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Kensington Community Church Receives Donation Worth $870,000

     Large Gift Bucks Downward Trend in Giving Among Churches Nationwide

     Kensington Community Church (KCC), United Church of Christ, has received a charitable gift worth more than $870,000, the largest donation in the church’s history and a cause for celebration at a time when giving to churches has declined nationwide. Bertha Lander, a member of the church who died last year at the age of 104, bequeathed her home and savings to the church.

     “We are heartened and moved by Bertha’s incredible generosity,” says Rich Wayman, the moderator, or lay leader, at the church in the Kensington neighborhood of San Diego. The gift arrived at a pivotal moment, when 55 percent of churches in western states, and nearly 40 percent of churches nationwide, reported a decline in giving, according to the 2010 State of the Plate survey. A pivotal moment in KCC’s history, the church is currently searching for a new minister, and took what Wayman calls a “leap of faith” last year in hiring a full-time religious education director, even with a budget shortfall.

     Lander had pledged her two-bedroom home to the church in a 2006 capital campaign to help fund a remodel of the church’s sanctuary and the fellowship hall, which was subsequently named for her. The church sold Lander’s home last year, and received $370,000 in proceeds.

     The additional half-million dollars arrived unexpectedly, as the congregation recently learned the relative to whom Lander willed the funds, predeceased her. KCC was the next listed beneficiary.  “Our challenge is to be as thoughtful about this gift as Bertha was in giving it to us,” says Sheryl Chaffee, the chairwoman of KCC’s trustees, who will consider investments and expenditures of this one-time gift, which is unrestricted and came without stipulations for its use.

     Swedish born, Lander was an immigrant entrepreneur who, together with her husband, managed several businesses including The Tramway Inn, a Palm Springs hotel and diner that served Swedish pancakes. “She was as frugal as she was generous,” remembers Marilyn Cooper-Ongley, a church member and friend of Lander’s. “She would drive to another grocery store before she’d spend two cents more on a pound of potatoes.”

     Founded in 1929, Kensington Community Church is a 175-member church that engages heavily in mission work around San Diego, for example, helping provide stockings and presents for more than 1,200 low-income children and families at the annual Copley YMCA Christmas Party. The church recently voted to become Open and Affirming, or welcoming to members of the gay and lesbian community as well as to people from all walks of life. A hub for the neighborhood, the church hosts an annual pancake breakfast on Memorial Day weekend, a weekly Youth Group for middle and high school students, and enables more than 50 self-help and community organizations to meet regularly in its facilities.

For more information about the church, visit www.kensingtonucc.com , or call 619.284-1129.

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