion of the parable of the talents (Mt 25:14-19) printed on the outside were filled and distributed the weekend of Feb. 24-25 and March 4.
“For me, it was really startling because we do receive a lot from the church, but to receive actual money was definitely surprising!” said parishioner Fred Kaffenberger. “It spurred us to think of charity that we maybe have put off.”
“When Karen (his wife) and I got home we said, ‘OK, let’s pass this on right away,’” he said, an eagerness many parishioners shared.
“What was really cool was that after Mass,” said Father Storey, “there were still people in the back of the church — lots of families — talking about what they’re going to do.”
“Some of the most creative ways were just hearing the kids talk,” he added.
Kim Hammers, vice principal of Curé of Ars School, attended one of the reverse collection Masses with her husband and her two children, who are 8 and 6 years old.
“As soon as we got to the car, we opened the envelopes,” said Hammers, “and they were so excited. We went to lunch after Mass and talked about what we could do with it.”
After throwing out several ideas, the Hammers family decided to donate to The LIGHT House, a Christian maternity-care facility that encourages young mothers to place their child up for adoption or raise him or her as an alternative to abortion.
“We decided we would go shopping and buy diapers and let the kids pick out toys,” said Hammers. “They liked the idea of shopping for other children — it makes sense to them to help other kids.”
The reverse collection was a drop of water whose effects are already rippling out into the community and world.
“I’ve received a lot of emails,” said Father Storey, “and people were saying ‘If you thought this kind gesture was going to stay in your community, I assure you it didn’t.’”
Emails from San Francisco, New York, Minneapolis, Oklahoma and Nashville, Tennessee, reached Father Storey the following week — all from people who happened to be visiting Curé of Ars during the reverse collection.
More impressive than the distance are the ways people have already begun using their reverse collection money to do good.
“Everybody was going out of the door to make a difference,” said Father Storey. “It’s amazing.”
The Kaffenbergers, who decided to use their money to help the clients of reStart, an organization that helps young adults rise out of homelessness, specifically decided to purchase various pieces of art to give as housewarming gifts.
“It’s important for people to have some beauty in their lives,” said Kaffenberger, “and art is something they can take with them no matter where they go.”
Though the excitement of the reverse collection will abate, the heightened awareness will remain.
“It was a way to get people excited about who we are because it’s an act of being Christian,” said Hammers. “I want my kids to learn that.”
“More than anything,” said Kaffenberger, “it was a tangible reminder of how much the church gives to us and the responsibility to share what we’ve been given.”
Father Storey was amazed at the energy the reverse collection gave rise to and how clearly it illustrated to parishioners the responsibility of the baptized.
“What if the apostles had received the gift of the Eucharist and never shared it with us?” said Father Storey. “That was the challenge — to not only receive, but then to realize that it’s in giving that we receive.”