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Pastor shocks by giving away prize money


1:00 P.M. EST May 19, 2011 | OTTERFING, Germany (UMNS)

The Rev. Alfred Mignon (left) is on the set of “Wer-Wird-Millionaer?” with showmaster Guenther Jauch. Photo courtesy of RTL/Gregorowius.
The Rev. Alfred Mignon (left) is on the set of “Wer-Wird-Millionaer?” with
showmaster Guenther Jauch. Photo courtesy of RTL/Gregorowius.
View in Photo Gallery

The Rev. Alfred Mignon sits relaxed on his wooden bench, enjoying the sun. “This is happiness,” the United Methodist pastor says and laughs.

It is also a break from the storm of media attention that followed his winning €125,000 (U.S. $180,000) on a televised quiz show and immediately giving away €110, 000 ($160,000).

“I applied to go on the show because I had a clear task,” Mignon explains. “A good friend has financial problems, and we couldn’t see any other way to raise such a large amount of money.”

When he announced at the end of the program how he would use his winnings, the host of the German version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” said, “This is a reason to be really happy.”

German newspapers and television stations are crazy about Mignon. Photographers and reporters have beaten a path to his door. A popular newspaper put the story on its front page the Saturday morning after the May 6 telecast. That same evening, producers of a talk show invited him to be a guest. On May 8, a journalist even attended services at Evanglisch-methodistische Kirke Otterfing to interview him.

Days after the program aired, an uninterrupted conversation with 61-year-old Mignon was still difficult. “I will take the phone calls in the meantime,” his wife, Eva-Maria, says.

The attention has not unsettled Mignon. He sits in the sun outside his house in the small community about 30 kilometers (nearly 19 miles) south of Munich, reviewing the events. He knows it is not every day that winners give away their prize money, but he emphasizes he is not the first to do so.

He anticipated some media interest from the TV stations that carry the program. “What really amazed me was that the ‘Bild’ newspaper put the story on its front page,” he says.

It is not common for some people to share their belongings, Mignon adds, “but for Christians, this is a matter of course.”

Hundreds of email writers and telephone callers have praised his generosity as have those posting supportive comments on Facebook. For a short time, he held the top ranking on Twitter. People meeting him on the street now address him with his correct title.

“When I went for a walk at a lake, a passerby called out, ‘That’s the pastor of The United Methodist Church,’” Mignon says and laughs. “That happened in Bavaria where Protestants are very rare.”

At the same time, some have criticized him. One email message questioned his sanity.

The Rev. Alfred Mignon. A UMNS photo by Volker Kiemle.
The Rev. Alfred Mignon. A UMNS photo by Volker Kiemle.
View in Photo Gallery

Mignon only shakes his head. He always has cut his own path, and, he admits, has sometimes failed. Again and again, though, he has been encouraged as he followed his call as an ordained minister.

‘In the bosom of God’

Mignon clearly sees God’s hand at work both in his winning the prize and the attention that has followed.

He had often applied to be a contestant on the quiz show. He had qualified twice for the pre-selection round but had never made it onto the actual show.

The chances of reaching the final round were extremely small. When he did, Mignon says he felt himself in the bosom of God, that God wanted him there.

“God, if it is your will that this family is helped, then help me now,” he prayed before the show started.

Mignon had no problem giving away the prize.

“I always intended to give away most of the money,” he says. “I haven’t established a relationship to the money I’ve won — it is totally abstract.”

He says this while showing a postcard that carries a quote by Julius Nyerere, first president of Tanzania: “Richness should have only one purpose: abolishing poverty.” He finds it parallels the thought attributed to John Wesley: “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.”

The phone is ringing. Another reporter is desperate to interview him. Mignon sighs, but only a little.

He is enjoying the hype — especially because the church is also getting some good publicity.

*Kiemle is chief editor at the Methodist Publishing House in Frankfurt, Germany. Reinhold Parrinello and Barry Sloan translated his story from German to English.

News media contact: Kathy Noble, 615-742-5441 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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