Methodist Foundation of Ohio

Information to share this week

First, let me acknowledge that this is horrible timing.  The last week of Advent is probably the worst time of the year to discuss tax-wise giving, but I strongly encourage you to share the information below with your congregation this week.  I don’t suggest re-writing your Christmas Eve sermon to discuss end of the year tax strategies (but if you do, send me a copy; I’d love to read it), but perhaps you can put the following in your bulletin, email it to your members or put it on your church social media page.

Please don’t mess with the technical information, but certainly feel free to adjust the third and fifth paragraphs to discuss the various options for generosity in your particular congregation.

 

New Tax Laws Provide an Opportunity

New Tax Reform Legislation raises the standard deduction for income taxes beginning in 2018.  The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the number of taxpayers who will itemize their deductions in 2018 (and thereby get tax savings from charitable gifts) will fall from 40 million under current law to just 9 million under the new legislation.

If you currently itemize, and are financially able to do so, consider giving some or all of next year’s gifts to the church before the end of this year. You can claim your gifts on your 2017 taxes (due April of 2018) and give the church a boost.

This can be done for regular offering, or for special gifts such as for a capital campaign or endowment.

To qualify, the gift must be made by the end of this year, given in worship on or before December 31 or postmarked no later than December 30.  The check should be dated in 2017 and indicate on the memo line “2018 offering” or other designation.

When in doubt, reach out to the church office to clarify your intentions.

Responding to Harvey

They say the greater the need the greater response.  Right now the need in and around Houston is beyond comprehension and is matched only by the desire for folks to respond.  Here are some ways to help:

Pray.  Pray for those who are no longer in their homes.  Pray for those who are home with no way of getting out.  Pray for the police, the firefighters, the National Guard soldiers, the volunteers who are helping.  Pray for the government officials who are tasked with prioritizing many urgent options.  Really, just pray.

Give.  The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is a remarkably efficient.  Two of the things I love about UMCOR is that all overhead is covered through One Great Hour of Sharing.  That means every nickel you designate for Harvey Relief will be spent directly on this cause.  The second is that UMCOR stays around.  The CNN trucks will be gone from Houston in just a couple of weeks, but UMCOR will have a United Methodist presence for the long term.  After Katrina the group was there for seven years, working well beyond most other organizations.  Use this link to give directly to UMCOR for Disaster Response in the U.S.

Refill supplies.  United Methodists are known for our flood buckets.  I had the opportunity to be in Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi shortly after Katrina hit.  I saw UMCOR at work and I saw flood buckets (now called cleaning kits) being distributed to very grateful residents.  Fortunately flood buckets are already on the way to Houston from the UMCOR Sager-Brown Depot in Louisiana.  This can be a great time to get your church packing flood buckets to replenish the warehouse in anticipation of the next time they are needed.  You’ll find more information about flood buckets here.

Come and help, but not right now.  I know there are those of you just itching to strap on your tool belt and start helping to demo then rebuild all the houses you can.  That’s a great idea, but this isn’t the time.  Save those plans for the first part of 2018, once things are organized and safe.  The next few weeks or even months will be far more about caring for people than it will be about fixing homes.  The best way to keep up with what is needed is by following the Rio Texas Annual Conference on Facebook.

Train for the future.  If you want to be better prepared to lead a group, consider attending Volunteers in Mission (VIM) Team Leader Training September 23 or November 4.  You’ll find details on the East Ohio Conference Website.

But there are a couple of things not to do.  Don’t send stuff.  Donations of things like clothing, stuffed animals, toys or building materials require someone on the other end to receive it, catalog it, store it and distribute it.  There may come a time when they ask for things like this, but that will be a while.  Even things that are needed, such as bottled water, are better off being purchased through UMCOR and distributed.  By the time you buy it and ship it, the effectiveness of your dollar is greatly diminished.

Finally, share this post.  UMCOR is a great system but is often over shadowed by organization with better PR functions.  Let folks in your circle understand that your church is at work in this area and that anyone can support the cause, no matter what they do on Sunday mornings.

One of the great advantages of our connective denomination is that we have structures and systems in place for folks to help from thousands of miles away.  Whatever your abilities, plug in as you are able and help be the hands and feet of God in an area where that help is so desperately needed.

