Thursday, October 5, 2006
Methods of collecting the collection
In most churches, receiving the offering is an important practical, if not spiritually-significant, part of the service.
Ask a small child to name the most interesting parts of the worship hour, and they are sure to mention the collection.
One minister’s son of my acquaintance was looking forward to growing up so he could be like his dad: “Men take up money from everybody who comes to church and then they bring it to the front and give it to my daddy!”
Handling money in church is relatively new, at least in this country. In the Kirk of Holly Springs, the current expenses of the congregation, including the minister’s salary, were met through rental of the pews. Offerings, when received, were devoted to benevolent causes.
Even then, keeping in mind our Lord’s declaration that “you cannot serve God and mammon,” it was likely that the money was gathered by the church officers at some hour other than that devoted to divine worship.
In old Scotland a church officer would stand outside by the church gate with the offering plate. In those days, so much bad coin was placed in the offering plates that ministers would carry it with them to Edinburgh, where the General Assembly met, and during that week would have the bad coin melted down and made into communion vessels.
In the last century — especially after tax support for churches was ended in the separation of church and state that was instituted in the newly formed United States of America — ministers began to stress the spiritual aspects of giving.
Bringing money to God was dignified by the presentation of gifts as part of the service of worship, and the offering plates were often placed right on the communion table where the body and blood of Christ were set forth in memory of His death and passion.
It became customary to sing the doxology (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow”) at this moment in the service, rather than at the beginning or the end, as had formerly been done.
Churches with pipe organs usually reserved their most dramatic flourishes for this moment.
It is not without reason that liturgical scholars are now downplaying the offering, substituting the pageantry and celebrative music that accompanies the procession of the offering plates to the altar to the ceremony for the reading of Christ’s words from the gospel.
I rather like the directness of the Hebrew temple in Miami that simply assesses each member the fair share value of their membership in the synagogue. It is a set fee, and people either pay or not — but if not, there are no seats reserved for them on the high, holy days.
Most of our Holly Springs members make their offerings by check. Actual cash, except for occasional dollar bills (placed because old Southern etiquette decreed that one should not allow an offering plate to pass without at least a token contribution), is quite rare in churches these days. (Church burglars please take note!) I did have a Sunday school teacher in my youth who went through our little class’s collection for rare coins.
But there are, I understand, congregations that have installed ATM machines in the vestibule — so that harried worshipers can obtain the needed amount of “folding money” when the collection is received in the service that day.
My guess is that it will not be long until electronic equipment is installed so that at the proper moment everybody can simply swipe their credit card at the same moment right there in the pews, and that seconds later the amount of the collection will be totaled and flashed on the projection screens that are quickly taking the place of the cross or stained glass window in the front of our churches. The effectiveness of the morning sermon can thus be immediately ascertained.
Once or twice I have passed over the offering in our service simply by mistake. Our treasurer is quite amused by my carelessness. I feel sorry for ministers in those “mega-churches” where they have to be anxiously aware of how much money is in the collection week by week. That kind of real estate is very expensive.
I am glad that our old churches here were paid for long ago.
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