Fifty years ago, during World War II and immediately following, Protestant churches made appeals for relief and reconstruction. In 1946, Bishop Henry Knox Sherill, newly-elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, set a goal of one million dollars per year for the Presiding Bishop's Fund for World Relief. On nationwide radio, he challenged members to raise "one million dollars in one hour." His impassioned challenge worked. During the first three years, Episcopalians raised $3.8 million.
In 1949, church leaders from several denominations formed an ad hoc committee to organize an appeal aimed at supporting the separate campaigns of American churches.
This nationwide united effort by America's Christians has an importance far beyond the practical goal of fund raising. For this great joint program will not only strengthen the vitally important relief and rehabilitation work of the churches overseas, but will also prove to all the world how great is the power generated when Christians unite in a common cause.
In 1950, the title "One Great Hour of Sharing" was used for the first time. A logo depicting a church steeple clock with hands fixed at eleven was also adopted. A series of six fifteen-minute radio programs was produced to promote the effort, but problems with radio stations brought disappointing results.
The next year, the name of the offering was changed to "One Great Time of Sharing." In 1952, the name was changed back to One Great Hour of Sharing, where it has remained ever since. By 1954, the announced goal for all giving to One Great Hour of Sharing reached eight million dollars.
From the beginning this has been an ecumenical effort. As denominations changed and merged, One Great Hour of Sharing has varied from eight to twenty-nine participating communions. Currently, the One Great Hour of Sharing committee officially comprises ten Christian denominations: American Baptist Churches USA, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Church of the Brethren, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America, United Church of Christ, and The United Methodist Church. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) calls the offering Week of Compassion. In various ways, all work in cooperation with Church World Service, the relief, development and refugee assistance arm of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.
The purpose of One Great Hour of Sharing has remained the same: to collect special gifts to assist those in need. Today, projects supported by One Great Hour of Sharing are underway in more than 100 countries, including the United States and Canada. In the 1990s, receipts have exceeded $20 million annually. While specific allocations differ in each denomination, all use their One Great Hour of Sharing funds to make possible disaster relief, refugee assistance, and development aid.
Funds collected for OGHS benefit three areas: project development, refugee assistance and disaster relief. Contributions to One Great Hour of Sharing make a difference in the lives of people. Church World Service, a division of the National Council of Churches, and overseas partner churches and church councils, are often the first on the scene following a disaster of natural or human origin. Local church leaders identify the needs of their people. Priorities are set to bring long-term solutions that will improve the quality of life for individuals and communities around the world. One Great Hour of Sharing, nearly 50 years old, continues to respond to needs as critical as when it was first created.
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