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I once served a very wealthy congregation. Over the years the different members had donated various items to the church, many of which were quite valuable. The stained glass windows were valued and tens of thousands of dollars each; The communion table was an intricately carved piece of art, from a world famous artist in Germany - I have no idea how much that was worth; One of the many nativity sets the church owned was a life size set, with beautiful animals and very regal magi, worth tens of thousands of dollars, the list goes on and on - but the most prized item was a painting of the Madonna given to the church in the 1930s. It was housed in a special room that was temperature controlled and very secure.

Congregation members loved this painting. Brides would have their picture taken with it, and many a new baptized baby had his or her picture taken by this Madonna painting. A small pamphlet was even written about this valuable painting and given to visitors who toured the church.

A toilet overflowed in the basement causing extensive damage downstairs, and an unbearable odor lingered for weeks. This caused the trustees to check the current value of the long list of items the church possessed for insurance purposes. So, a well-renowned art dealer was contacted to appraise the various works of art in the church.

The man appraised the various items in the church and he saved the famous painting for last, as the trustees did not want the dealer in the room alone with the painting. Finally, the time came for the art dealer to appraise the Madonna painting. The trustees showed the art dealer into the room and were delighted with the astonished look on the art dealers face.

The art dealer quietly took the painting down and slowly looked the painting over. One of the trustees could not contain himself and blurted out, "So, how much is it worth?"

"Well," said the art dealer, "I need to give the painting a more detailed examination, but I am quite impressed, my first thought that it is, maybe eight thousand dollars. This is the best forgery of this painting I have ever seen."

This clearly agitated the trustees and one shot back, "What are you talking about? This painting must be worth several hundred thousand dollars. This is no forgery, you don’t know what you are talking about."

The art dealer didn’t miss a beat and cooly replied. "If you don’t believe me, you can go see the original yourself, it is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City."

Believe it or not, there were some in the congregation...

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