An artificial Christmas tree went for $1, a power saw for $10; the antique dealers in the crowd bid the old hand-wound Victrola up to $110.
When the last patchwork quilt was auctioned off here last Saturday, the Church of the Brethren's Disaster Relief fund was richer by more than $32,000 -- by far the largest sum the church's Maryland area region had raised in five years of such auctions.
R. Jan Thompson, who heads Disaster Relief, got himself an electric clothes dryer that had been "used only three months" according to a note from the donor, paying just $30. He said he was pleased with the auction's results, but not just because of the benefits to his budget.
"It's good to raise the money but the auction is also a good opportunity for the church people to get together and fellowship," he said.
The auction, and the exceptionally fine spring day, brought church members from as far away as Philadelphia and Harrisonburg, Va.
"We're a rural people, but we've gone to the city," explained the Rev. Don Rowe, church executive for the Maryland area, who achnowledged the idea of the day-long auction was cribbed from the Mennonites.
The auction, which featured a rainbow assortment of intricately worked quilts hand-stitched by women from congregations throughout the area, brings the church's rural orientation together with the funding of an unusual service program.
The tiny Church of the Brethren -- 169,000 members nationwide -- is one of the country's historic "peace" churches. Traditionally opposed to violence, the church nationally has committed itself to efforts for peace and to relieve human suffering. "We work in positive ways to bring change," Rowe said.
The Disaster Relief program has proved to be an effective way of working out those principles, he said.
When hundreds of tornadoes swept through North Carolina last year, leaving the little town of Mount Olive devastated, Thompson recruited volunteers from Brethren churches along the Eastern seaboard to help the townspeople dig out. He then set up rotating teams of volunteers for a year-long project to proceed with the cleanup, remodel eight of the damaged homes and build a new one.
A blizzard in Boston; hurricanes in Hawaii; floods in Jackson, Miss., and Rochester, Minn.; tornadoes in Texas; a mud slide in San Francisco -- Thompson ticked off the disasters where he has mobilized help.
"We go by the need," he said, explaining the criteria that determine where their necessarily limited assistance will go, "and we tend to work with minorities and low-income people."
Geography is also a factor. "If something happened in Texas, for instance, we'd not be as inclined to go because the Southern Baptists and United Methodists are very strong there," and Brethren practically nonexistent.
Thompson's disaster portfolio also includes the denomination's help to disaster victims overseas, from refugees in Afghanistan to survivors of earthquakes in Chile and famine in Africa. Church members have nearly tripled their giving to the disaster budget because of the African catastrophe, he said.
With disasters overseas, "we work through Church World Service," a cooperative agency of the National Council of Churches, he said.
Not every disaster-stricken community wants outside help."We try to say that the local community owns the disaster," Thompson said. "Whether they want us to work with them is up to them, and we try to honor that." CAPTION: Picture 1, Prospective bidders, view 50 quilts that were made specially for Church of the Brethren auction. Picture 2, auctioneer Austin Bohn solicits bids for an old footstool. The church raised about $32,000. Photos by Wayne Partlow -- The Washington Post