 

 

 

What’s in your wallet (or checking account)

Politician Everett Dirksen is often quoted, “A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.”   But what about trillions?  Like $10.7 trillion?  That’s $10,700,000,000,000.  Americans had $10.7 trillion in their checking accounts at the end of last year, an average of about $3,600 per account, an increase of about $1,000 over the last ten years.  All of this according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation study released last week.

All of this totals 77% of all bank assets.  More than three-quarters of what is in the bank is is in checking accounts, providing great liquidity but not doing much of anything to grow through interest.

I got a call from a pastor last week telling me that he discovered his new church has $86,000 in the checking account.  He thought that seemed kind of high.  I agreed with him.

How much is in your church’s checking account?  A while back I wrote about how to best guess how much you needed to have available.  But today let’s look at the opportunity cost of having that much in your checking account.

So we’ll start with the assumption that the church needs something in the checking account on an ongoing basis, say $30,000, one month’s expenses for this particular church.  That leaves $56,000 to invest.  What will that mean for this church?

Year to date our equity fund has returned 18.7% net of all fees.  It would be a great advertisement for me to show how consistent returns at that level can help a church’s bottom line but the reality is that although I am grateful for those kinds of income they’re really not sustainable.  Instead we’ll go with the five-year average on our balanced fund, 7.7%.

If we take that $56,000 and earn 7.7% each year, that’s $4,300 per year.  Some years that will be more, some will be less, but that is an average.  For a church with a budget of $360,000 this doesn’t seem like a huge amount.  It won’t add a bunch of staff or replace the aging boiler, but I wonder how many members of this church give more than $4,300 per year.  Simply by investing and taking a reasonable payout, this church just added another top donor to its rolls.

That $4,300 could provide seed money for a new outreach ministry, paint the walls in the Fellowship Hall where the youth group meets every week, send kids to camp or provide seed money for a mission trip.

With the benefit of being able to expect a comparable return year after year.

I often hear that the church “can’t be too careful with money that isn’t ours.”  I agree but you need to not only consider the investment risk but also the lost opportunity.  Would you really tell a donor who offered you $4,300 that you don’t need the money?  If not, why would you tell that to your checking account?

Four thousand here, four thousand there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.

Be The Good When the World Desperately Needs It

I had one of those weekends when apparently divergent messages come together and it all just kind of clicks.  On Saturday my daughter Emily was wearing a t-shirt with the graphic above, the one that encourages us to Believe There is Good in the World and at the same time to Be The Good.

Then on Sunday I read an article in USA Today about the State of Hate in America.  The article talked about a KKK rally Charlottesville, Virginia, where about 50 Klansmen came from out of state to protest the removal of a Civil War era statue of Robert E. Lee.

Be The Good vs. Be The Hate seems to be a common thread in our society these days.

I read a bit further into the USA Today story and learned that along with the 50 protesters that day were about 1,000 counter protesters.  While it’s impossible to know the motivations behind everyone there, it would appear that in the face of hate 20 times as many people chose to be the good.

By my estimation good won.

Groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League suggest that hate crimes are up about 6 percent over a year ago.  I wish that wasn’t so, but neither or nor the Church can stop these from happening.  Just as no one could stop the Klan from coming to Charlottesville.

But we can decide how we are going to witness in such a time.  How do we as a church respond in such troubled times?

Especially when so much of that same division is happening under our own tent?

The answer, according to that t-shirt is to be the good.  Cause you know what, we should be doing that anyway.

When is the last time your community saw your church Being The Good outside your building?  I think this summer is the perfect time for you to feed people, help people, encourage people.  Whether you’re counter protesting hate or handing out a cold bottle of water along your town’s parade route, go out there and be good.  Go out there and Be The Church.

Call the Urban Mission in Steubenville, the Nehemiah Mission in Cleveland or the United Methodist Community Center in Youngstown and ask them if they have people that your church can show some love to.  I bet the answer is in the affirmative.

Read Matthew and figure out who in your community is the Canaanite Woman, the Boy With the Demon, the thousands who needed feeding.

Then go be the good, the good that these individuals need, the good that your community needs to be and, quite frankly that you need yourselves to be to truly call yourselves Disciples of Christ.

I’d love to read in the USA Today an article about the State of Love in America.

