An ark full of giving

Students with the local Future Farmers of America group are among those who bring animals to Enumclaw's Sacred Heart Parish on Sundays during Lent. Photo: Courtesy Sacred Heart Parish Students with the local Future Farmers of America group are among those who bring animals to Enumclaw's Sacred Heart Parish on Sundays during Lent. Photo: Courtesy Sacred Heart Parish

Every Lent, Enumclaw parishioners raise money to buy animals for families around the world

It’s not something you see every Sunday — a pig running through the parking lot of Sacred Heart Church as ranchers sprint to their trucks to grab their lassos.

The escapee was a featured “guest” for one of the Enumclaw parish’s Lenten projects — educating parishioners and raising money to purchase farm animals for families all over the world.

Each Sunday during Lent, a different animal, tree or product is showcased after Mass on the church lawn, in the parking lot, or inside the parish hall if the weather is bad. Parishioners can touch the animals, feed chickens, make butter, or identify seeds and learn where their food comes from.

“We bring in animals so people can see them and interact with them, so we can see how God’s animals are important to people in different ways,” said Mathew Weisbeck, Sacred Heart’s pastoral associate. “And it’s a chance to see a pig up close.”

It’s a fitting project for a rural community with agricultural and logging roots, and a creative way to build solidarity with agricultural families across the globe.

Every year since 2006, Sacred Heart parishioners have raised enough money for a “gift ark” of animals: $5,000 to buy pairs of water buffalo, goats, cows and sheep, along with chickens, rabbits and bees. In 2007, they raised enough for two arks.

The money is donated to Heifer International, which helps families in communities around the world live sustainably by providing them animals, trees, clean water and basic needs. The organization educates each family about caring for its new animal; that family is responsible for training another family and gifting them the animal’s first offspring.

“Families are passing on the gift,” Weisbeck said. “The goal is to make families self-sustaining. The beauty of animals is you get more animals, and additional things like eggs, milk and butter, which are marketable.”

Sacred Heart’s pastor, Father Anthony K.A. Davis, is a native of Ghana, one of the countries served by Heifer International. “He is familiar with the effect of Heifer in his country,” Weisbeck said, “and it brings it full circle in a really wonderful way.”

Guess how much a pig weighs

Parishioner Kathy Conzelman remembers the Christmas her parents gave each of their children a share of a pig, donated in their names to Heifer International. It was an eye-opening experience, Conzelman said, “learning what was being done in different communities all over the world to help people by teaching animal husbandry and skills needed for agricultural growth.”

When Conzelman started teaching faith formation at Sacred Heart in the early 2000s, she brought the fundraising idea to the classroom. “We were looking for tie-ins for outreach that would make sense in appealing to the kids,” Weisbeck said.

The project quickly grew from the classroom to the whole parish.

Besides highlighting different animals or items each week, the project includes fundraisers like an animal-themed bake sale, contests and raffles. How many bees does it take to make a gallon of honey? How many inches of alpaca yarn are in a pair of hand-knitted socks? How many eggs are in the basket? Each guess costs $1, and the winner receives a $25 gift certificate from the meat shop down the road (a playful poke at Lenten abstinence).

One year, a parishioner who works for the U.S. Forest Service measured a particular tree and parishioners tried to guess its height. “People would guess amazing things, like 20 feet or 200 feet, for the same tree,” Weisbeck said. But the trickiest thing to guess, he said, is a pig’s weight: “They don’t look as heavy as they are.”

An informational display about the project includes a wooden ark more than 3 feet long, crafted by a parishioner, where parishioners can deposit their donations. Although the ark is incredibly heavy and hard to move, Weisbeck said, it’s a popular feature. “People really own it and that’s what makes it so fun.”

Over the years, Paddy Lewis-Irwin and her family have brought their cattle, sheep, chickens, eggs, feed and seeds to the parish grounds. Using lesson plans from the American Farm Bureau Federation, she has engaged kids and parishioners in a variety of activities from learning about GMOs to counting and manipulating eggs.

Although Enumclaw is a rural community, about 80 percent of residents live in town, Lewis-Irwin said. “They don’t have a tie to our agricultural/horticultural roots. This is an opportunity to share farm life with them,” she said, to learn from the stories shared by the community’s elders and to teach parishioners about the source of food and how to ensure a sustainable food supply.

“I really appreciate the fact that Heifer Project pays it forward,” Lewis-Irwin said. “That is really typical of the heart of the traditional farmer, to help the next generation, to pass it on.”

Being ‘Jesus in our world’

Sacred Heart’s Lenten outreach goes beyond the Heifer Project. When parishioners raise more than $5,000, the excess funds are donated to Plateau Outreach Ministries, an organization supported by all Enumclaw churches to help local residents in need. (A former pastor, Father Gary Zender, was instrumental in forming the organization, Conzelman said.)

Sacred Heart also emphasizes the Rice Bowl program of Catholic Relief Services, which sends 75 percent of funds raised in each diocese overseas, reserving 25 percent for local programs (see box).

Rice Bowl, Weisbeck said, “has a special place in my heart.” One Sunday during Lent, parish volunteers make all the Rice Bowl recipes from around the world and serve them in the parish hall. “We thought it would be fun for people to taste all the meals, then want to make it themselves at home,” Weisbeck explained.

New to Sacred Heart this Lent are CRS parish ambassadors who are coordinating Rice Bowl and other CRS projects through the year. And Sacred Heart parishioners have been working on ways to be good stewards of their gifts, talents, abilities and finances, Conzelman said.

Their Lenten almsgiving, she said, “is the core of who we are. What happens inside church is what shapes us and feeds us to be Jesus in our world.”

Give animals and more through CRS

Catholic Relief Services provides opportunities to help farming families around the globe move toward self-sufficiency. Cows, goats, pigs, chickens and rabbits are among the animals available in the CRS gift catalog (, along with fruit trees, seed and beehives. There’s even a community fish pond and fish to stock it.

Besides farm-related assistance, donations can be made in a variety of categories to provide clean water, education and medical supplies, as well as survivors’ kits for trafficked girls and counseling for former child soldiers in Africa.

CRS, which celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2018, seeks to end poverty, hunger and disease. CRS works in 110 countries and reaches more than 136 million people.

Source: Catholic Relief Services


Pray, fast, learn, give

Every Lent, Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl program engages Catholics at the parish and school levels to pray, fast, learn and give, sharing the journey with people around the world who are in need.

For every Lenten meal when meat is not used, participants are encouraged to put the money saved into their Rice Bowl to help feed those in need.

Of the money donated through Rice Bowl, 75 percent is used for development projects overseas that help increase and maintain communities’ access to food. The other 25 percent of donations made by people in the Archdiocese of Seattle remains here and is distributed as grants to parishes and organizations that help the poor in Western Washington. In 2018, more than 285 grants were awarded.

For more information about Rice Bowl, visit

Sources: CRS, Archdiocese of Seattle Missions Office

Northwest Catholic - March 2019

Michelle Bruno

Michelle Bruno is a member of Kent’s Holy Spirit Parish. Contact her at