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Inspired to live 'parable of the talents'

A pastor gives church members $50 each to start endeavors. They raise funds by cooking, knitting, even singing.

December 23, 2007|Helen O'Neill | Associated Press

CHAGRIN FALLS, OHIO — The Rev. Hamilton Coe Throckmorton shivered with anticipation as he gazed at the loot -- wads of $50 bills piled high beside boxes of crayons in a Sunday school classroom.

Cautiously, he locked the door. Then he started counting.

It was a balmy Friday evening in September. From several floors below, faint melodies drifted up -- the choir practicing for Sunday service.

Throckmorton was oblivious. For hours, perched awkwardly on child-sized wooden stools surrounded by biblical murals and children's drawings, the pastor and a handful of helpers concentrated on the count.

Forty-thousand dollars. Throckmorton smiled in satisfaction as he stashed the money in a safe.

That Sunday, the 52-year-old minister donned his creamy white robes, swept to the pulpit and delivered one of the most extraordinary sermons of his life.

First he read from the Gospel of Matthew.

"And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his ability."

Then he explained the parable of the talents, which tells of the rich master who entrusts three servants with a sum of money -- "talents" -- and instructs them to go forth and do good. The master lavishes praise on the two servants who double their money. But he casts into the wilderness the one so afraid to take a risk that he buries his share.

Throckmorton spends up to 20 hours working on his weekly homily, and his clear diction, contemplative message and ringing voice command the church. Gazing down from the pulpit that Sunday, Throckmorton dropped his bombshell.

Like the master, he would entrust each adult with a sum of money -- in this case, $50. Church members had seven weeks to find ways to double their money, with the proceeds to go toward church missions.

"Live the parable of the talents!" Throckmorton exhorted, as assistants handed out hundreds of red envelopes stuffed with crisp $50 bills and stunned church members did quick mental calculations, wondering where all the money had come from. There are about 1,700 members of the congregation, though everyone doesn't attend each week.

The cash, Throckmorton explained, had been loaned by several anonymous donors.

In her regular pew at the back of the church, where she has listened to sermons for 40 years, 73-year-old Barbara Gates gasped. What kind of kooky nonsense is this, she thought.

"Sheer madness," sniffed retired accountant Wayne Albers, 85, to his wife, Marnie, who hushed him as he whispered loudly. "Why can't the church just collect money the old-fashioned way?"

In a center pew, Ann Nagy's eyes moistened as she thought of her beloved father, who lay suffering in a hospice, and the song she was writing to comfort him near death. She nudged her husband, Scott. "Give me your $50," she whispered. Nagy knew exactly what she would do.

Throckmorton wrapped up his two morning services by saying that children would get $10. And he assured the congregation that anyone who didn't feel comfortable could simply return the money. No consignment to outer darkness for those who didn't participate.

Throckmorton is warm and engaging and approachable, as comfortable talking about the Cleveland Indians baseball team as he is discussing scripture. At the Federated Church, he is known simply as Hamilton.

But as church members spilled into the late summer sunshine that morning to ponder their skills and their souls, there were many who thought: Hamilton is really pushing us this time.

"There was definitely this tension, this pressure to live up to something," said Hal Maskiell, 62, a retired Navy pilot who spent days trying to figure out how to meet the challenge.

Maskiell's passion is flying a four-seater Cessna 172 Skyhawk over the Cuyahoga County hills. He decided to use his $50 to rent air time from Portage County airport and charge $30 for half-hour rides. Church members eagerly signed up. Maskiell was thrilled to get hours of flying time, and he raised $700.

His girlfriend, Kathy Marous, 55, was far less confident. What talents do I have, she thought dejectedly. She was tempted to give the money back.

Then Marous found an old family recipe for tomato soup, one she hadn't made in 19 years. She remembered how much she had enjoyed the chopping and the cooking and the canning and the smells. With Hal's encouragement, Marous dug out her pots. She bought three pecks of tomatoes and started chopping and cooking and canning again. At $5 a jar, she made $180.

"I just never imagined people would pay money for the things I made," Marous exclaimed.

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