 

 

 

A few more stories to tell

So you’ve read that the pastor should tell his giving story and you read Bishop Tracy S. Malone’s giving story.  Let’s talk stories for one more week, because there are other stories to tell (see page 569 in the hymnal if you’re so inclined).

When it comes to having people testify in worship or witness in worship, it can get a bit dicey.  A 90 second announcement quickly becomes a five-minute soliloquy.  Lots of experts suggest having these videotaped and put on the screen on Sunday morning.  While it’s certainly true that this gives greater control over the story it adds a whole lot of logistical work.  If you’re staffed to do this, by all means record it.  If not the pastor or worship leader interviewing the volunteer can help as well.  But don’t get bogged down, personal stories are so very effective and should be used more often.

I imagine that after the pastor told her story, others in the congregation began offering their own stories in response.  Has your congregation heard those stories?  Pick out one or two and have them told in worship.  My preference would be someone whose story mirrors the behavior you want to see from others.  A casual giver who has a spiritual awakening and begins to tithe is great.  If you’re a prosperity gospel church and you have a member who was richly blessed after discovering generosity, then by all means tell that story.

I want to hear the story of the church member whose life was changed by the church.  I heard one several years ago from a lifelong member of the church.  A closet alcoholic, he had gone out to drink his lunch and when he came back to work the boss met him at the door and confronted him.  The boss delivered him to the church where he began counseling with the pastor, the wife was brought into the pastor’s office and was made aware of the situation.  The pastor did a great deal of counseling and referred them both for additional help. The man testified that without the church he probably would have lost his marriage, his job and their home.  That’s powerful.

One that is tougher to find is the non-church person whose life has been changed by your congregation.  Who has your mission team served?  Who is a regular client at your food pantry, clothing program or hot meal ministry?  What wayward teenager was brought to church by a friend and was redirected to the right path?  How about a single mom who was afraid and alone but found peace and community under your steeple?

As you plan your campaign I suggest one of these each week leading up to Commitment Sunday.  Alternatively you could put all of them together as the message one week.

Your church is changing lives, thanks to what is going into the offering plate.  Make sure your people hear these stories, and after they hear them be sure you are making the connection back to their giving.

Bishop Malone’s Giving Story

Last week I encouraged pastors to tell their giving stories as they kick off stewardship season.  We are grateful to Bishop Tracy S. Malone for sharing her own giving story.  Joining her in the  photo above are her husband, Derrick, and daughters, Ashley and Alexis.

 

I grew up in a Christian home where I was taught to thank God for everything. I was taught to never take life for granted because tomorrow is not promised.  I would pray and thank God for everything. I learned to have a grateful heart.

I was taught to give God my best. I was reminded that God loved us so much that He gave his Son, Jesus Christ, and he came into the world so we may have life and have it more abundantly. Therefore, I should offer God nothing less than my very best of who I am and what I have.

As I grew into my teen years I developed a deeper understanding of my faith, learned about what it meant to be a good steward and learned the importance of tithing.

My parents expected me to be a good steward by being active in the church. When I became of age I got a job and this is when I learned about tithing.  When I received my paychecks, my parents made me give 10% of my total check to the church. The remaining half went in the bank and the other half I could keep. What a challenge! It was one thing to understand stewardship and tithing but putting it into practice was more than a notion. I learned to find joy in giving.

When I got married I wanted to continue being a tither. My husband was not raised in the church and tithing was a new concept for him. I knew I would need to be patient and give him time to make such a commitment. We did make a commitment to give tithing a try. It was a step of faith!  All things were going well and then we found ourselves being tested. My husband’s employer closed his business. This impacted our income drastically until my husband found other work. But by the grace of God, remained faithful and God provided just as God promised. We are living witnesses that tithing is both an act of stewardship and an act of faith. We have been tithing ever since.

We have two daughters and have taught them the importance of stewardship and tithing. Whatever the source of their income, allowance or other earned money, they are expected to give a tithe to the church. When they were younger we gave them money to put in church to give them the practice of giving. But now they’re older and have their own source of income, it gives me great joy to see the joy in them as they place their offering in the plate. It is my hope and prayer that our daughters will always have joy in giving, serving and leading in the church.

