The history of One Great Hour of Sharing.
Fifty years ago, during World War II and immediately following, Protestant churches made appeals for relief and reconstruction. In 1946, Bishop Henry Knox Sherrill, 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. While the post-war language seems a bit stilted, their joint statement in support of this effort is still remarkably contemporary:
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.
A cast was recruited from among the foremost dramatic and musical talent in the United States, including Gregory Peck and Ida Lupino, and a script was written under the direction of playwright Robert Sherwood. President Truman brought greetings. Major networks and many independent stations carried the program on Saturday, March 26 at 10 p.m., eastern time. The broadcast, called “One Great Hour,” closed with a request that listeners attend their local church the following morning and make a sacrificial contribution. No exact measure of income was possible, but it was estimated that more than 75,000 churches participated.
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, and has remained so 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 nine Christian denominations: American Baptist Churches USA, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Church of the Brethren, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America, United Church of Christ, and Church World Service. 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.
At times, One Great Hour of Sharing has been coordinated with the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Fund Appeal for Overseas Aid and the Jewish Passover Appeal. Efforts were made to combine forces to attain the endorsement of the Advertising Council. Joint approaches were made to editors and program directors of radio and television. Free time and space were donated. Today, changes in FCC guidelines have all but eliminated this promotional opportunity. Yet, the offering survives, even thrives, in local congregations.
The purpose of One Great Hour of Sharing has remained the same: to collect special gifts to assist those in need. Today, projects 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.
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, with 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 equally critical as when it was first created.
Give Generously to One Great Hour of Sharing.