History of Week of Compassion

By Megan Severns
Rev. Megan Huston serves as Associate Pastor of First Christian Church, Bowling Green, KY.  She researched and wrote this history while serving as a Week of Compassion intern from 2007-2008.

Intro: In researching the history of Week of Compassion, I have found an abundance of material at the Disciples of Christ Historical Society. I compared notes, conducted interviews, and did my best to discover the origins of the organization. History, though, is an interpretation. This timeline, I present as my most faithful attempt of discovering the origins, tracing the development, and highlighting those key moments in the history of Week of Compassion.

I am indebted to those before me who have delved into this intense work of researching this organization. Reverend Gregory Ott provided essential research in his excellent paper on this History of Week of Compassion and through his personal assistance. Diane Faires traced the history of Week of Compassion in a paper, as well, and her paper is how I started my research. Roland Huff, former director of Week of Compassion was crucial in understanding the transitions of this ministry. Finally, to those at the Disciples of Christ Historical Society, I am especially grateful for the countless trips to the basement to recover the oldest documents which mention Week of Compassion. Without the countless acts of generosity on the part of DCHS, this timeline would not have been written.

A Timeline: From Charity to Development

March 24, 1938 The first "Brotherhood Dinner" is held with the goals of increasing a sense of cohesiveness in order to become a greater force of advancement in the Kingdom of God, creating a more vital awareness of being a part of the brotherhood and strengthening local churches. An offering is to be taken up, a certain amount based on a person's age, to "do something to for the advancement of world causes of the brotherhood."1

October 23, 1939 The board of managers of the United Christian Missionary Society recommends the "Committee for China Relief" "to serve as the agency of the churches in the United States in the field of China Relief." They call attention to "the appalling distress resulting from the hostilities in China and urge their generous support."2

February 19, 1941 The "Brotherhood Dinner" is held and proceeds will go to assisting British churches in their missionary work in Africa, India and Siam. This is decided by the "Committee for China Relief."3

May 5, 1941 At the International Convention (i.e. General Assembly) in 1941, two major recommendations are made concerning relief. The first is that the United Christian Missionary Society (UCMS) reports that the Committee for China Relief will become the

Committee on Relief, which will cover broader relief appeals around the globe, including efforts such as, Stranded Missionaries, the missionary work of the brotherhood's British Churches, and other calls issued by the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America.4

The second major recommendation was the launch of the Emergency Million Campaign. This campaign was held in order to "meet unprecedented demands made upon the brotherhood cooperative work by situations created by World War II, to clear agencies of the burden of indebtedness, and to under gird brotherhood activities for a forward looking program."5 The significance of this campaign is that it was reported in The Evangelist in 1942, that, "When the Emergency Million Campaign was launched it was the hope of those working out the plans that there could be included in it a sum of relief appeals... But it was found impossible to include this appeal in the Emergency Million." Those listed to receive relief included the Church Committee for China Relief, Central Bureau for Relief of the Evangelical Churches in Europe, American Friends Services Committee, along with many others. The relief that was not raised in this campaign would be raised in the first Day of Compassion. 6

March 1, 1942 In order to raise relief funds, which were intended to be sent out as a result of the Emergency Million Campaign, the Board of Trustees of the United Christian Missionary Society designated March 1st as a Day of Compassion. This offering would be organized by The Committee on Relief Appeals, and would serve as the Disciples way of reviewing requests and promote offerings for relief efforts around the world (a theme we will see later in Week of Compassion). For many years, March 1st was observed as a day of preaching on foreign missions. "In the face of the foreign relief needs as a result of the war, the UCMS, to whom has been allocated the first Sunday in March as a preaching day, has offered to the Committee on Relief Appeals of the International Convention for this one year this day as an occasion for the presentation of such emergency relief needs."7

January 20, 1943 The Brotherhood Dinner is sponsored by the Committee on Relief appeals hold a "Belt Supper". This name originated in Switzerland at suppers being held by youth groups. The idea was that one wears a tight belt to dinner so that he or she will not need to eat much. The theme of the dinner is "Humanity Hungers" and the hope is that "Christ will be present- the Christ who is always 'moved with compassion' by hunger and sickness."8 The offering will go to the Committee on Foreign Relief Appeals, which has chosen eight participating causes. These causes include: The Church Committee on China Relief, the Central Bureau for Relief of Evangelical Churches, the American Committee for Christian Refugees, the American Friends Service Committee, the YMCA War Prisoners' Work, the YWCA Emergency Fund, the International Missionary Council through its Orphaned Missions Program, and the American Bible Society. These are the same organizations ones noted in the Day of Compassion article from 1942 as not receiving relief from the Emergency Million campaign.9

May 19, 1943 The Wartime Service Fund is approved. This sets the goal of raising $250,000, which will be done through the first ever Week of Compassion. This fund is to assist "the work of the Committee on War Services, pensions for Chaplains in the armed forces, and the inadequacies of our response to the call of the Church Committee on Relief and Reconstruction."10 The Committee on Relief and Reconstruction was an organization of the Federal Council of Churches which responded to needs which emerged from World War II.

