By David Paulsen
Episcopal News Service
This year marks the 100th anniversary of The Episcopal Church’s Good Friday Offering, which raises money to support Anglican ministries in the Middle East, and church officials are hopeful for a rebound in gifts after annual totals dipped during the pandemic.
“The Good Friday Offering offers us the opportunity to celebrate and rejoice in the hope and opportunity for the very young and the very old, for needy families, students, and many others in the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in a Lenten letter about the centennial.
The church also released a video of Curry speaking about the Good Friday Offering as part of a video series featuring all three living presiding bishops, to encourage Episcopalians to give. In the weeks leading up to Good Friday on April 15, the church has been looking back on the history of the offering.
The Good Friday Offering was created in the aftermath of World War I in an attempt to foster relationships with Christians in the Middle East by supporting relief work and ecumenical partnerships. The idea was first proposed in 1922 by the Rev. William Chauncey Emhardt, a church field officer, after visiting Europe and the Middle East, according to the online history of the Good Friday Offering, which provides summaries by decade.
The first offering raised $18,000, and annual totals fluctuated between $20,000 and $40,000 during the Great Depression and World War II. A document from 1933 said the offering “assists churches of the Bible lands beginning at Jerusalem.” Through its 100 years, that assistance has supported causes ranging from educating children of all faiths to alleviating hunger in the region, as well as emergency funding. In 1967, Anglican leaders in Jordan used $5,000 from the Good Friday Offering to cope with a frozen bank account related to that year’s Arab-Israeli war.
In 2008, then-Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori presented the Good Friday Offering check for $159,000 in person during her trip to the Holy Land and learned that part of the gift would be used to finish construction of St. Andrew’s Daycare Clinic in Ramallah, West Bank.
“It was just a great delight to be in the presence of this burgeoning new ministry,” Jefferts Schori, who led the church from 2006 to 2015, said in a church-released video interview for the Good Friday Offering’s centennial. Healing work is “what we’re about as Christians,” she said. “That’s what Muslims understand that they are about. That’s what Jews understand that they are about. And when we are focused on the core of our faith, miracles happen.”
Today, the church continues to give the money that is raised each year through the offering to the Anglican province to support what it identifies as the most pressing needs in its dioceses. That has included conferences and summer camps for children, women’s empowerment programs, an eye clinic and other medical ministries.
The resources entrusted to the Anglican province “do immense good,” said the Rt. Rev. Frank Griswold, presiding bishop from 1998 to 2006. In the church’s video interview with Griswold, he noted that the Good Friday Offering has been used to buy medical equipment at Anglican hospitals and laptops for students at Anglican schools. It also supports ecumenical and interfaith initiatives in the region that serve the cause of peace, he said.
“When people of various faith communities can work together in some common, focused work that benefits a particular community or address a particular problem, I think that is probably the most important way in which faiths can discover one another as brothers and sisters,” Griswold said.
The Good Friday Offering raised a record $560,000 in 2019, but proceeds dropped to less than $100,000 in 2020, when nearly all gifts were collected online because of widespread suspensions of in-person worship.
The total from the 2021 Good Friday Offering will be released later this year, pending a standard audit. It was more than in 2020 but still much less than the pre-pandemic average, according to the Ven. Paul Feheley, the church’s Middle East partnership officer.
“Without a doubt, the last couple of years, because of COVID, our donations have gone down,” Feheley said in an interview with Episcopal News Service. “We’re really hoping that the centennial will give us the opportunity to sort of bring it back into people’s minds and hearts.”
The offering’s pandemic drop occurred just as the Anglican dioceses that the offering benefits were hit hard by the pandemic, including financially. “Virtually all the ministries have struggled,” Feheley said, but despite the hardships, the province and its three dioceses continue to be “a voice of reconciliation among the religions there.”
The Diocese of Jerusalem, for example, operates two charitable hospitals, Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza and St. Luke’s in the West Bank city of Nablus, as well as the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf in Jordan and the Princess Basma Centre for Disabled Children in East Jerusalem. In the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf, The Episcopal Church has partnered with Iraqis on local ministries, such as an economic development program aimed at supporting chicken farmers. The province also includes the Diocese of Iran.
“Over the years, the Good Friday Offering has been an absolutely key and hugely appreciated component of our life in this tumultuous region,” Archbishop Michael Lewis, primate of the province, said in a video message for the offering’s centennial.
In addition to giving to the Good Friday Offering while attending services April 15 in an Episcopal church, donations can be made now by visiting iam.ec/goodfridayoffering or by texting ‘GFO’ to 91999.