It was Baptism of the Lord Sunday at First Baptist Church, Chattanooga, and senior pastor Thomas Quisenberry wanted the several hundred people present to experience in a small way Christ's gift to humankind.
According to the story in the Gospels, John the Baptist was explaining to his followers the need for water baptism and the repentance of sins. Jesus, without sin, also came to him for baptism. John, though first protesting he was the one who needed baptism, did indeed baptize Jesus, who declared that his baptism was fulfilling God's will.
"[Jesus] went into the water anyway," Quisenberry told the congregation. "For us, he was saying, 'Just because I love you.'"
Moments later, the pastor invited ushers to pass the offering plates down the aisles and for each person to take $1 out of the offering plate. Church members, Quisenberry told them, now would have a chance to give a gift to someone else.
"I want you to think about how you can share like Christ shared," he told them. "You can make life better for someone."
Now, Quisenberry's not naive. He didn't mean $1 would change the lives of recipients. He just thought it might stimulate the givers in an already-generous church.
"I didn't put any parameters on it," he says. "I just said for them to work with God and be creative, not because you have to but because of the [gift] given to you. They could feel free to put more with it, to grow it, to do something fun."
Quisenberry asked those who took the dollars to return the following Sunday and report what they did on paper provided for them on tables outside the church's sanctuary. The following week, he took a few minutes during the service to look through the dozens of cards and describe what had been done according to 15 or 20 of the - largely anonymous - cards.
Among other things, Quisenberry says, one lady bought flowers and passed them out at McDonald's drive-through windows, where she told the employees they have a thankless job and she wanted them to know someone appreciates them. When she passes the restaurants now, she wrote, she says a quick, silent prayer for those who got the flowers.
A college student, he says, took the $1, converted it to pennies and attached them to cards that read: "Pick Me Up." On the other side, the cards read: "Somebody is praying for you."
A younger member of the congregation bought a snack for a hungry friend. A working man told his co-workers
he would match their dollars if they would contribute, and he wound up contributing $55 or $60 to the church's benevolence fund.
That fund, Quisenberry says, is where the dollar bills first came from. Once a quarter, he requests congregation members who are able to place $1 in the offering plate. The fund is then used, he says, for paying the power bill or water bill of someone struggling - usually someone outside the church - or for a $5 bus pass or a $4 prescription.
On the Sunday in question, he says, "I wanted to put a twist on it." And, he says, "I was blown away by what they did."
After Quisenberry read the cards, he praised the congregation on "what amazing stuff they were able to do. I said, 'Don't let this be the end.'"
At the end of the service, he invited those present to come to the altar table, where the cards had been spread out, and to marvel at what had been done. Still later, emails came in with reports of even more activity, and youth members who were at a separate event reported on their deeds the following Wednesday.
Notwithstanding the random acts of kindness, Quisenberry says, "I [am] floored by how much this church gives, does, participates - the way they're able to participate in downtown ministries and in other issues our community faces. They're on the front lines.
"This was just doing something different, a different way to express that [participation], another extension of their outreach."
Contact Clint Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.