Sometimes, as a people of faith, we forget that all we have belongs to God. We fall into the temptation of feeling entitled to have it all and keep it all. I have learned that the more you give away the more you make room to receive. And blessings come in many forms.

We are all called to be faithful stewards. A faithful steward is one who recognizes everything belongs to God (Psalm 24:1). A faithful steward is one who gives a portion of their money, possessions, time and talents to God.  A faithful steward is one who is intentional in giving their best and their first to God.

Stewardship is a matter of faith. Generosity is an act of faith. Tithing is a journey of faith.

 

Different Audiences, Different Messages

This fall as you begin to draft your letter for the stewardship campaign I’m willing to bet that most you will write something like:

While we have been able to do so much this past year thanks to your incredible generosity please consider giving more, as our budget has increased for next year.

But what do different giving groups in your church read when they read this?

At the bottom of your giving ladder you probably have a pretty good chunk of folks who are giving nothing or maybe a hundred bucks or so for the year.  They get to read about their “incredible generosity” from the past year, affirming their minimal giving.  I have this vision of Archie and Edith with Edith nagging him to give more to the church.  This sentence would be great evidence in his own defense that they are already meeting the church’s expectations.

In the middle are folks whose giving and motivations are pretty diverse.  Some give out of guilt, some out of a sense paying either their dues or the cover charge for their club or show.  Some have been giving the same amount for a decade or more.  I’m reminded of a small group leader I had years ago at our church.  He pointed out that we have a nice building, good pastors, effective ministries, we seem to be in good shape.  But when he gets the letter from the homeless program they talk about all the things they want to do if they only had the money.  So he and his wife have had flat giving to the church but their giving to that mission has increased every year.  The two of them read that sentence and realize that once again the church’s sole vision is to pay a slightly higher salary line and the usual increases in utilities and the copier contract but nothing exciting is happening.

At the top are your tithers.  These are people who have accepted the challenge to give where their hearts are, who have cleared out some of the financial weeds in their lives and have made the church their top priority in their lives.  They know they’re among the top givers and they’re happy to do it. But when they hear that they need to “give just a little more” knowing that others are giving a fraction of what they are they can feel mighty unappreciated.

The solution?  You need to send different messages to different groups.

Let’s start at the top.  Simply acknowledging the generosity of your tithers will make a huge difference.  Let them know the things you were able to accomplish in the church last year because of their work, emphasizing changing lives in the name of God.  Go easy on the ask, they’re giving out of a spiritual place, not a transactional place.  Seems like the kind of conversation you’d want to have personally with this group, perhaps a dinner or dessert reception.

Your folks in the middle are bought in, but not to the point of tithers.  Challenge them to increase their giving and give them a reason to do so.  Throw out a vision like “if giving increases 20% we will start an after school tutoring program, send an adult mission team to the Urban Mission, etc.   There are two ways to challenge this growth. Herb Miller talks about challenging people who give $10 a week to grow to $20 or  $20 a week to give $30.  I prefer to talk in terms of moving toward tithing.  Have your people figure what percentage of their income they are currently giving, then grow by a percentage point.  Two percent grows to 3%, and hopefully that growth continues until they reach a tithe, maybe even beyond!

As for the folks at the bottom, give them a mission project to support.  A letter asking them to help purchase the curriculum and crackers for the kids Sunday School or supporting the monthly mission meal is a great beginning.  This is the kind of ask they are used to receiving from other nonprofits and it lets you focus on your work in the world, stuff people early on their disciple walk like to hear.

These example may not be a perfect match for your church, but I guarantee that one size fits relatively no one in your church.  Get started early both drafting your letters and dividing your congregation into three or more categories.  And don’t let perfect be the enemy of very good.  Take your best effort at this.

Not sure about moving ahead?  As always, let me know how I can help.

So about that whole tithing thing

In the church tithing is a word kind of like “cancer”, it’s best whispered only in appropriate company.  At least that’s the opinion of many folks I talk stewardship with but  I think this is wholly inaccurate.  I hear the word used lots of times, usually in a sentence like “would the ushers come forward to receive our tithes and our offerings.”

Tithing, of course, is the spiritual discipline of giving 10% of income to the church.  Net income or gross income?  United Methodists average 1% at this point, so if you’re to the point where you’re debating net or gross, I’ll just get out of your way and let you make that decision on your own.

