Heifer Project

By Marilyn Kettering Badger

June 20, 2016

A “Heifer Project”

        One Sunday morning at the Oakland Church in Gettysburg, Ohio, something   
       unusual happened that set the stage for a memorable Thanksgiving service
       in 1972.  Church member Beulah Maurer tells the story.


Our preacher, Fred Bernhard, told us that some weeks earlier he had awakened in the night with an idea.  He woke his wife and shared his idea with her, gained her approval and support, and so decided to go ahead with it.  That is all he shared with us, except for the admonition to “put our hands where your mouth is.”  He added that his idea would be revealed to all of us on the Sunday of our Thanksgiving celebration and dinner at church.

Maybe you can guess the speculation that went on.  What kind of crazy scheme could Fred have in his head to be so mysterious about?  Clever posters began appearing in the vestibule, one repeating Fred’s slogan — “put your hands where your mouth is,” another indicating the dates of the upcoming Sundays with a huge question mark after November 28.

As the day drew closer, there were some who began to guess much closer to the truth.  Seeing the carpet covered with plastic on that Sunday morning confirmed the speculation.  But none of us, in our wildest guesses, could have foretold just what was in store for our congregation. 

After beginning worship and hearing Thanksgiving anthems by the choir, Fred reviewed the events of the past month, leading up to his “dream” for this Thanksgiving morning.

First, he borrowed a truck from a farmer in a neighboring congregation so that he would not have to reveal his reasons to any of our members.  He made a quick trip in his truck to Somerset County in Pennsylvania, looked up some good friends with dairy herds of known quality and shared his scheme with them.  They offered their wholehearted support not only selling him stock at a very reasonable rate, but also donating some to the project. 

At this point in the story, a door to the rostrum opened and out came four overall-clad farmers leading three little sweet-faced Holstein heifers.  Eight more remained outside.  Needless to say, the response was electric.  All the children wanted to touch the animals—and they did.

Our pastor had acquired eleven registered heifers, ages two to six months, in the name of the Oakland congregation acting only on faith and the belief that a true spirit of thanks-sharing would occur at our Thanksgiving celebration.  He asked for donors and feeders.  Slowly at first, then with growing enthusiasm, voices spoke out over the congregation: “This family will donate one,” “I’ll go in with another family (or two or three) and raise one.”   Soon a line formed in the front of the church and one bewildered church clerk attempted to record all offers. 

God moved in our midst at Oakland on that Thanksgiving.  We felt him there and we all saw faith in action.  When all the pledges were tallied up, there were enough pledges to buy thirty-two heifers.

It was Thanksgiving – and Fred didn’t even preach a sermon – or maybe it was the best sermon he ever preached.

“A Thanksgiving Sampler from Richard N. Miller’s Almanac.” Messenger, November 15, 1972:16, Adapted.

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