February 20-27, 1944 1st Week of Compassion!!! Funds raised through this week of collections will go to the Wartime Service Fund. On the advertising material, there are pictures of malnourished children and American troops receiving aid.

February 18-25, 1945 2nd Week of Compassion

February 15-22, 1948 Week of Compassion partners with CWS who has minimal overhead.

March 12, 1950 Week of Compassion partners with One Great Hour of Sharing for the first time.

February 1951 Week of Compassion, from its origins, promoted unity among denominations. The World Call says Week of Compassion partners with the organization Interchurch Aid which claims it "is not charity". Robert Tobias says that Interchurch Aid is concerned, "'with healing, yes, but also with God's love and reconciliation and unity and fellowship. Interchurch aid,' he said, 'is not charity. It is the churches holding in common with their Author, their destiny, their resources, their struggles and opportunities. Interchurch living must go on so long as there are churches and they have an Author and a commission and a world of opportunity.'"11

February 1953 Evidence appears of development work alongside charity. The World Call shows a photograph of German patients in a TB Sanatorium learning a new trade. This project is maintained by church funds and supervised by a skilled craftsman.

May 1953 Week of Compassion responds to a flood in Holland. This is the first evidence of Week of Compassion responding to natural disasters, a mission which remains constant today.12

October 1956 Parker Rowe, a young Disciple who served as a member of an ecumenical service team sponsored by World Council of Churches, is featured in an article for World Call. He calls for churches to focus service on working as equals with the people.13

February 1960 World call says that through Week of Compassion, "...the churches are challenged to support projects that help people regain their self-respect and that equip them to make a living." It is at this time there is a shift from relief and war service work to relief and development work.14

January 1965 World Call reports that Week of Compassion helps resettle 8,000 refugees in India. The Families built their own homes, receiving wages for their work, "to help on the road back to self-support." Food rations were given and "Bengal Refugee Service assisted the refugees with small loans, tools and materials to help them build a school and community center. Medical care and a milk distribution program for children, vocational training for adults and a small industries program are being continued in the area."15

February 1966 Ronald Huff, director of Week of Compassion, writes the article "This Is an Emergency!" It is a call for a focus on development alongside relief work.16 Dr. Huff says that it was after the immediate needs of World War II had been met, and there were still homeless refugees that Week of Compassion began to think about how it could help the refugees support themselves rather than continuing to give out food and support dependence.17

1971 Purpose of Week of Compassion as revised by the Ecumenical Support and Week of Compassion Committee: - To provide a channel of ready and compassionate response for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and its members when confronted with widespread human distress caused by natural disaster or political crisis.

  • To respond to ecumenical requests concerning programs of self-help and development overseas among peoples victimized by economic, sociological, educational, or spiritual privation.
  • To provide a means of ecumenical fellowship and participation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the USA or elsewhere experiencing severe distress as the result of natural disaster.
  • To help meet the need for interchurch aid from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) when other structures of the church are temporarily unable to respond.18

September 1973 Miss. Marilynne Hill, a former teacher in India succeeds Roland Huff as the executive director of Week of Compassion.

December 2, 1976 Harvey A. Ruegseggar sends a letter to a number of people affiliated with Week of Compassion requesting additional assistance for domestic disaster response to a flood in Loveland, Colorado. He says that Week of Compassion has sent $1500, but the area needs more, noting that his congregation has supported Week of Compassion for years. He says, "I did not understand that domestic disasters were not considered within the Week of Compassion Program. I feel that people who hurt- bleed the same blood wherever they are."

Although there is evidence of greater funds being sent to local congregations domestically, a response is sent that explains that traditionally domestic response has been no more than $1000 for immediate emergencies. The letter includes a check for $5000 additional to what had previously been sent and explains that the Week of Compassion committee has begun reviewing how Disciples can best respond to domestic disasters.19 By 1977, partially due to this correspondence, Week of Compassion developed a response to deal with needs domestically as a result of natural disaster.20

1980 Formerly a part time job, the office of voluntary service is now a full-time position. The office is funded by Week of Compassion, administered by the department of church in society of the Division of Homeland Ministries.21

1984 For the first time, the regular offering was more than $2,000,000!

1985 Larry Tankersley, former local pastor and missionary, becomes the administrative director of Week of Compassion.

October 27, 1992 Johnny Wray is appointed as administrative director of Week of Compassion. His priority is to connect the work of Week of Compassion with local congregations.22

1993 Work Trip Grants are given to more than 30 volunteer groups that worked in Midwest Flood or South Florida hurricane rebuilding projects. This priority for work trip grants shows a commitment to getting local congregations involved in "hands-on" work of Week of Compassion.