Many of us in The United Methodist Church are a little squeamish about talking or teaching tithing.  We don’t want to be that church that “always talks about money” or scares people away with unrealistic expectations.  Instead of teaching the widow’s mite, we are willing to accept the millionaire’s mite.

As you consider your stewardship campaign this fall, I would encourage tithing to be part of the message

  1. We need to teach tithing.  Do your members even know what it is?  I learned to give to the church when I was a kid.  It was understood that some of my allowance was to go to the church.  But how many of your new members were not raised in a church?  Do they know what a tithe is?  Do they have a scriptural basis or is it like going to Playhouse Square and just reading in the program that a lot of people give a whole lot more than I do?
  2. We need to understand that tithing isn’t for everyone.  I believe that tithing and super tithing (giving more than 10%) is perhaps the most significant indication of spiritual maturity.  So should we really expect a new seeker to buy into the idea?  Probably not.  But who in your congregation are you discipling?  Who has grown spiritually, perhaps through an Emmaus Walk, a significant event in their lives, or their own study and prayer?  Tithing should be taught and encouraged as they reorder all of their priorities to align with God’s call upon their lives their household budget should see that same impact.
  3. Tithing is often a process.  Several years ago my wife and I realized that our giving to the church did not reflect our priorities.  Shifting to a full tithe seemed impossible, so we began to take a bite.  I think that year we were giving 3% to the church.  We committed to growing to 4% the next year, then 5% the following year and so on.  This gives your members to get comfortable with the idea and spend those few years cleaning the financial weeds out of their lives.  Speaking of those weeds…
  4. Lifestyles get in the way of tithing.  No matter where our hearts may be, our treasure may be committed elsewhere.  It’s really hard to tithe to both God and the MasterCard.   So teach about contentment and Enough.  Teach priorities.  Teach against the consumerism that we see every day.  Get your people to Financial Peace University.  If you hear families talk of this struggle, get them together into a small group to learn as well as support each other in the process.  Adam Hamilton’s contentment prayer is a great tool:

Lord, help me to be grateful for what I have, to remember that I don’t need most of what I want, and that joy is found in simplicity and generosity.  Amen.

Next week we’ll cover the message you should be sending to your tithers (and others) this fall, and all year.

PS, Hamilton’s contentment prayer is part of his book Enough:  Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity.

You can buy key tags with the prayer on it to distribute to your congregation.  

 

 

About Those 52 Years

Timing is, they say, everything.  Here is the report I gave at Annual Conference in 2015.  Looking back, it seems I was a year ahead of my time.

 

I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but in the last couple of months things are different in downtown Cleveland.  The Cavaliers are good.  Really good, and they just might win a Championship.

As I considered this, I thought back to a conversation I had with Bishop Hopkins in May probably six or seven years ago.  We were just chatting and at the time the Indians were doing quite well.  He asked if I thought they would win the World Series that year.  I scoffed and said, “No, of course not.”  He pointed out their current record and quality pitching.  I told him, “You have to realize that Cleveland has not had a championship since before I was born.  Why would I expect that to change?”

And, of course, I was right.  Another summer went by without a Tribe victory parade in November, just as every Browns and Cavaliers season has gone by since 1964.  Those teams, along with two seasons by the Cleveland Barons Hockey team,  have combined for about 150 seasons without a championship.  By comparison the City of San Diego is in second place with about 100 seasons.

We have learned to temper our expectations.

The problem that I see with some of the churches I work with is that they have the same defeatist attitude as Cleveland sports fans.  I have pastors lamenting that finances are tight   So they’re left limping along, shrinking programs, burned out staff, out-of-date facilities.  When I ask the laity what they would brag about their church they go back to the glory days and tell me how things used to be, a decade or more ago.

But when I ask them about their stewardship program their eyes drop and they tell me that they don’t do a stewardship campaign.  Some say they have never done one, others say they used to… and their voices trail off.  They don’t have the resources to do the kind of ministry the community needs them to do, and at the same time refuse to do what is necessary to make those resources happen.  We have churches in our conference that can’t claim a ministry victory for a long time.

It’s kind of like I’m talking to Cleveland sports fans.

