A 21st Century Conundrum, 3-10-14

May 18, 2016 | by: Father Chuck Owens | 0 comments

Tags: Padre's Ponderings

padre164Some folks are just more fortunate than others: they are raised in homes where there is never anything extra but always enough to share, where there is a poverty of riches but a wealth of love, where pride is non-existent but dignity abounds . . . I was one of those fortunate ones. From my earliest days I was taught not to dwell on what I did not have but rather to be grateful for what was at hand - someone had worked hard to provide it and I was to use it in a way that would permit subsequent enjoyment by others. I was taught, too, that one's station in life did not dictate one's demeanor, bearing, vocabulary and/or manners - cleanliness of self and clothing was paramount; "yes, ma'am", "no, sir" (seldom used), "please" and "thank you" were but a few of my conversational staples; sitting up straight was not optional; disrespect for elders was intolerable. And lastly I was taught that life away from home would lack definition and thus be fraught with questions; but the key to successfully unlocking its mysteries would be mine if I would just remember two things: from whence I'd come and to never do anything tacky.

To this day I cherish my upbringing and abhor the idea that someone might think my actions tacky; but I find myself in a generational dilemma - tackiness is a shifting standard; by that I mean yesterday's tacky is apt to be today's cool . . . even in church! In years past (my youth) folks were present for worship before the prelude and didn't start to leave until the postlude; nowadays folks come and go as they please. In the old days (my youth) people were attentive participants throughout the service; nowadays it's not uncommon to notice a head or two ducking behind a pew to answer a cell phone while others are trying to nonchalantly send a text message (pulpits make great vantage points). Back in the day (my youth) when the only thing one would expect to be on line was the laundry, to attempt to pass the offering plate without first making a contribution (wives were given an exemption if their husbands had anteed up; children were always expected to drop in some silver, hence the sound-deadening pads in the bottom of the plates) was to risk an usher stopping the whole show; nowadays vast numbers of worshipers are moving their financial transactions into the world of virtual banking and, because churches are notoriously slow to change (you didn't hear that from me), they're experiencing a growing degree of angst when ushers start passing the plates (translate "putting the squeeze on") - how are they to respond to this 21st century conundrum?

Tacky idea number one merits little attention: whisper to the usher, "I gave on line." Clearly, that would sound a bit like "the check's in the mail" and everyone knows what that means!

Tacky idea number two has been tried by a few less discerning pastors: pieces of green construction paper (cut in the shape of dollar bills and stenciled with the words "I'm an online giver") were placed in the narthex and those who felt a need to "let the left hand know what the right hand is doing" were encouraged to use them at the appropriate time. This practice was quickly discarded when Treasurers noted a decrease in giving from everyone and an increase in paper costs.

Tacky idea number three, rumored to be under consideration in the backrooms frequented by Finance Committees in more avant-garde regions, is to revise the whole approach toward offerings: instead of asking ushers to go to the people with plates, ask the people to go to the ushers (human or automated) with cards (credit or debit) or cash (no change or small bills accepted) or (for the real old timers) checks (instantly verifiable as good). Potential pitfalls yet to be addressed: the need for longer choir anthems and suitable camouflage for the money changing stations.

A fourth option and promising solution surfaced recently when a gentleman and his wife who had been visiting with us for several months met with me to join the parish. During our conversation he stated that they had already started giving their tithe (such a soothing word to a pastor's ears) to us online; then he went on to share this experience - after not placing a contribution in the offering plate, he heard the usher say "thank you" to the person next to him who did. Down deep my new friend interpreted the usher's silence toward him to be punishment of sorts for tacky behavior and wondered what I might suggest for folks like him who have chosen to give their tithe (the word has a lyrical quality about it) in a non-traditional way. After thanking him for understanding that it is indeed the epitome of tackiness not to thank the Lord for His blessings, I gave him a box of offering envelopes and suggested that he might salve his conscience by placing a dollar in the appropriate envelope and dropping it in the plate each week. "That wouldn't be enough," he responded. "It would have to be at least twenty dollars!" I calmly replied, "Whatever works for you in addition to your online tithe (tis so sweet to trust in Jesus) will be fine with me." Later I wondered if his parents might have known mine.

In His power and for His glory,


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