1995 Week of Compassion begins its "Compassion Partner Fund" to provide financial assistance to Disciples groups involved in volunteer mission opportunities.23

June 1997 Week of Compassion officially created the Week of Compassion Endowment Fund to undergird Week of Compassion's witness by encouraging and enabling Disciples to participate in that witness "in perpetuity."24

2001 Week of Compassion partners with Church Finance Council to bring its first delegation of ministers to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The trip was taken in order to help stimulate interest in the local congregations of the partnerships Week of Compassion has and how the organization operates on the ground.

2005 In response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the tsunami in Asia, the offering of Week of Compassion is the largest it has even been, totaling $9,422,821, which is three times what Disciples normally give to Week of Compassion, enabling Disciples to support more local relief agencies for longer periods of time along the ravaged Gulf Coast.

Reverend Amy Gopp begins her ministry as associate director of Week of Compassion. She will focus on helping Week of Compassion forge new relationships with youth, young adults, seminarians, new churches and various constituencies within the larger church. This is Week of Compassion's first ever, second full-time staff position.

June 2005 Week of Compassion sponsored, in partnership with the Oreon E. Scott Foundation and Church World Service, a leader development trip to Bosnia- Herzegovina with ten Disciples seminarians. The trip gave the seminarians an opportunity to see firsthand the kind of work, Disciples, through Week of Compassion, support in the world, including disaster response, assistance to uprooted and displaced persons, and sustainable development projects- all within an ecumenical context. This tradition continues today to inspire new leaders in the church to support the work of Week of Compassion in their ministries.25

October 2008 Amy Gopp is named Executive Director of Week of Compassion by an executive search committee, following the announcement of Johnny Wray's resignation to be effective December 31, 2008.

December 2008 On December 31, 2008, Johnny Wray ended his tenure with Week of Compassion. Under his leadership the partnership of WoC with Disciples congregations and members was tremendously strengthened. Ecumenical partner relationships were also strengthened, and their number increased. The WoC endowment fund was established during this time; the Compassion Response Fund was developed and experienced a growth in its budget from 100K to 600K; the Work Trip Grant Fund was established to nurture and facilitate congregational work trips; and the WoC website was launched.

September 2009 Brandon Gilvin is named Associate Director.

March 2011 Johnny Wray is hired as Associate for Resource Development, focusing on the continued growth of WoC's Endowment Program.

TODAY, Week of Compassion, through its partnerships, will respond to human needs around the world. Disciples bring hope to situations of natural disaster, war and famine, more efficiently than ever before thanks to the faithful gifts of local congregations. With your continued support, Week of Compassion will remain responsive to Christ's call to both short term relief and long term partnerships in order to empower our brothers and sisters around the world.

 

Footnotes: 
1 "Brotherhood Dinner- March 24." World Call 20:3(1938): 7. 
2 International Convention. Record Group 5:B, Assemblies, Folder #89, 4, Disciples of Christ Historical 
Society, Nashville, TN. 
3 International Convention. Record Group 5:B, Assemblies, Folder #96, Disciples of Christ Historical Society, Nashville, TN. 
4 Ibid. 
5 "Emergency Million Receives Enthusiastic Support of 100." Christian-Evangelist 79:7(1941): 785. 
6 "Relief Appeals On March 1st ." Christian-Evangelist 80:2(1942): 220. 
7 "A Day of Compassion ." World Call 24:3(1942): 11. 
8 "Belt Supper." Christian-Evangelist 81(1943): 3. 
9 "Brotherhood Dinner On January 20th" Christian-Evangelist 81 (1943):13. 
10 International Convention. Record Group 5:B, Assemblies, Folder #109, 4, Disciples of Christ Historical Society, Nashville, TN. 
11 Tobias, Robert. "What Does Your Money Buy?." World Call 30:4(1948): 26-27. 
12 In as much..." World Call 35:2(1953): 24-25. 
13 "A 'Most Promising Venture'" World Call 38:10(1956): 28. 
14 "Worlds Needs Demand Continuing Compassion" World Call 43:2(1960): 26-27. 
15 "New Hope for the Homeless ." World Call 48:1(1965): 19-20. 
16 Huff, Roland K. "This Is an Emergency!" World Call 49: 2 (!966): 36. 
17 Huff, Roland. Telephone interview. 24 Sept. 2007. 
18 Austin, Spencer P. "Committee on Week of Compassion." Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Yearbook and Directory. 1973. 
19 Week of Compassion. Record Group 2007-001, Folder-1970s, Disciples of Christ Historical Society, Nashville, TN. 
20 Dentler, Howard E. and Marilynne Hill. "Week of Compassion Committee." Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Yearbook and Directory. 1979. 
21 Dentler, Howard E. and Marilynne Hill. "Committee on Week of Compassion." Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Yearbook and Directory. 1982. 
22 Mooty, Michael W. and Johnny Wray. "Committee on Week of Compassion." Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Yearbook and Directory. 1994. 
23 Wray Johnny. "Committee on Week of Compassion." Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Yearbook and Directory. 1998. 
24 Wray Johnny. "Committee on Week of Compassion." Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Yearbook and Directory. 1999. 
25 Wray Johnny. "Committee on Week of Compassion." Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Yearbook and Directory. 2007.