Leading by Example: Leaders Use Laity Academy to Spur $250,000 Campaign in Hightstown

August 14, 2019 | | GNJ News, Laity Leadership

Methodism began as a lay movement, and GNJ laity embrace that history by equipping themselves to support their clergy and congregations to become more vital. That vitality is evident in Hightstown, where a team of laity took full advantage of the tools of last year’s Laity Leadership Academy to jump start their capital campaign.

The United Methodists of Greater New Jersey’s 2019 Laity Leadership Academy, a day that recognizes that no one is ever alone and that miracles can happen as it empowers others to be church leaders, kicks off on Saturday, September 28.

The Laity Leadership Academy, which is designed to provide tools and skills for leaders facing the challenges of the 21st century, offers four different tracks to help laity and their churches become stronger and more in touch with their missions.

The First United Methodist Church (UMC) of Hightstown, led by Pastor Sammy Arroyo, is one church that has embraced what they learned in the last academy and applied it to their own church in a transformative way.

“It was an inspiration. I can’t say enough about the class,” said lay member Judy DiCecco who is a lifetime member of the Mercer County church with a congregation of about 200 and a strong advocate of instituting change at her church.

DiCecco, who runs the church’s Little Beavers Preschool among many other responsibilities like photography and the weekly bulletins, enrolled in the “Generosity vs Funding” track with United Methodist Stewardship Foundation’s Executive Director Rev. Jana Purkis-Brash in October 2018.

“She walked the entire journey with us,” DiCecco said of Purkis-Brash who has more than 35 years of experience in development. “She even paid for the cake at our celebration!”

After reading Henri Nouwen’s “The Spirituality of Fundraising” as part of the course and learning that how you frame your ask is vital during a fundraising campaign, DiCecco dove back into the church’s fundraising strategy with new knowledge and a renewed spirit.

“The light bulbs went off when we learned that we needed to invite them to be partners instead of just asking for money,” said the lay leader who has been entrenched in her church’s culture and committed to its growth since retiring from her 42-year career as a teacher in East Windsor.

DiCecco also applied for a $500 grant. The money helped pay for the mailing of handwritten notes to potential donors.

With the help of Purkis-Brash, who returned in January to offer more advising, Hightstown UMC relaunched its capital campaign to significantly renovate the 121-year-old structure since being condemned in the late-1990s.

By April 7, the day of the church’s celebration, nearly all of the $250,000 goal had been raised.

“It was a wonderful celebration,” said DiCecco who added that all the food was donated from local restaurants for the event.

With the raised funds in hand, construction at the church resumed on April 29. With the main level expected to be complete by September, the project also includes adding a new entryway as well as an elevator.

“It was a simple, eye-opening experience that I will never forget,” said DiCecco.

In the midst of this fundraising to preserve its future, the Hightstown UMC continues to serve its community. From community hot meals served every Thursday from 4-5:30 p.m. in the finished basement as part of a partnership with Rise Community Services and the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (TASK) to a summer basketball program and the Waves of Grace Women’s Retreat this past April, the Hightstown UMC is making a difference in a transformative way.

For more information, please visit here, where you might also check out the church’s unique and interesting history that dates all the way back to a tavern in 1786.

Find out more about the 2019 Laity Leadership Academy here.