If this sounds like your church, I offer you a challenge this morning. I challenge you stop looking at Cleveland sports since 1964.  Instead, look to this season.  A team and a city that have been down accomplished the unthinkable and just might win that championship.

What would winning a championship look like for your church?  It would have to start with a vision, a dream, and hopefully that dream isn’t a balanced budget or shorter finance committee meetings, but instead a vision to be as Bishop Hopkins calls us to be, mission outposts to your community.

To do this, you would have to challenge your congregation to see that vision for ministry.  You would challenge them to meet that vision through their financial gifts, their volunteer hours.  Maybe you have such a huge vision that your congregation can’t pull it off alone and you need to involve that other United Methodist Church in town (let’s face it, almost all of us have another United Methodist Church in town).  Or maybe it will be ecumenical project with a number of denominations involved.

Would it be easy?  Probably not.  Especially if your church hasn’t had a championship in what feels like 150 seasons.

Some of you are still shaking your heads.  “Our people don’t give anymore.”    Our offering plates are empty.  We don’t have enough to pay our bills, let alone go out and do ministry.”

The number one reason why people give money to one organization over another is the mission.  What is your mission?  If your mission is to keep the lights on, pay the bills, try not to mess the place up, this isn’t a mission that is likely to spark a strong generosity streak in your congregation.

What if you said your mission is to win a championship in ministry this year?  What if you set out a plan for a challenging but still attainable program?  What if you didn’t let the naysayers stand in the way?  What if you and your congregation were all in on this project?

Maybe you win the ministry championship.  Or maybe you play hard and wind up just short.   But either way your church, your members and you community will be better off because you tried.  And I assure you that if you decide to accept this challenge, the Foundation will be there to help you.

Photo credit:  Ryan Haidet, WKYC-TV

My Favorite Wednesday

I often begin my sermon for stewardship Sunday by saying that it’s my favorite day of the church year, the day that the congregation decides what kind of church it chooses to be next year:  a church of scarcity or a church of abundance.  It’s not about the money, it’s about the ministry that will be possible. So that’s my favorite Sunday of the year, unless my anniversary, my wife’s birthday or the Browns Super Bowl debut happens to fall on a Sunday.

But today was my favorite Wednesday of the year (see disclaimer above re:  anniversary et al).  Commissioning and ordination night, much like stewardship Sunday, tells us what kind of church we will be.  Will we be a conference comprised solely of follicley challenged older men or will we also have young women to speak the truth if it is so?  Will we have both progressive and conservative theologies represented? Will we attract the best and brightest?

On second thought, forget those questions.  Only one matters:  would I want that person, that ordinand, that provisional member, that elder, that deacon, that man or that woman to lead my church?  And by my church I’m talking about the one at the corner of Royalton and Webster but also that one across East Ohio or the one that came together in Portland last month.

You can ask future pastors to write all the papers you want, answer all the questions, jump through the hoops and lie about not being in debt so as to embarrass themselves all you want.  But that’s what it  boils down to.

Do I want that person leading my church?

While I never miss an ordination service I rarely attend the retirement service.  I’ve only had one pastor, one very very dear man retire from a church where I worshiped.  And in my Foundation work I’m far more involved in the folks on the way in than the folks on the way out.

I’d rather see the fresh faces of men and women excited to start ministry.  They’re weathered a bit from the process and in the case of ordinands from the provisional process.  But they’re excited energetic and ready to lead.  It’s as if they’re saying “Give me a church to lead, Bishop then get out of the way and let me amaze you.”

I have worked with young clergy enough to know there are two things I am not allowed to say to them. The first is that we’re counting on them to save the church.  The second is that they’re the future of the church (they are, afterall, the present of the church as well).

So instead what I will say is what I saw tonight and in preceding Favorite Wednesdays is encouraging.  We are, indeed attracting and developing leaders who can lead us to a better place and while they are certainly the present church they represent a very bright future church as well.

For the last month I have reflected a great deal on whether I am optimistic or skeptical about the church a decade or five down the road.  My favorite part about Favorite Wednesday is how I am overwhelmed with optimism.

I can’t wait to see where these new leaders take our church.

Photo:  Reverend Amy Price is ordained a Deacon in Full Connection.  Credit:  East Ohio Communications.

 

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