Birthday parties a gift to the church

Churches in the Sierra Leone Conference have good reason to celebrate.

Thanks to some healthy competition, annual birthday celebrations are bringing in big money for area churches, with proceeds going toward a variety of church development programs.

Each year, two main groups within the churches compete to outdo one another in giving and promoting church growth. The “J to J Family” (J2J) represents church members born from January to June, while “JASOND Family” represents all members born between July and December (Those months form the acronym JASOND).

Celebrations take place on the last Sunday of June for J2J and the last Sunday in December or first Sunday in January for JASOND. 

“We come together every year to celebrate our birthdays. One reason we celebrate it that big is because everyone thinks he or she is returning thanks to God for a birthday,” said Sylvanette Tawah, J2J music director and lead vocalist at King Memorial United Methodist Church in central Freetown.

“It is also an activity that brings us together. It is an occasion we use to raise huge sums of money for the church. So, we put all our efforts together to make sure that we raise funds that are used for the development of the church.”

Upgrades and expansions

At King Memorial United Methodist Church, which gave birth to the competitive celebrations, proceeds have been used to build a new parsonage for the assistant pastor. More funds are being raised for a church expansion project as the congregation has outgrown its current sanctuary.

After its celebration in January 2015, the JASOND Family donated 200 million Leones (equivalent to $40,000 U.S. dollars at the time) to the church building project — the largest known donation from a birthday group in the conference.

It has become a competitive game with each group wanting to outdo the one before it, said Safea Moiwa, president of J2J at King Memorial.

J2J raised the stakes when they donated 120 million Leone ($24,000 U.S. dollars at the time). “JASOND had no option but to fight hard to beat our record,” Moiwa said.

At its 2016 celebrations in July, J2J raised 100 million Leones ($17,000). Moiwa blames the lower giving on a financially difficult year when inflation in the country is in double digits.

Charles Davies Memorial United Methodist Church in western Freetown has used a significant part of its birthday proceeds to build a new permanent sanctuary.

First United Methodist Church in Makeni, northern Sierra Leone, is using birthday money to expand its church building before hosting the region’s annual conference in 2017.

With the 2015 January to June celebration money, Bishop Baughman United Methodist Church in Brookfields, Freetown, upgraded its public-address system.

A low-key affair no longer

Before the division into two groups more than 10 years ago, birthdays were not well coordinated or celebrated in the church. Those born in a particular month, for instance, would ask for special prayers and the pastor would call them to the altar and pray for them.

Now, birthday celebrations draw mammoth crowds and not only create competitions within individual congregations but also between nearby churches.

Visitors from neighboring churches often observe with rapt attention the birthday fundraising at other churches and return to adjust strategies in their own congregations.

Fun and games

Celebration days are unique with honorees in uniform or special attire. In most churches, the birthday celebrants form the choir, do all the readings, act as stewards, and take part in special fundraising features — often a song or drama during which worshippers are encouraged to support the month in which they were born.

Ministers of state, diplomats, business leaders, clergy and lay from other church denominations also are invited.

Some activities begin in the six months leading to the grand celebrations, Moiwa explained.

“We do a fun sport where the elderly play soccer. We organize dinners. We raised 10 million Leones (about $2,000 U.S.) at our last dinner. We organize a revival in church where family and friends are invited and even members of the (rival) family attend. We all come and revive our souls spiritually.”

Moiwa said the Rev. Sylvanus Chapman, a former pastor-in-charge who now lives in Dallas, came up with the idea of the J2J and JASOND competition after he graduated from United Methodist Africa University in 2005 and returned home to Sierra Leone.

Chapman said in an e-mail that King Memorial “was in turmoil and on the brink of collapse as she lost most of her members to other churches in the city in protest against an episcopal decision that denied them a pastor of their choice after the retirement of their long-serving pastor in 2002.

“We badly needed programs that would hold the congregation together and to assure them of a leadership that was committed to enlivening the church,” he said.

Jusu is director of communications for The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone. News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org. 

Latest News

Mission and Ministry
The congregation at Inner-City United Methodist Church in Harare, Zimbabwe, has recommitted to helping stop the AIDS epidemic by taking part in the Common Voice Initiative advocacy program. Photo by Priscilla Muzerengwa for UMNS.

Zimbabwe church vows to halt AIDS epidemic

With new resources, ongoing advocacy and education, the Common Voice Initiative envisions a world without HIV/AIDS.
General Church
The Central African Republic-Kenyan mission team prays over the Rev. Lucien Dokpa, district superintendent of the Bangui East District in the Central Africa Republic. Six members of the Council of Bishops and three staff members of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, took part in the Nov. 12-18 visit. Photo by E Julu Swen, UMNS.

Bishops urge peace talks on trip to war-torn region of Africa

Six members of the Council of Bishops, along with three staff members of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, took part in the mission visit , which included travel to the Central Africa Republic and Kenya.
Theology and Education
Colette Ndobe  Photo by Ndobe Ebeneza Mosima.

Commentary: The power of pencils in Cameroon

United Methodist Women in Cameroon reach out to rural school students with much-needed school supplies as part of the One Child, One Pencil Project.

Sign up for our newsletter!

SUBSCRIBE